Virtualization transforms physical systems into a virtual environment by creating a logical version of a device or resource - anything from a server to an operating system. Virtualization helps solve problems with utilization and rapid scalability. Without virtualization, traditional server utilization is typically in only the 6% to 12% range.
Traditional hardware comes in fixed sizes and is hard to scale and fully utilize. Virtualization allows organizations to purchase more powerful equipment with better performance and put many optimally-sized virtualized resources on it. Technologies such as overprovisioning, automatic load balancing, clustering and parallel processing optimize resources and improve uptime. Virtualization technology emulates hardware using software that hides details of the underlying physical hardware. Multiple hardware components and the functionality of that hardware can be efficiently emulated on less expensive, non-specialized hardware.
Server virtualization is mature and proven technology with high adoption rates in data centers of all sizes. Both storage and network virtualization are growing trends. Storage virtualization groups physical storage from multiple storage devices so that it looks like a single storage device. Software-defined storage (SDS) includes storage virtualization and goes further to abstract all storage services from hardware devices using software to create, deploy and manage storage resources and infrastructure. SDS enables expensive proprietary storage solutions to be replaced with software-defined storage that utilizes x86 technology. By utilizing industry-standard x86 technology, SDS helps eliminate the need for storage area networks (SANs) and proprietary storage expertise. Organizations can also reduce their storage footprint, which lowers hosting and cooling costs
Software-defined networking (SDN) is a computer networking architecture that separates the data plane from the control plane in routers and switches. The control plane is implemented in servers using software and is separate from networking hardware. The data plane is implemented in networking hardware. In traditional networking, when a data packet arrives at a switch or router, the firmware tells the hardware where to forward the packet and sends all packets to that destination via the same path. All packets are treated the same. More advanced smart switches equipped with application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) recognize different types of packets and treat them differently based on the ASIC programming. These switches, however, are expensive.
SDN decouples networking control from the hardware’s firmware. The network administrator can centrally configure network traffic without changing the settings of individual switches. The administrator can change network rules, prioritization and selectively block packets with greater control. SDN provides better control of network traffic and offer better security options while using less expensive commodity switches as the underlying hardware layer.
Combining server, storage and network virtualization together leads to a completely software-defined infrastructure. The Why, the What and the How of the Software-Defined Data Center (Osterman Research, May 2017) identifies the business benefits of the SDDC solution:
Because of its software-defined nature, with proper tools, an SDDC is easier to configure, reconfigure and keep secure, resulting in IT operations that are more responsive to change and more efficient. SDDC also permits frequent service updates and rapid standup/teardown of test environments.
SDDC’s software-defined nature enables consistently-enforced policies that act on logical, abstracted characteristics of the workload and its data. Traditional data center operations must distribute rules across a range of different hardware devices that will need to be manually updated with inevitable hardware and configuration changes. In an SDDC, relevant policies remain in place and automatically adjust to changes in the underlying physical environment of SDDC workloads.
Traditional IT operations are inherently error-prone, even when using a centralized management console. SDDC’s ability to automate operations reduces repetitive tedium and error, which in turn maximizes security and minimizes unplanned downtime.
Virtualization increases the hardware utilization, allowing organizations to make more efficient use of their capital expenditures. For example, it allows several workloads to share software-defined computing, storage and network resources. SDDC unifies networking functions using non-specialized hardware avoiding lock-in to specific networking equipment.
SDDC helps organizations realize the benefits of hybrid clouds without vendor or technology lock-in. The combination of automation, abstraction, visibility and control fosters consistency that will ease the placing of workloads into public or private clouds to an even greater extent than virtualization alone would permit.