By Michael Francis
VMware’s Transformative Growth
Over the last eight years at VMware I have observed so much change, and in my mind it has been transformative change. I think about my 20 years in IT and the changes I have seen, and feel the emergence of virtualization of x86 hardware will be looked upon as one of the most important catalysts for change in information technology history. It has modified the speed of service delivery, the cost of that delivery and subsequently has enabled innovative business models for computing – such as cloud computing.
I have been part of the transformation of our company in these eight years; we’ve grown from being a single-product infrastructure company to what we are today – an application platform company. Virtualization of compute is now mainstream. We have broadened virtualization to storage and networking, bringing the benefits realized for compute to these new areas. I don’t believe this is incremental value or evolutionary. I think this broader virtualization―coupled with intelligent, business policy-aware management systems―will be so disruptive to the industry that it will be considered a separate milestone potentially, on par with x86 virtualization.
Where We Are Now
Here is why I think the SDDC is significant:
- The software-defined data center (SDDC) brings balance back to the ongoing discussion between the use of public and private computing.
- It enables the attributes of agility, reduced operational and capital costs, lower security risk, and a new of stack management visibility.
- SDDC not only modifies the operational and consumption model for computing infrastructure, but it also modifies the way computing infrastructure is designed and built.
- Infrastructure is now a combination of software and configuration. It can be programmatically generated based on a specification; hyper-converged infrastructure is one example of this.
As a principal architect in VMware’s team responsible for the generation of tools and intellectual property that can assist our Professional Services and Partners to deliver VMware SDDC solutions, the last point is especially interesting and the one I want to spend some time on.
How We Started
As an infrastructure-focused project resource and lead over the past two decades, I have become very familiar developing design documents and ‘as-built’ documentation. I remember rolling out Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 in 1996 on CDs. There was a guide that showed me what to click and in what order to do certain steps. There was a lot of manual effort, opportunity for human error, inconsistencies between builds, and a lot of potential for the built item to vary significantly from the design specification.
Later, in 2000, I was a technical lead for a systems integrator; we had standard design document templates and ‘as-built’ document templates, and consistency and standardization had become very important. A few of us worked heavily with VBScript, and we started scripting the creation of Active Directory configurations such as Sites and Services definitions, OU structures and the like. We dreamed of the day when we could do a design diagram, click ‘build’, and have scripts build what was in the specification. But we couldn’t get there. The amount of work to develop the scripts, maintain them, and modify them as elements changed was too great. That was when we focused on the operating stack and a single vendor’s back office suite; imagine trying to automate a heterogeneous infrastructure platform.
It’s All About Automated Design
Today we have the ability to leverage the SDDC as an application programming interface (API) that abstracts not only the hardware elements below and can automate the application stack above― but can abstract the APIs of ecosystem partners.
This means I can write to one API to instantiate a system of elements from many vendors at all different layers of the stack, all based on a design specification.
Our dream in the year 2000 is something customers can achieve in their data centers with SDDC today. To be clear – I am not referring to just configuring the services offered by the SDDC to support an application, but also to standing up the SDDC itself. The reality is, we can now have a hyper-converged deployment experience where the playbook of the deployment is driven by a consultant-developed design specification.
For instance, our partners and our professional services organization has access to what we refer to as the SDDC Deployment Tool (an imaginative name, I know) (or SDT for short). This tool can automate the deployment and configuration of all the components that make up the software-defined data center. The following screenshot illustrates this:
Today this tool deploys the SDDC elements in a single use case configuration.
In VMware’s Professional Services Engineering group we have created a design specification for an SDDC platform. It is modular and completely instantiated in software. Our Professional Services Consultants and Partners can use this intellectual property to design and build the SDDC.
What Comes Next?
I believe our next step is to architect our solution design artifacts so the SDDC itself can be described in a format that allows software―like SDT―to automatically provision and configure the hardware platform, the SDDC software fabric, and the services of the SDDC to the point where it is ready for consumption.
A consultant could design the specification of the SDDC infrastructure layer and have that design deployed in a similar way to hyper-converged infrastructure―but allowing the customer to choose the hardware platform.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the SDDC is not just about technology, consumption and operations: it provides the basis for a transformation in delivery. To me a good analogy right now is the 3D printer. The SDDC itself is like the plastic that can be molded into anything; the 3D printer is the SDDC deployment tool, and our service kits would represent the electronic blueprint the printer reads to then build up the layers of the SDDC solution for delivery.
This will create better and more predictable outcomes and also greater efficiency in delivering the SDDC solutions to our customers as we treat our design artifacts as part of the SDDC code.
Michael Francis is a Principal Systems Engineer at VMware, based in Brisbane.