Sunday, 23 March 2014

What is Software Defined Anything?

If you’ve sat through a training seminar recently, you’ve probably seen a slide talking about software-defined anything or software-defined everything. Or you may have seen the acronym SDx and wondered what it is and where it’s come from. So let’s have a look at what they’re talking about.

Basically, what we’re looking at is using software to control different kinds of hardware, and then to make that software able to control multiple-component hardware systems. With the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), it makes sense to start thinking about being able to create rules that are implemented in software that can be used to control a myriad of different types of devices.

At the moment there are a number areas using software-defined technology. For example there’s Software-Defined Storage (SDS), which seems to apply to all sorts of storage software, particularly virtualization software. Different vendors use the term loosely for different things. Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is where network devices are programmable and so networks themselves are more dynamic. Again, it’s a term that’s used by different vendors for different things.

Software-Defined Storage Networks (SDSN) is an attempt to virtualize storage networks by separating the actual physical network from its controlling software. A Software-Defined Hypervisor (SDH) seems to refer to virtualizing the hypervisor layer and separating it from its management console. And finally, there’s Software-Defined Infrastructure (SDI) aka Software-Defined Data Centre (SDDC), which is an aspirational concept where data centre services are controlled by policy-driven software.

Two things probably leap to mind about now. Firstly, this seems a lot like marketecture! We’ve seen this before, where vendors are really selling us an idea of something rather than it being a tangible reality. We are very much in the early days of this sort of thing. The second thing is that this is not directly linked to mainframes. This is VMware’s ideas – as well as a huge number of other companies.

Having said that, of course, the newer hybrid mainframes from IBM will be able to make use of this technology as it becomes available in reality. Also, Gartner reckons that SDx is one of the major disruptive technologies to watch. It makes it easier to scale up existing architecture and even try out different architectures. Also it makes it possible to tune networks, matching network performance to workloads. And, of course the main selling points are flexibility, agility, security, and price.

IBM’s Smarter Computing blog has an interesting blog by Shamin Hossain called “Software defined everything: When a data center becomes soft”, which can be found at

Clearly the prefix ‘software-defined’ is one that we’re going to hear a lot more about this year.

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