Software-defined infrastructure challenges legacy IT culture, warns Gartner

Software-defined infrastructures are rapidly emerging and could disrupt conventional IT control, responsibility and support

Software-defined infrastructures are a rapidly emerging trend and conventional enterprise IT control, responsibility and support structures may need to change, Gartner has warned CIOs.

According to the analyst firm, software-defined infrastructures (SDIs) are one of the top IT trends with the greatest possible impact on an enterprise’s infrastructure and operations (I&O). Gartner identified the internet of things (IoT) has another top trend affecting I&O plans. 

David Cappuccio, research vice-president at Gartner, outlined these two trends that CIOs and IT leaders should look for as they plan their future I&O strategies. It is estimated that more than half of IT budgets (55%) are spent on I&O. 

“SDIs are being driven by both IT’s need to manage and control increasingly complex environments at a higher level, and industry vendors looking for increasingly sophisticated ways to provide integration across products, platforms and physical sites,” Cappuccio said.  

SDI trends began a few years ago with software-defined networks (SDNs). Software-defined means letting the application control its resources. It is a trend where hardware elements of a datacentre – such as storage, servers and networking – all turn into virtualised applications controlled by software.

In the networking market, the fundamental shift that SDN brought was to enable IT to dynamically define and shape not only logical network layers, but also to manipulate the underlying physical network by remote controlling switches (and other components).  

“SDIs could be seen as a tipping point in how I&O looks at overall IT strategy, moving away from a model where performance, support and availability of a discrete datacentre was the objective, to a role where applications and data will reside and execute wherever it’s most appropriate for the business – whether that’s on premises, in a hosting or colocation site, or even provided via a cloud service.” 

He advised I&O decision makers to watch the trends closely, test early products in lab environments and get a clear understanding of where the benefits are and where the impacts may be. 

“We caution that SDIs could have organisational impacts as historical control, responsibility and support structures may need to change,” he warned.

Impact of IoT on infrastructure investments

In 2013, Gartner forecast that IoT would see 26 billion units installed by 2020. Cappuccio noted that the IoT is being driven by a huge increase in data volumes collected by various types of sensors deployed by business, as well as the business benefits provided by the analysis of sensor data. Cappuccio listed significantly reduced costs, operational efficiencies and business opportunities as the main benefits of IoT sensor data analytics. 

“Each of these trends have different market and development timelines and should be addressed differently,” he said. 

To deal with the impact of IoT in IT infrastructure investment decisions, CIOs must become more aware of what the business sees as value; how the devices should be monitored; and how the data can be captured and analysed, said Gartner. “This may have impacts on organisations within I&O and deep analytic training in unstructured data may be required,” Cappuccio warned. 

IoT is forcing a change in how IT needs to look at data, and how I&O needs to be involved with business decisions like never before, he added. 

Gartner’s forecast that software-defined IT and IoT will have the most impact on IT comes just days after KMPG identified three technologies – the IoT, 3D printing and biotech or healthcare IT – to have the most impact on how businesses work by 2017. 

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