What 'software defined' means for hardware
Hardware choice is becoming less important as software-defined solutions give IT departments the power to manage service levels rather than machines.
When it comes to running IT departments, the type and brand of hardware that CIOs and IT managers choose to use is becoming less important. Cloud computing has been a catalyst for this. When a workload is moved to the cloud, considerations and planning become about service levels, not the hardware. But the decline of hardware as a strategic part of the IT decision-making process is not just about cloud… it has also extended into the on-premise data centre.
The very phrase ‘software defined’ implies why the brand of hardware is becoming increasingly less important. Software defined is about using software to create a layer of abstraction between hardware and the person managing that hardware. And we have moved to a point where every part of the IT stack can be software defined. There is now less concern about compatibility between vendors, as IT departments manage service levels rather than hardware. As an example, flash disk will often still perform faster than spinning disk, but for IT departments that are managed through software, the type of disk doesn’t matter.
It is more important to look at application performance needs and cost constraints. The performance that is required to drive vital apps will then drive component choice.
Depending on the performance requirements of the software and underlying data, it may make sense in some instances to sweat older storage assets for the storage of infrequently used data. Some cases will still see a return on investment when taking into account the ongoing maintenance costs and the ability of the hardware provider to provide ongoing support. This is where software that can manage applications and data across disparate hardware platforms can add considerable value.
A software-defined data centre removes dependence on a single hardware vendor and allows interoperability between hardware from multiple vendors as well as reducing the risk of trying new technologies from new vendors. The net effect is that the large hardware vendors are having to reinvent themselves; they are embracing the software-defined approach and, in doing so, becoming open to working with other vendors.
Software is key to implementing a flexible data centre strategy that provides scale and elasticity. If organisations are tied to isolated physical assets, they are inherently locked in to the capability of those. This means businesses will not have the ability to adjust as they grow and change, and can make it more difficult to move to the cloud further down the line. Moving intelligence to software gives organisations a level of flexibility that isn’t possible when it is held only on isolated physical assets.
While hardware is becoming less important, organisations must not ignore hardware entirely. There are always advances in technology. Software-defined replication and migration does allow for a mix of underlying hardware platforms to seamlessly allow applications to run, and to allow for ease of refreshing the underlying hardware.
The approach for architecting software and hardware is changing, too. Customers want to know about workload protection and workload mobility, something that is becoming increasingly important.
A hardware, hypervisor and platform-agnostic approach resonates because the application and workload is becoming the primary concern. Software that abstracts the underlying infrastructure enables CIOs and IT managers to focus on application service levels and at the same time reduce focus on simply keeping IT running. The net effect is that hardware decisions will continue to become less strategic.
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