For those of us working in IT infrastructure, it is easy to lose sight of why we have a job. Any kind of infrastructure is doing its job best when it is invisible. Nobody comments that the light turned on when we flick the switch. Buses that turn up on time and are clean and comfortable are only noteworthy because it happens so seldom. We generally only notice infrastructure when it doesn’t do its job. IT infrastructure is the same. The business and its customers should not notice that we do our job well. The users of the systems we maintain will not notice or care when those systems work. What customers and business users do care about and notice is their data. Whether it is a salesperson’s CRM or a customer’s order, it is the data that counts. Our infrastructure and applications exist purely to deliver this data.
There are three pillars to the software-defined data centre (SDDC): software-defined compute, software-defined storage, and software-defined networking. Without any one of these three, the whole edifice of the data centre falls down. We build all three to be resilient, “designed for failure,” and robust. Each can be built and rebuilt from scripts that are stored in distributed version control systems. But at the bottom of every application stack in our SDDC, there is a database or file store that cannot—by definition—be re-created from scripts. This is the core data that we mine and make profit from. What happens if (or when) the edifice collapses? How is that core data protected, and is traditional backup up to the task?
The Thursday keynote at VMworld USA is always about things unrelated to VMware’s products. It makes a welcome break from looking into the depths of IT. The keynotes are supposed to make us think about our place in the world, and that of the IT we support. One of the presentations this year was about the concept of “umwelt,” which is about how we perceive the world around us. I think that there is a parallel concept in how we perceive products and technology that colors our opinions. I’m fairly sure I’ll misuse “umwelt” here, but I don’t have a better term.
In my last article, I laid out the baseline expectations for the support model and structure at most companies. In the past twenty years or so, these have been my observations and expectations any time I have started any new assignment in a new company. When starting a new position in a new company, there is a certain level of comfort, which comes from experience, in having at least a basic understanding of what to expect. There is always a technical learning curve that comes with anything new, but it makes the transition easier having a basic understanding of how things will be supported. That concept has served me well over the years. However, just as virtualization and cloud computing have changed the data center landscape, I think change in the support structure is well on its way. Now would be a good time to have a look at what works and what doesn’t.
The big story of the last few weeks has been Dell’s $67B acquisition of EMC, and with it, VMware. This is big news for the industry—news that will have ramifications all over the software-defined data centre. One of the most interesting implications is how Dell will reconcile its own SDN strategy with VMware’s NSX vision. Do the two work together? VMware paid $1.2B for Nicira. With currently around 400 customers, as reported by VMware, and roughly one in four of those running in production, NSX is a relatively small but highly lucrative gem in the crown jewels of VMware. Dell will want to see something come from that aspect of this acquisition.
There is no doubt that virtualization technology has been one of the leading factors in the dramatic changes we have seen inside the 21st century data center. For all practical purposes, the landscape in data centers today looks a lot different than it did before the turn of the century. During this evolution that fundamentally changed the technology environment, how much has the support structure changed to keep up with virtualization and cloud technologies? This is the topic that I would like to focus on in this multipart post, which will explore the different support structures and concepts that have been the standards.