Will the “Software-Defined” trend improve the pace of innovation?

By Rick Clarkson

The “Software-Defined” movement may represent a major innovation in the way we provision, manage, and automate IT infrastructure resources. IDC has even predicted that Software-Defined Networks (SDN) will grow to a $3.7 billion market by 2016.

The idea of cleanly separating what’s done really well in hardware (like fast packet switching in the case of networking) from what’s better done in software (like routing updates and quality of service management) is at the heart of the movement. Known as Software-Defined Data Centers (SDDC), Software-Defined Networking (SDN), Software-Defined Storage (SDS), and generically Software Defined Anything (SDx), the Software-Defined trend does seem to be improving the pace of innovation in traditionally hardware-centric areas. 

Yet, a lot of complex pieces need to come together for this particular technotopian dream to become a reality, and some critics still say it’s all just marketing hype. Either way, the fundamental strategy behind SDx definitely has legs: virtualizing through software much of what has typically been done with hardware and, in the process, giving hardware and software enough freedom from each other so they can independently develop in their own specialty.

In SDN, for example, the separation of the control plane (the part of the network responsible for routing and directing) from the data plane (the part that carries the traffic itself) allows network resources to be virtualized and much more easily adjusted to meet growing business needs. “The hope is that by separating the smarts from the brawn, the underlying hardware can become cheaper and interchangeable (avoiding vendor lock-in) while the overarching software becomes more capable and faster-evolving,” said Mat Mathews of Plexxi in an article for Wired. 

At Signiant, we’ve known about this technique for technology innovation since long before the software-defined buzz hit the hot tech topic list. One of our core strategies for achieving clean and secure file movement has been to separate the control plane and data plane in all of our SaaS file transfer solutions. Additionally, with the data plane (the “brawn”), we encourage avoidance of vendor lock-in with our storage agnostic approach to software design, allowing the choice between on-premises storage and a favorite cloud vendor (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, etc.).

In a recent blog on ZDNet called Moving the Big Stuff (based on an interview with our CTO, Ian Hamilton), Dan Kusnetsky said, “After a long discussion of what was going on behind the scenes, it became clear to me that Signiant had implemented technology that crosses software-defined networking and software-defined storage. The communication stream is, in essence, separated into two flows of communication — control and data. The data object to be moved is analyzed and a large number of segments of this object are moved across the network in parallel. The control functions constantly adjust the size of the data segments being transferred to both optimize the use of the available network bandwidth and make sure that all of the segments arrive safely.”

Although “Software-Defined File Transfer (SDFT)” doesn’t totally make sense in that there isn’t a hardware-centric element of digital file transfer, separating the control plane and data plane into two independent software elements definitely makes for far superior fast file movement software.

As we continue to track the expert’s predictions into the future of IT infrastructures, we’re sure to see differing opinions on whether or not something like Software-Defined Data Centers will be applicable to all but the most advanced IT departments. However, the underlying strategy is already tried and true, so it’s bound to yield vast improvements one way or another.

For more on Signiant’s SDN-like architecture, check out this press release on the subject.

IBC 2014

Many of us are heading to Amsterdam for IBC2014, September 12-16. If you’re planning to attend, be sure to stop by our stand (# 14.L08) and say hello!

If you’d like to schedule a meeting with us at IBC, go here or email a date and time that works for you at ibc@signiant.com and we’ll send you a calendar invite.