IBM’s Software Defined Environment

08.04.2014 by Mike Small

In IBM’s view the kinds of IT applications that organizations are creating is changing from internal facing systems to external facing systems.  IBM calls these kinds of systems “systems of record” and “systems of engagement” respectively.  The systems of record represent the traditional applications that ensure that the internal aspects of the business run smoothly and the organization is financially well governed.  The systems of engagement exploit the new wave of technology that is being used by customers and partners and which takes the form of social and mobile computing.  In IBM’s opinion a new approach to IT is needed to cater for this change which IBM calls SDE (Software Defined Environments).

According to IBM these systems of engagement are being developed to enable organizations to get closer to their customers and partners, to better understand their need and to better respond to their issues and concerns.  They are therefore vital to the future of the business.

However the way these systems of engagement are developed, deployed and exploited is radically different to that for systems of record.   The development methodology is incremental and highly responsive to user feedback.  Deployment requires IT infrastructure that can quickly and flexibly respond to use by people outside the organization.  Exploitation of these applications requires the use of emerging technologies like Big Data analytics which can place unpredictable demands on the IT infrastructure.

In response to these demands IBM has a number of approaches; for example in February I wrote about how IBM has been investing billions of dollars in the cloud.  IBM also has offers something it calls SDE (Software Defined Environment).  IBM’s SDE custom-builds business services by leveraging the infrastructure according to workload types, business rules and resource availability. Once these business rules are in place, resources are orchestrated by patterns—best practices that govern how to build, deploy, scale and optimize the services that these workloads deliver.

IBM is also not alone in this approach and others notably VMWare are heading in the same direction.

In the IBM approach – abstracted and virtualized IT infrastructure resources are managed by software via API invocations.   Applications automatically define infrastructure requirements, configuration and Service Level expectations.  The developer, the people deploying the service as well as the IT service provider are all taken into account by the SDE.

This is achieved by the IBM SDE being built on software and standards from the OpenStack Foundation of which IBM is a member.  IBM has added specific components and functionality to OpenStack to fully exploit IBM hardware and software and these include drivers for: IBM storage devices, PowerVM, KVM and IBM network devices.  IBM has also included some IBM “added value” functionality which includes management API additions, scheduler enhancements, management console GUI additions, and a simplified install.  Since the IBM SmartCloud offerings are also based on OpenStack this also makes cloud bursting into the IBM SmartCloud (as well as any other cloud based on OpenStack) easier except where there is a dependency on the added value functionality.

One of the interesting areas is the support provided by the Platform Resource Scheduler for the placement of workloads.  The policies supported make it possible to define that workloads are placed in a wide variety of ways including: pack workload on fewest physical servers or spread across several, load balancing and memory balancing, keep workloads physically close or physically separate.

IBM sees organizations moving to SDEs incrementally rather that in a big bang approach.  The stages they see are virtualization, elastic data scaling, elastic transaction scaling, policy based optimization and finally application aware infrastructure.

In KuppingerCole’s opinion SDCI (Software Defined Computing Infrastructure) is the next big thing.  Martin Kuppinger wrote about this at the end of 2013. IBM’s SDE fits into this model and has the potential to allow end user organizations to make better use their existing IT infrastructure and to provide greater flexibility to meet the changing business needs.  It is good that IBM’s SDE is based on standards; however there is still a risk of lock-in since the standards in this area are incomplete and are still emerging.   My colleague Rob Newby has also written about the changes that are needed for organizations to successfully adopt SDCI.  In addition it will require a significant measure of technical expertise to successful implement in full.

For more information on this subject there are sessions on Software Defined Infrastructure and a Workshop on Negotiating Cloud Standards Jungle at EIC May 12th to 16th in Munich.


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© 2014 Mike Small, KuppingerCole