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Progress report: Building, and managing, the 21st century data center

Brandon Butler | March 26, 2013
Even if you've never heard of Flextronics you have probably used or benefited from one of the products this global digital equipment manufacturer has helped assemble -- a Microsoft Xbox 360, for example, or components that show up in everything from Cisco and Motorola devices to aerospace and automotive equipment.

SDN is just emerging, though, and most enterprises have yet to map their SDN strategies, says Matthew Palmer, an SDN consultant at Wiretap Ventures and a blogger at SDNCentral. "Customers want to see proof of concepts in deployment before they pay the big money to custom build these solutions to their specific needs," he says.

Early SDN proponents include cloud service providers supporting multi-tenant environments, and progressive large enterprises looking to get efficiencies enjoyed by service providers. This year and next are when many proof of concepts will be piloted; 2014 or maybe even 2015 will likely be the years of significant customer adoption, Palmer predicts.

VMware is betting the mainstream market will develop faster than that. After spending $1.2 billion to purchase virtual network company Nicira last year - where Casado served as CTO - VMware just announced it will fold Nicira's technology into its vCloud suite and roll out a VMware-powered hybrid public cloud service. Through a software update and a new controller, customers will be able to create virtual network environments without having to rip and replace existing hardware, VMware says.

Convergence, cloud complicate matters

Companies that are tired of integrating the components on their own might opt for one of the so-called data center in a box options. Proponents of the approach have a simple proposition: Why have separate appliances for compute, networking, storage, deduplication and WAN optimization when you can just have one system that does it all?

"We've crossed the chasm where we're in the phase of the early majority of adopters using this technology," says Trey Layton, CTO of converged infrastructure conglomerate VCE, a partnership among EMC, VMware and Cisco that delivers unified systems. Boxes come pre-configured, ready to install and scale by adding more of whatever is necessary.

There are also a variety of companies like Nutanix and Simplivity offering hyper-convergence boxes, systems that have been engineered from the ground up to integrate a number of services. This is opposed to VCE's strategy of optimizing products from three companies to create a single solution.

While the ease of use is tempting, it comes at a cost, Smoley from Flextronics says: "In my mind, it raises concerns about vendor lock-in."

If the enterprise is successful aligning all the pieces of the virtual data center on premise, ultimately they are going to want to complement that with cloud resources. Customers have more choice than ever when it comes to cloud computing, but many still question if the cloud is ready for enterprise-grade production workloads. "While the technology is rapidly maturing, it has catching up to do," Sanjib Sahoo, CTO at tradeMONSTER wrote in a recent Network World Tech Debate.


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