No single vendor offers a complete Software Defined vision

By Published On: July 5, 2016

Similar to the single pane of glass, no single vendor offers a complete software-defined vision. So what value lays in the software defined goal? 

A couple of years ago, I wrote how VMware and Cisco were fundamentally two different approaches to the same problem from two different ends. There are even real world examples of the two solutions being used in combination. The premise of my original post is that Cisco is a hardware-centric approach to the intent based network while VMware NSX is the software approach. After I had tweeted out the old link, VCE President Chad Sakac asked how I viewed the market today. So, a Chad inspired post. 

Cisco Hardware-centric

It may sound like an oversimplification, but each company faces the constraints of their existing business models. Cisco sells network hardware at a premium. Cisco’s sales force and partner network excel at selling high-profit-margin hardware. It is not in their best interest to sell software only solutions that cannibalize their hardware business. It isn’t to say that the hardware solutions don’t fit the bill. The challenge is to separate Cisco’s interest from that of the customer’s interest.

One of the challenges of this software-driven data center environment is that it’s difficult to package as a single product or set of products. No single vendor has an end to end solution that encompasses all of the software-defined data center. Cisco has a solid base with UCS and ACI. Couple the right software for managing cloud-based workloads and it’s a compelling platform to build next generation applications.

However, getting the right mix of hardware and software has proven difficult. While both UCS and ACI provide deep levels of integration and management for the hardware layer of compute and network, there are some shortfalls in other parts of the data center. Storage is especially a weak area for Cisco. Cisco is a hardware first company without a strong hardware storage solution. These holes expose themselves in sectors such as data management.

VMware Software-centric

VMware, on the other hand, has the inverse challenge. VMware’s NSX is an offshoot from VMware’s strengths in software. In theory, NSX’ overlay operates on almost any underlay including Amazon AWS. In practice, there are gaps. One of the largest shortcomings is visibility into the underlay. Tying performance and troubleshooting from the abstracted network to the physical network is a challenge. VMware is hoping the recent acquisition of Arkin will help alleviate that pain point.

Another challenge for VMware’s software only approach is that many of the best features are limited to the virtualized network. For example, NSX firewall provides an impressive level of integration with VMware vSphere objects and the logical network. A security administrator can create a rule that enables traffic between any NSX end points and vSphere objects such as a vApp. However, NSX Firewall can’t manage traffic that isn’t passed through a vSphere host. So to endpoints connected via Cisco 9K switches can’t leverage NSX Firewall.

End to End Software-Defined

The desire is to stitch all of the great features of controlling the physical network, virtual network, storage and compute together into a single to consume and manage the software-defined data center. Neither vendor has an end to end vision today. Even the new-Dell with storage, networking and the full VMware portfolio lacks a full Public cloud option.

The desire to integrate best of breed platforms is one of the reasons OpenStack appealed to so many vendors. By providing a neutral management layer, a vendor participates in a complete SDDC ecosystem. OpenStack has proven to be an engineering and operational challenge. Does this mean that the SDDC is unattainable?

No, as my discussion with Eric Wright highlights, success lays in focusing on point solutions for individual business challenges. HPE’s Helion Cloud is an example. HPE takes their engineered systems and overlay OpenStack. The combination of an engineered underlay and a robust management platform provides the building blocks for a private cloud. Cloud brokers are added to provide Public Cloud capacity.

So, a year later how does my viewpoint hold up? A solid hardware and software strategy is required in today’s data center. Individual vendors are still struggling to bridge the gap between the hardware, software and public cloud solutions. Customers requiring tight integration some engineering work cut out.

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