When it comes to the IT industry, I tend to get very excited about change, the bigger the better. Some people resist big change, but I look at change as the opportunity to move forward. As I see it, change tends to be more strategic when enough of it happens and it is directed by a large number of really smart people. Now don’t get me wrong, not all change makes me excited. A “That’s Incredible” idea from one silicon valley startup doesn’t catch my interest, but when a dozen startups have formed to address the same or similar problems, then we got something to smile about. BIG change tends to be strategic.
Think of all of the change afoot in the data center as this crowd-sourcing exercise. A lot of vendors are testing new ideas for the data center, and then they are observing competitors and prospects alike to see their responses to their ideas. These responses are helping to steer all of this change and funnel it into meaningful and business-impactful offerings. Over the course of a few years of this process, the solutions become strong, they answer real challenges, and they become commercially viable. Today, Data Center Transformation is well underway due to these innovations!
One of the biggest concepts at the VMworld show was (obviously) virtualization, but it presented itself in a number of ways that may not have been so intuitive to all visitors. Now understand that when I see the word ‘virtualization’, I tend to immediately translate it in my mind to ‘dynamic abstraction’, and that is exactly was I saw at the VMworld show, over and over again. The abstraction is sometimes referred to as the Software-Defined Data Center. The dynamics presents itself as building-block modules, everything from the data center structures themselves, to the servers, storage and networks, ALL of it was presented by these innovative vendors as a scalable resource that could be planned, managed and grown incrementally as business dictated. The concept of ‘building blocks’ was all over the show floor, and prospective adopters seemed to be eating it up! I guess the days of steep acquisition curves are (finally) going by the wayside…
While there were perhaps 250 vendors on the show floor, here is just a handful of vendors that caught my eye, and might be worth it for you to take a look at their offerings and updates:
VMware – This was the coming out party for VMware’s cool virtualized networking offerings, as well as a big push for their deeply complementary vCloud offerings. With NSX networking, we finally have a way to put connectivity to rest. As granular as you need, with more specificity that you can imagine, NSX work with the other abstractions to assure robust connectivity- always. And with their vCloud offerings, finally new capacity can be spun up locally or in the cloud on demand, using the same tools and processes. And even cooler, those instances can be migrated back and forth as needed. VMware continues to demonstrate their deep understanding of the big tasks at hand in the software-defined data center.
Simplivity – An east coast based company, with what they call a ‘federated IT hardware platform’. Again, think building blocks. With Simplivity’s hardware level scale, this becomes a resilient, high performance total solution which addresses all of the major processing, networking and storage functions ‘off the shelf’. All of their storage functions include de-duplication, compression and backup. Their networking is software-defined. Best of all, their OmniCube building blocks can be anywhere on the planet and participate in the bigger assimilation just the same, and the whole structure is specifically tuned for a virtualized world (including cloud). Management is supported right down to the individual VM level. This is one vendor to keep an eye on.
IO – IO continues to impress me with their polished approach to modular data centers. Their wares are factory built, not a custom project for each buyer. I am a big fan of modular and IO’s approach with purpose-built enclosures instead of ISO shipping containers (like those on cargo ships) has always seemed to be a valid choice if the goal is high density. When you look at the dimensions of standard IT racks, and the maintenance/service requirements of a data center, the math just gets in the way for ISO containers in a high density model (although some vendors that use ISO have some pretty innovate ways of utilizing the ISO defined space). IO has looked at this mechanical challenge by focusing on the higher-density side of the market. To do so, they have designed a standard module form-factor that is factory-built and works very efficiently. Not just talk, they have invested a ton of time and energy to design, build and tune all the components to actually work together, like they were made for it (because they were). They even built an at-a-glance software monitoring and control layer to keep it all tuned perfectly over varying conditions. They boast some impressive new customer wins and a PUE of their containers around 1.4. For those keeping score, IO gets a gold star.
Nimble Storage – Again a modular performance play, Nimble was showing their hybrid Flash-enabled storage elements which yield performance gains like never seen before, all in an easy to deploy VMware certified design. Each controller includes all of the caching, inline compression, read/write optimization, replication and backup kind of features essential for modern storage structures in the Enterprise. Now everyone knows I love a good patent, and these folks have something they call CASL which implements their patented approach to storing data efficiently and FAST!
Maxta – A newer solution from the team in Sunnyvale, this is a clean new software-only layer that sits between ESX and whatever combinations of physical storage exists in a VMware installation. Think of this as the storage equivalent of ESX itself. Talking with Maxta, they are quick to state that they are hardware agnostic- any physical VMware certified devices are supported in any combination- and deployable in minutes! Once deployed, all storage becomes virtualized, and capacity can be added or removed without any knowledge at the guest OS layer. Abstraction is key to the SDDC and Maxta is worth considering in VMware shops.
VCE – Not surprising, VCE continues to be a powerhouse of some of the best minds from the Cisco, EMC and VMware teams. Their message is simple: take the best wares from each vendor, put them together in the perfect arrangement, and then offer the ‘building block’ to customers with rapid deployment, low-cost and high availability. Think of this as a single vendor’s offering of Building Blocks for the SDDC. Computing, Storage and Networks all brought together and made to work well together. Is this the only build block vendor? No, but a one-stop shop with a set of big names behind it is worth taking a look at.
Nlyte – A new name to much of the VMware audience, this is one of the DCIM pioneers that addresses the physical underpinning for a traditional rack based data center. Things like where every device is installed, how every device is connected, how they are powered and cooled, when it went into service, who owns it, etc. With abstraction of servers, storage and networks, deep understanding about the physical boxes and their required resources become critical to assuring the SDDC runs. Nlyte can help to assure that vMotion and all of the other abstraction technologies don’t over-commit processing to reside on physical devices that don’t have the power or cooling to handle it. The Nlyte platform addresses the situation where a server with available CPU and memory capacity does NOT have the power and/or cooling to utilize those resources, potentially taking down a whole branch circuit (and a ton of innocent devices in the process!)
Hitachi – A full court press showing their Unified Compute Platform Pro for vSphere. They spent a lot of time talking about their next-gen Virtual Volumes and Policy based storage solutions. Hitachi continues to be a leader in the storage Enterprise-scale space as no surprise since they are one of the few remaining spinning disk manufacturers, and like their competitors realized a long time ago, the shrinking margin on the raw spinning hard-drives themselves wasn’t going to pay the bills. Instead, it will be the INTELLIGENCE around storage that is now the new BIG value. Unified Compute Platform Pro is a good example of high value intelligence.
Software-Defined Data Centers are no longer just fantasy. SDDC’s are starting to take shape across the planet. Early adopters are not getting everything they could imagine on day-1, but computing, storage and networking can now ALL be abstracted. The building blocks under the abstraction can be dynamically scaled. The management of these services is becoming coordinated. Add to this the vCloud-inspired approaches to demand-based scale, and you can see that the data center is VERY different from just 5 years ago. What do I mean by “Different”? I mean better, faster, more interesting, better economies, more adaptable, more scalable, more secure and on and on…
In the words of Timbuk3, “The Future is so Bright, I Gotta wear shades!”