Under pressure to innovation and scale as fast as possible, many enterprises are turning to software-defined infrastructure (SDI).
This is where technical computing infrastructure is software-controlled with no human intervention. It enables CIOs and other technology executives to focus on applications and business outcomes instead of focusing on hardware.
Senior technology executives gathered at a recent breakfast event in Melbourne, hosted by CIO Australia and Lenovo, to discuss the challenges around deploying SDI across their businesses.
Tim Sheedy, principal advisor at research firm, Ecosystm, who presented at the breakfast, described SDI as processes including infrastructure control, management, provisioning, configuration and other architectural operations that are performed automatically via software as per application requirements and the defined operational policies.
“SDI helps businesses focus their digital transformation activities on the business outcomes that make a difference. The technology is abstracted away from the development and business team so they just focus on delivering great outcomes,” Sheedy said.
But taking a software-driven approach is about more than technology, he said.
“It’s about how the business delivers employee and customer value; it’s about how they think about technology or perhaps more importantly, how they don’t think about it,” he said.
Joao de Almeida Tenreiro, chief technology officer, Data Center Group at Lenovo Australia and New Zealand, adds that an ideal SDI solution would be composed of software-defined compute (virtualisation), software-defined storage (which is not dependent on dedicated hardware and runs on standard X86-based computing, and software-defined networking infrastructure (either running on a virtualisation layer or completely software-based with open switches).
“The immediate benefit of an SDI approach is agility. It is much easier to acquire, implement and manage – releasing precious resources that can be reinvested in the business, either human or financial.”
SDI enables businesses to move towards delivering new and improved products and services at the speed the customer demands, not the speed that the infrastructure team typically operates at, said Sheedy.
“By taking advantage of software-driven automation in their infrastructure systems (server, network and data centres), businesses can operate in an agile manner,” he said.
“Agile can move beyond the technology development principle towards a business operational model. When the whole business is agile, the leaders can focus on continuously improving the digital experience, not the slow plan, build, deploy, run model that many companies use today.
“Businesses that still have critical or legacy systems on site or in managed data centres can get close to the speed of the public cloud and don’t need to sacrifice speed for security or regulatory reasons,” said Sheedy.
As part of its cloud-only strategy, Kings Transport uses a number of software-defined infrastructure models to achieve its objectives, said chief information officer, Liam Mallett.
It uses the Google G-Suite and Google Cloud Platform for managing its cloud workloads as well as a number of SaaS partners that provide specialised industry software.
“G-Suite allows us to collaborate internally and externally at a significantly faster rate than traditional productivity products through its integrated ability to share with anyone across platforms,” he said.
“It allows us to scale workloads to match the seasonality of our revenue. No longer are we under-subscribed in peak periods and over-subscribed in slower periods. Using SaaS providers allows us to focus on our core competencies and leverage our partners for specialised tools and skills to which we can scale up and down as we require.”
Meanwhile, Christopher Topp, director of IT at Melbourne’s Luther College, said SDI is a critical component of the organisation's future agility and ability to provide future-proofed opportunities for ‘life-long learners.’
“Being able to redefine ourselves while monitoring disruptive technologies is the key to enabling people to adapt within a disruptive environment,” he said.
Reskilling for SDI
Taking a software-driven approach to infrastructure means that technology chiefs potentially need to reskill their staff.
Kings Transport’s Mallett said the organisation has needed to retrain teams of people who previously had expertise using on-premise virtualisation, cloud compute, data management and storage tools.
“We have been working with Google and its partners to ensure that we can transition our skills within our team… and leverage our partners where it makes sense. This is the most important part to ensure that we are getting the most benefit from our new asset,” he said.
One of the benefits of SDI is that although staff need to be reskilled, the solutions are much simpler and easier to manage, therefore accelerating the process, adds Lenovo’s Tenreiro.
“The best way for an organisation to have the skills required is engaging vendors that have advanced and mature SDI solutions that are recognised in the market. This allows for development plans to be drafted and implemented as well as giving staff relevant skills recognised by the market.”
Today’s IT leaders need to prepare their businesses for a future where applications are delivered at pace and constantly improved, adds Ecosystm’s Sheedy.
They will need a new structure, new key performance indicators and new skills, he said.
“Next year, your business will have more [services] in the public cloud than it does this year so start the training now on Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or your preferred cloud platforms.
He suggests that tech leaders should turn their infrastructure engineers into automation experts and have them focus on turning hardware into code so that developers can call on resources as they are required without the help of the infrastructure team.
“You will be further exploring or rolling out artificial intelligence so train the right people on machine learning and other artificial intelligence building blocks that you will need to be successful.
“Become known as an organisation that provides great training and you will find it easy to attract new talent,” he said.
Finally, Luther College’s Topp added that lines are being blurred and all technology execs need to find a middle ground.
“Each discipline needs to adapt, evolve and excel to provide the right mix of skills that a modern business will require to succeed,” Topp said.