I was talking with a CIO at a conference a couple months back who half-jokingly made the comment that we're on the verge of having software-defined CIOs run our tech affairs.
Is “software defined” — as in software-defined networking, software-defined storage, software-defined data center and, ultimately, software-defined enterprise — just another vendor buzzword, or does it mean something to IT's future?
Theoretically, “software-defined” means an entire physical infrastructure is virtualized into bits, bytes and code so configuration changes can be made right on the screen without all the muscle work of disconnecting and reconnecting cables, plugging in servers or swapping out boards. (At least software-defined at the administrative level — no matter how software-defined you may be — still needs physical systems somewhere to make it all possible.)
What does it take to transition to a software-defined infrastructure? John Moore outlined the building blocks in a recent issue of GCN. While his discussion focused on government agencies, there's plenty of takeaways for the insurance industry as well.
There are four main pieces to the software-defined puzzle:
1. Server virtualization: Operating systems and accompanying applications are hosted within a virtual partition on a server that may be running another OS. For example, you can run the Linux OS and applications on the same server that's running Windows.
2. Software-defined storage (SDS): Often referred to as storage virtualization, this technology “creates a single pool of storage from multiple, physical storage devices,” Moore explains. “A software layer then provisions storage to applications that need it and provides functions such as policy management, replication and backup.”
3. Software defined networking (SDN): “As with storage, SDN relies on a software layer that takes on the complexities of infrastructure management,” Moore explains. “SDN lets IT administrators program all of the devices on a network through a software controller, rather than configuring switches and other networking gear individually.”
4. The software-defined data center (SDDC): “More vision than reality at this point, the SDDC pulls together server and storage virtualization,” says Moore. “The idea is that software can tap resources across the data center to readily provision compute and storage as needed.”
It seems that the industry already has been moving toward these four pieces with various initiatives — especially cloud computing. But while cloud has been concentrated at the application and data layer, these new software-defined elements bring virtualization to physical machines themselves.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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