Open systems and open standards are moving us to a world of software-defined everything
There’s a revolution coming. Across the industry, and at multiple levels in the data center stack, industry groups are making common cause to change the way things are done. Six months ago, we saw a coherent movement developing around open source and open standards (see box), and we relaunched this magazine with a cover celebrating that fact. Half a year on, does this really look like a revolution?
Eddie Schutter certainly thinks so. The director of product development engineering at AT&T Labs pointed out that there is a new generation of innovators collaborating on inter-related ideas for interoperable platforms.
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Remixing the industry cycles
“In my view, while the ideas and innovations of today may seem like remixes of the industry cycles before, there are clear differences in how the data center and infrastructure industry must adapt,” Schutter tells DCD. “The winners will be those who apply solutions vertically to address full-stack needs, horizontally for optimized costs and performance, and with a global awareness.”
That won’t always be easy for users to adapt to, says Sherrie Brown Littlejohn, head of enterprise architecture at Wells Fargo: “Software-defined everything, data-driven, autonomous data center and cloud are not silver or platinum bullets. For some, the paradigm shift required to realize their value is significant as it requires a mindset reset – learning, relearning and some unlearning.”
But she’s onside, along with increasing numbers of significant user companies.
Defining and packaging
To help users over this hump, these ideas need to be defined and packaged into consumable products and services. And that’s where the industry bodies come in.
Take Open Compute. Launched by Facebook in 2011, this started as a way for large organizations to share their specifications for “no-frills” servers that trim the waste from data centers.
It’s now gathering and sharing specifications for bare metal switches, and it’s possible to pick these up and use them. And, meanwhile, the group is sharing radical ideas that significantly change data centers. Microsoft, for instance, gave the Open Compute Foundation the specification for a “distributed UPS,” replacing giant backup systems with individual rechargeable batteries in each server to create a cheaper and more granular system.
The winners will be those who apply solutions vertically, horizontally, and with a global awareness
At the software level, OpenStack is concentrating on how to manage and deliver services, turning the movement from a “good idea” to a foundation for business. That means a focus on automation and orchestration, says Alan Clark, the OpenStack chair. “For business to effectively garner ROI from the software-defined movement, particularly with cloud infrastructure, the liberal application of automation will be required. Orchestration still lags behind peer components, and remains one of the least understood, non-standardized and deployed automation technology areas.”
The OpenStack movement is consolidating slightly, with some early pioneers acquired by the late-adopting giants. Cisco bought Piston Cloud, and IBM bought Blue Box (see news, p14), in both cases to build in-house expertise to meet increasing customer demands.
Meanwhile, containers – which shrink application loads to the bare minimum without the fuss associated with virtual machines – have become an accepted part of cloud infrastructure, and it looks as if a possible dispute between leaders CoreOs and Docker has been headed off by a new standards agreement.
Linux, the operating system that first showed the strength of open source, is somewhere near the center of all this, and the Linux Foundation is providing a home for many of the open platform movements, as well as an example of how to enrich a platform with new technologies. Linux platforms like Ubuntu are having containerized services moved into their heart to fit them for the software-defined data center.
All told, the revolution is ticking along nicely, and DCD will have a ringside seat as the series of StackingIT events this year (see box) present the latest developments in the open movements.
“The set of infrastructure solutions that emerge from this climate of innovation becomes a key to underpinning an unrivaled age of insight and discovery,” says Eric Wells, vice president of data center services at Fidelity Investments. “The products and solutions that enable the principles of adaptability and ‘open’ will be the ones to watch.
The strands of open
Multiple movements are converging to create an open approach to data centers. The following are central to the upcoming changes:
Open Compute The Facebook-inspired Open Compute Foundation shares data center hardware designs as open source hardware, so in principle all data center managers can build with low-cost, energy-efficient switches and servers.
OpenStack This free open source cloud computing platform was created by Rackspace and NASA. It includes modules for provisioning compute, networking and storage and cloud services.
Linux The open source OS is the de facto standard for building cloud services, offering infinite scalability thanks to its licensing model, and with new features added by a lively community.
Containers Docker has led the movement to deliver workloads in containers, or cut-down modules that have fewer overheads than traditional virtual machines. Linux OS and platforms such as Windows are adding container support.
Hadoop Hadoop ecosystem allows distributed compute and storage to deliver analytics quickly from large data sets.
SDN The OpenDaylight specification is the frontrunner of the software-defined networking (SDN) movement, which aims to replace proprietary network switches with commodity hardware running open software.