Why Software Defined Infrastructure & why now..(1/6)

The ongoing digital transformation in key verticals like financial services, manufacturing, healthcare and telco has incumbent enterprises fending off a host of new market entrants. Enterprise IT’s best answer is to increase the pace of innovation as a way of driving increased differentiation in business processes. Though data analytics & automation remain the lynchpin of this approach – software defined infrastructure (SDI) built on the notions of cloud computing has emerged as the main infrastructure differentiator & that for a host of reasons which we will discuss in this two part blog.

Software Defined Infrastructure (SDI) is essentially an idea that brings together  advances in a host of complementary areas spanning both infrastructure software, data as well as development environments. It supports a new way of building business applications. The core idea in SDI is that massively scalable applications (in support of diverse customer needs) describe their behavior characteristics (via configuration & APIs) to underlying datacenter infrastructure which simply obeys those commands in an automated fashion while abstracting away the underlying complexities.

SDI as an architectural pattern was originally made popular by the web scale giants – the so-called FANG companies of tech — Facebook , Amazon , Netflix and Alphabet (the erstwhile Google) but has begun making it’s way into the enterprise world gradually.

Common Business IT Challenges prior to SDI – 
  1. Cost of hardware infrastructure is typically growing at a high percentage every year as compared to  growth in the total  IT budget. Cost pressures are driving an overall re look at the different tiers across the IT landscape.
  2. Infrastructure is not completely under the control of the IT-Application development teams as yet.  Business realities that dictate rapid app development to meet changing business requirements
  3. Even for small, departmental level applications, still needed to deploy expensive proprietary stacks which are not only cost and deployment footprint prohibitive but also take weeks to spin up in terms of provisioning cycles.
  4. Big box proprietary solutions leading to a hard look at Open Source technologies which are lean and easy to use with lightweight deployment footprint.Apps need to dictate footprint; not vendor provided containers.
  5. Concerns with acquiring developers who are tooled on cutting edge development frameworks & methodologies. You have zero developer mindshare with Big Box technologies.

Key characteristics of an SDI

  1. Applications built on a SDI can detect business events in realtime and respond dynamically by allocating additional resources in three key areas – compute, storage & network – based on the type of workloads being run.
  2. Using an SDI, application developers can seamlessly deploy apps while accessing higher level programming abstractions that allow for the rapid creation of business services (web, application, messaging, SOA/ Microservices tiers), user interfaces and a whole host of application elements.
  3. From a management standpoint, business application workloads are dynamically and automatically assigned to the available infrastructure (spanning public & private cloud resources) on the basis of the application requirements, required SLA in a way that provides continuous optimization across the life cycle of technology.
  4. The SDI itself optimizes the entire application deployment by both externally provisioned APIs & internal interfaces between the five essential pieces – Application, Compute, Storage, Network & Management.

The SDI automates the technology lifecycle –

Consider the typical tasks needed to create and deploy enterprise applications. This list includes but is not limited to –

  • onboarding hardware infrastructure,
  • setting up complicated network connectivity to firewalls, routers, switches etc,
  • making the hardware stack available for consumption by applications,
  • figure out storage requirements and provision those
  • guarantee multi-tenancy
  • application development
  • deployment,
  • monitoring
  • updates, failover & rollbacks
  • patching
  • security
  • compliance checking etc.
The promise of SDI is to automate all of this from a business, technology, developer & IT administrator standpoint.
 SDI Reference Architecture – 
 The SDI encompasses SDC (Software Defined Compute) , SDS (Software Defined Storage), SDN (Software Defined Networking), Software Defined Applications and Cloud Management Platforms (CMP) into one logical construct as can be seen from the below picture.

                      Illustration: The different tiers of Software Defined Infrastructure

The core of the software defined approach are APIs.  APIs control the lifecycle of resources (request, approval, provisioning,orchestration & billing) as well as the applications deployed on them. The SDI implies commodity hardware (x86) & a cloud based approach to architecting the datacenter.

The ten fundamental technology tenets of the SDI –

1. Highly elastic – scale up or scale down the gamut of infrastructure (compute – VM/Baremetal/Containers, storage – SAN/NAS/DAS, network – switches/routers/Firewalls etc) in near real time

2. Highly Automated – Given the scale & multi-tenancy requirements, automation at all levels of the stack (development, deployment, monitoring and maintenance)

3. Low Cost – Oddly enough, the SDI operates at a lower CapEx and OpEx compared to the traditional datacenter due to reliance on open source technology & high degree of automation. Further workload consolidation only helps increase hardware utilization.

4. Standardization –  The SDI enforces standardization and homogenization of deployment runtimes, application stacks and development methodologies based on lines of business requirements. This solves a significant IT challenge that has hobbled innovation at large financial institutions.

5. Microservice based applications –  Applications developed for a SDI enabled infrastructure are developed as small, nimble processes that communicate via APIs and over infrastructure like messaging & service mediation components (e.g Apache Kafka & Camel). This offers huge operational and development advantages over legacy applications. While one does not expect Core Banking applications to move over to a microservice model anytime soon, customer facing applications that need responsive digital UIs will need definitely consider such approaches.

6. ‘Kind-of-Cloud’ Agnostic –  The SDI does not enforce the concept of private cloud, or rather it encompasses a range of deployment options – public, private and hybrid.

7. DevOps friendly –  The SDI enforces not just standardization and homogenization of deployment runtimes, application stacks and development methodologies but also enables a culture of continuous collaboration among developers, operations teams and business stakeholders i.e cross departmental innovation. The SDI is a natural container for workloads that are experimental in nature and can be updated/rolled-back/rolled forward incrementally based on changing business requirements. The SDI enables rapid deployment capabilities across the stack leading to faster time to market of business capabilities.

8. Data, Data & Data –  The heart of any successful technology implementation is Data. This includes customer data, transaction data, reference data, risk data, compliance data etc etc. The SDI provides a variety of tools that enable applications to process data in a batch, interactive, low latency manner depending on what the business requirements are.

9. Security –  The SDI shall provide robust perimeter defense as well as application level security with a strong focus on a Defense In Depth strategy.

10. Governance –  The SDI enforces strong governance requirements for capabilities ranging from ITSM requirements – workload orchestration, business policy enabled deployment, autosizing of workloads to change management, provisioning, billing, chargeback & application deployments.

The next & second blog in this series will cover the challenges in running massive scale applications.

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