As investment in software-defined data centers grows, organizations must break down traditional team barriers, invest in their employees and pick the right applications to ease the transition.
Traditionally, organizations spent a great deal of time configuring physical computer infrastructure: servers, networks and storage. SDDC, which heavily relies on virtualization technology, has simplified these tasks and enables admins to worry less about physical hardware aspects.
In 2021, admins must manage not only virtual servers, but also network and storage hardware. This means admins need software tools and established workflows that can effectively address updated virtual infrastructure needs and management requirements.
Legacy spending on a downturn
A key benefit that virtualized infrastructure management tools deliver is the ability to configure, provision and manage compute resources on an abstracted software layer. Legacy systems that are more hardware-based can lack interoperability, have diminished vendor support or pose high costs to become useful for the current business model.
As a result, organizations are spending more money on systems that support changing business needs and offer reconfigurable infrastructure; research firm IDC reported an 8.3% decrease in legacy system spending in the third quarter of 2020.
Businesses require new tools for virtual infrastructure management -- especially because SDDCs are composed of network, storage and server virtualization.
Market growth supports the growing interest in such applications. SDDC management tools are becoming a prime force in the data center market and will grow from $43.7 billion in 2020 to $120.3 billion by 2025 at a compound annual growth rate of 22.4%, according to MarketsandMarkets.
A shift in IT purchasing criteria
One reason behind SDDC investment is that organizations have different business requirements for their computing systems.
"Companies are not buying infrastructure because of its physical abilities, but instead, vendors differentiate their systems on the levels of management automation available," noted Torsten Volk, managing research director at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA).
Purchase criteria traditionally focused on system speeds and feeds, server transaction times and storage system capacity.
In 2021, organizations are looking to roll out new capabilities quickly, improve UX and have greater insight into resource usage. A network switch that is powerful but cumbersome to configure and update is less favorable to a switch that admins can quickly drop into an enterprise network and reconfigure in a matter of minutes.
"With virtualized systems, companies buy a complete platform whose deployment is largely automated," said Gary Chen, research director of software-defined compute at IDC. "The system administrator no longer has to worry about integration and testing the subsystems."
Team silos and specializations break down
IT teams were segmented into groups assigned to specific types of devices: servers, networks and storage. But those silos are crumbling. Rather than focus on individual hardware, admins work at the virtualization layer and, ideally, roll out any necessary system infrastructure with a few clicks.
Two changes are needed to support this new model: system convergence and increased team collaboration.
In the past, organizations relied on multiple tools to oversee storage, servers and network devices, as well as cloud services. Now, admins look to collapse those applications into a single system.
"A lot of the management tools are complex and overlap, so the challenge for the IT department is to rationalize what they now have, eliminate the clutter, but still be able to troubleshoot every device in their infrastructure," said Dennis Smith, research vice president at Gartner.
Second, each system had an autonomous group responsible for its management.
"The new SDDC systems encompass multiple disciplines, so the smaller groups need to work together as larger teams," IDC's Chen said.
As a result, firms often revamp their organization charts, as well as their management tools.
Employees require new technology knowledge
Employees need specific skill sets to support any organization's increased SDDC adoption. Knowledge of virtualization techniques, troubleshooting protocols, vSphere, SAN management, container orchestration and VM deployment are all part of the latest skills virtual infrastructure management requires.
"Staffing is a big concern, especially when a company makes its first foray into SDDC management," Chen said.
Admins must become fluent in new tools and processes -- whether employers pay for training and certification or they pursue it individually. These trainings are in specific technologies and software, as well as virtualization deployment and SDDC design. If organizations ensure their IT staff has virtualization infrastructure management skills, they can have a more successful SDDC deployment process.
"Corporations must invest in areas like Kubernetes training so they have employees [with] the right skills," EMA's Volk said.
For employer-sponsored training, it makes sense to get admins up to speed on technology that is planned for its specific virtualized infrastructure or SDDC deployment. Vendors such as VMware, Citrix and Microsoft offer a wide variety of options on both an individual and companywide level.
Workload prioritization is key to success
Companies often have hundreds -- or thousands -- of applications that run on their infrastructure. They must select those that should move to SDDC. The process often starts with new applications because they lack ties to legacy solutions.
The migration becomes more difficult with legacy systems -- especially applications that support specialized processes or sensitive data that has specific connectivity requirements. Plus, as more organizations move into cloud-native setups, legacy applications and systems may lose functionality during the migration to cloud; they also may not support virtualized servers or data storage.
"Legacy systems have many tentacles, so sometimes, corporations are surprised about what is impacted as they move them from the old to the new," Volk said.
Going forward, many organizations must decide what workflows and applications are a priority to bring into SDDC and can benefit from virtualization. With such planning, admins can ensure any migration efforts bring about infrastructure that can truly evolve with changing business needs.