Software-defined data centre emerges as the next big business opportunity for partners

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Partners feel the SDDC wave is slowly catching up, which is presently dominated by big service providers or directly managed by OEMs. However, partners feel that building capabilities and best practices is a prerequisite before tapping into this opportunity

Software-defined data centre (SDDC) is the most talked about term among enterprises today. With factors like mobility, cloud and digital-led organisations, SDDC is going to decide the future of data centres. This evolution of IT infrastructure and architecture represents a complete paradigm shift from today’s standard operating procedures for architecture and provisioning IT services. Segments like telecommunications, retail, large financial services, healthcare organisations, utilities, and communications have a huge focus on SDDC.

Virtualisation paving way to SDDC
For solution providers, it is absolutely necessary to understand its impact, potential risks and expected benefits before they embark on their journey of implementing SDDC. Gradually, partners are exploring the hidden opportunities behind the SDDC environment and developing new practices around software-defined networks (SDN), software-defined storage (SDS) and SDDC. Partners who have long served the enterprise storage market should be well positioned to capitalise on the software-defined model by leveraging the technical expertise, resources and customer relationship.

Analysts predict the SDDC market will grow from US$ 21.78 billion in 2015 to US$ 77.18 billion in 2020, with an estimated CAGR of 29 per cent. That’s a remarkable growth and can be appealing to the hardware-based partners.

“The software-defined environment is most definitely the coming wave. With cloud services touted to be a major play riding on data centres in India, the channel’s role has crossed over from being a sales enabler to becoming IT transformation agent. With digital transformation disrupting the way customers have traditionally purchased, provisioned and managed networking, storage, the data centre is undergoing a major change. Thereby, as a service provider, we are evolving to meet the needs of the customer,” informs Prarthana Gupta, CEO, Cache Technologies.

“As customers are concerned about RoI with the technology refresh, we push for SDDC because they minimise the number of moving parts in an IT environment. In the past, managing private clouds meant provisioning the network, compute resources, storage, security, across numerous vendors and API frameworks. SDDC provides a pre-integrated model for those resources, and it enables reliable automation, orchestration and management under one, common stack. This model is more suitable for large enterprises,” she adds.

“Given our history of helping customers with enterprise-grade virtualisation, many of our customers are now looking at software-defined data centre architectures as the next step for their innovation initiatives. When considering new innovations around IoT sensor integration, process re-engineering, or business intelligence, our customers are excited by the possibilities of the software-defined data centre, and we’re getting our business practices tuned to help them to reduce the workloads for their businesses,” shares Gunjana Shah, Chief Marketing Officer, Insight Business Machine.

He also highlighted that in a large setup where a customer has 5,000-10,000 data points, it makes more sense to take software-driven approach. Whereas, mid-sized customers are looking for more hyper-converged or hyper-flex solution which is a combination of hardware and software. Insight Business Machine has seen close to 20-30 of its mid-sized customers looking for ‘miniature’ version of SDDC in the form of hyper-converged.

Typically large organisations like National Stock Exchange, which are largely serviced by big players like Dimension Data, are software-defined. Sankarson Banerjee, Chief Technology Officer, Projects, for National Stock Exchange of India, where he manages transformational projects for one of the world’s largest stock exchanges, says, “At NSE, today most of our data centres are software-defined. In a hardware-based data centre, it invariably means over-provisioning, which creates idle capacity and wasted resources in case of a greater need tomorrow. At NSE, all infrastructure is virtualised and delivered as a service, with the control entirely automated by software. To fully realise the potential of the software-defined data centre, all infrastructure disciplines must, therefore, be virtualised, and put under automated control. This creates a separate, more strategic motivation for software-defined storage. Clearly, the hardware driven data centre in the large setup is well on its way to becoming an IT relic.”

Similarly, for Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN), when it comes to IT infrastructure of the data centre, the overall architecture is hosted in a dedicated area in four data centres – two bigger and two smaller data centres. All the system and software and data is securely based on industry standards and government guidelines. The overall architecture of the data centre is designed for no data loss. In a typical arrangement, there will be one data centre and a disaster recovery (DR) centre at a different place. Sharing his views, Nitin Mishra, EVP (Technical), GSTN, says, “The software-defined everything is rapidly becoming the new normal. Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) facilitates moving to SDDC architecture as gradually or as quickly as a company is willing to pursue the transition.”

With the growing data and faster turnout of the services, the data centre market is poised to grow. Areas like DRaaS, storage and backup as a service, cloud, analytics and software-defined everything are on a high tide and partners can play an active role.

In the view of Navin Kapur – Executive Vice President, Asia at Comparex, the growing need for hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), BYOD, software-defined networking, multi-tenancy in data centre and flash storage, are largely the factors which are forcing enterprises to redefine their data centre. “At Comparex we help organisations transition from a traditional data centre to SDCC with right licensing, deployment, automation and ongoing management,” says Kapur.

Gupta asserts, “It is very pertinent for partners to maintain openness to emerging technologies. Flexibility is important in the software space. This is due to the rapid evolution of software technology; consider for example, how quickly cloud-based applications and the Internet of Things (IoT) are changing the requirements within the data centre. Flexibility is also important to your customers’ environments. IT organisations are typically quite heterogeneous, and you need the ability to work with diverse applications and systems from numerous software vendors.”

Jay Sengupta, AVP – Sales, Infrastructure Solutions, PC Solutions shares that software-defined data centre, though as of today sounds pretty futuristic, a lot of CIOs of PC Solutions’ enterprise customers have started discussion around the same. While this sounds futuristic, this evolution of IT infrastructure and architecture represents a complete paradigm shift from today’s standard operating procedures for architecting and provisioning IT services.

He says, “Some trends are revolutionary and others evolutionary in nature. Organisations have accepted it, are getting aligned with it and are trying to make changes to reap its benefits. There has been a key point that the concept itself doesn’t address unless specifically asked for. SDDC doesn’t lay down any base structure for application awareness and its security detail – that someone building a SDDC can build on. Whilst there is a whole lot available on how will the infrastructure become non-bothered about entity, SDDC layer’s application level visibility still remains a mystery. It’s true that we might have software defined infrastructure with us as of today, but it’s important to get our applications ready for the same. PC Solutions, being partner of all the leading IT infrastructure OEMs, is better placed in order to take this concept to our customers. We internally have formed a core team of sales and pre-sales people certified on different technologies to take this solution to the customer.”

An eye for services business
Software-defined data centres enable software-defined managed services. As customers want easy ways to model, deploy, and monitor applications in the cloud, with fewer numbers of the workforce on top of that using analytics to help identify cost-saving opportunities and define best practices, most companies in India are slowly but steadily moving their on-premise workloads to the data centre; riding on this trend, the need for technology experts will be in demand.

Shah feels that cloud migration, integration, security, compliance and automation are eminent challenges mainly caused due to an oversight by organisations moving to the cloud. Hence channel partners can create opportunities out of these challenges and increase their wallet share by advising and aligning IT with business objectives.

PC Solutions recently helped Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) in setting up a Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Delhi. Explaining the factor driving the SDDC and how his company is meeting the need of customers, Devendra Taneja, Founder and CEO, PC Solutions, states, “For an SMB player, it is crucial to get a place where he can drive down or walk across and see what he wants to implement, because his investment is limited. If he has more facilitation and more of his doubts are set to rest in peace, the implementation decision would happen faster. Similarly, new-age companies are mostly run by young IT-savvy entrepreneurs who do their own research before implementing new technologies. However, such CoEs offer them the infrastructure to try out new technologies in their own simulated environment and get their own doubts cleared before implementing these technologies.”

Mastering the delivery model
Conversely, by deploying SDDC on HCI appliances, customers have the flexibility to buy storage, network and compute resources based solely on the current needs. The extra capacity required today can be added quickly and easily if and when actually there’s a need in the future, allowing for pay-as-you-grow spending. Hence, it is critical for a partner and his pre-sales team to offer multiple delivery models suiting his business needs at the time of understanding the IT need of the customer.

“The multi-tenant delivery platform will be worked as a value addition and can also eliminate the need for complex integration scenarios, since all applications can run in the same environment,” Gupta explains.

Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services sees several benefits by taking the software-defined approach. Suresh A Shan, Head – Innovation & Future Technology Business Information & Technology Solutions (BITS), informs, “We don’t have to spend significant money on hardware, facilities, utilities and other aspects of operations. With traditional computing, we can spend millions before it gets any value from investment in the data centre. With SDDC, our subsidiary companies had reduced the size of their own data centres – or eliminated our extra data centre footprint altogether. The consolidation of information and infrastructure has a major reduction of the number of servers, the software cost, and the number of staff had significantly reduced IT costs without impacting our internal IT capabilities.”

With a hardware-driven data centre, the operational costs (OpEx) can be sky-high; it has been found that a software-defined data centre can give organisations a streamlined and automated data centre that can lower costs by as much as 56 per cent.

“Powerful management and orchestration softwares automate many common admin tasks, freeing up IT professionals for more important work. Automation, combined with end-to-end visibility, allows enterprises to maintain optimal data centre operations, keeping systems running smoothly while responding rapidly to the changing IT needs. Compared to our early days of services, with software approach, we have reduced our workforce at customers’ sites by 20 per cent, which means that we can service more customers at the same time.

The only drawback is that hiring and retaining of these IT professionals mean more investment for partners,” opines Shah.

Adding to it, Kapur says, “We see a huge opportunity in SDDC and DevOps business, both from sales and services point of view. Moreover, it has helped us in deep study of inter-department, co-working with different OEMs. Functions application flow and budget is necessary for a successful transition of the customer. For example, one of our BFSI customers, which implemented SDDC has registered 27 per cent optimised IT budget and 31 per cent increase in productivity.”

There are several challenges in mainstream adoption of SDDC that the industry needs to overcome. Unlike startups, large data organisations like NSE and Mahindra believe that SDDC stack needs a mechanism to identify legacy infrastructure, physical infrastructure and intuitively create a controlled environment to integrate them. Usually, an enterprise data centre has different infrastructure maturity standards which makes it more difficult. Moreover, there is a possibility of vendor lock-in due to converged infrastructure and products from OEM vendors. SDDC needs an all-inclusive management and monitoring tool as well as building management systems, a tightly-coupled automation and orchestration solution.

“In a software-defined environment, IT becomes simplified through open standards, as well as responsive to shifting requirements and adaptive through policy-based automation. Such an environment is developed by automating infrastructure across server compute, storage, and networking resources,” says Mishra of GSTN.

Management and security: a new bet
There still remains one of the most important aspects of operating a data centre – management. The traditional data centre used SNMP-based managed objects. Those systems are still in use, but data centre management is evolving too, along with device management and the FCAPS network management model, analytics, artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies. Super-convergence makes it easier to see everything in a single pane. CIOs need to keep up with advances in IT management as well as other areas of the data centre.

For partners, understanding of security should be more strategic, making it an integral part of their data centre transformation strategy and roadmap. “Choosing a solution that can safeguard hybrid cloud workloads, while preserving the benefits of the underlying SDDC infrastructure is critical. This way partners can sustain or improve their customer’s security posture in the hybrid cloud without negating the virtues of operational efficiency, agility and performance, which prompted the decision to invest in SDDC in the first place,” narrates Shah.

For many organisations, the path to SDDC is not clear. There is a tremendous number of choices and competing, emerging technologies. Hence, for a partner, while developing a strategy for evolving to SDDC, it is important to understand his own environments and develop a plan that meets the needs. In addition to technological issues, there will also be cultural challenges in addressing silos that have been built up in data centres.

On a hindsight, Kapur believes, there are benefits like higher efficiency and lower costs, application provisioning in minutes. The right availability and security for every application and any workload delivered anywhere can be possible with the SDDC environment.

Lastly, in data centre, the lines between hardware and software have been blurred; these are closely interlinked choices that customers make when moving to a data centre. If you have a line of business in any of the enterprise platforms like SAP, Oracle, Microsoft products or technology areas like networking, storage, partners can play a pivotal role in working with the end customer as they make choices of data centre solutions and services. This is definitely a learning curve and they can play a part in virtual alliance team that helps partners leverage the sales and tech capabilities.