Defining software-defined everything

If the future lies with software-defined everything, it's time to find out what 'everything' means.

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Forget virtualization, forget cloud. These days, it's software-defined everything coming down the pike.

Leading the charge is software-defined networking (SDN), a technology pioneered by Google and Facebook to abstract network architecture and make network devices programmable. Its goal is to make networks more dynamic. Beyond that, software-defined networks mean many things to many people. For some, SDN is synonymous with the OpenFlow protocol, while others take their cues from VMware Nicira or Big Switch, and countless other vendors. The confusion about SDN hasn't prevented anyone from adopting and co-opting the software-defined moniker for their own purposes. Let's look at a few examples that have landed in our inboxes.

Software-defined data center (SDDC): A marketing term popularized by VMware that describes its vision of the future, where data center services such as compute, network, storage, security and availability are pooled, aggregated and managed by intelligent policy-driven software, providing self-service, automation and application and business management. This sounds suspiciously similar to a virtual data center.

Software-defined storage (SDS): This is a marketing term claimed by storage vendors from Nexenta and Coraid to traditional vendors like NetApp and EMC. At a high level, SDS usually refers to the disaggregation of storage functionality that was previously included as part of a storage array. In practice, it can refer to anything from a simple volume manager to storage virtualization software that pools and aggregates hard disk capacity. Others say software-defined storage delivers storage virtualization capabilities as part of an operating system or hypervisor. Whatever your definition, it appears that software-defined storage is an attempt by vendors to put a new face on technologies that have been here for a long, long time.

Software-defined storage networks: Following close on the heels of software-defined networks and storage is the software-defined storage network, as put forth by newcomer Jeda Networks. With static and expensive storage networks like Fibre Channel and iSCSI in its sights, Jeda proposes to virtualize the storage network by decoupling the storage network control plane from the actual physical network. It does so by replacing the storage network control plane with its own "intelligent" controller, its Fabric Network Controller software, which converts standard Ethernet switches into an enterprise storage fabric. We're sure Cisco and Brocade are going to love this particular version of software-defined.

Software-defined hypervisor: This is a bit of a stretch, but at least one analyst has used it to describe HotLink SuperVISOR, with its ability to virtualize the hypervisor layer and decouple it from the underlying management console. The HotLink product is a favorite among longtime VMware shops that are heavily invested in VMware vCenter for virtualization management but also want to selectively use lower-cost hypervisors such as Hyper-V or KVM. Whether it's qualified as software-defined everything is up to you.

Let us know what you think. Write to us at moderninfrastructure@techtarget.com

This was first published in April 2013

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