Software Defined Data Center the VMware Way

A modern software-defined data center relies heavily on virtualization technology. And VMware is one of the pioneers when it comes to virtualization as it helped reshape the whole data center industry a decade ago. Now the company is at it again – aiming for the cloud(s).

VMware claims to have over 2000 enterprise customers when it comes to SDDC solutions, probably more than any other IT solutions vendor out there. ESX, NSX, vCenter, vSphere are just some of the solutions modern data centers cannot do without. And there is a reason for that – they work (as advertised) and integrate well in just about any environment.

Hardware virtualization

Most of you already know VMware vSphere Hypervisor, which is a free bare-metal hypervisor that virtualizes servers so you can consolidate your applications on less hardware. There is also VMware ESXi, another industry-leading and purpose-built bare-metal hypervisor. ESXi installs directly onto the physical server. This way, you can partition it into multiple virtual machines. You can use ESXi for free with vSphere Hypervisor. ESXi has some great qualities to its name. It has a really small footprint (somewhere around 150 MB), which is easier to maintain and further streamlines deployment and configuration. You could argue the small size also makes it more secure as it has only a very small attack surface for malware and other network threats. The agentless approach to hardware monitoring and system management is done via an API-based integration model; there are several scripts for automated management that help a lot (with patching and updating as well).

If you haven't already, you should definitely upgrade to vSphere 6.0. Especially if you're after some unique features such as long distance vMotion and multi-processor fault tolerance. These features align with the demands of next-generation applications and deliver increased scale, improved reliability, and cost efficiencies for the business. Just what is expected of the IT department nowadays.

Network virtualization

VMware has spent a fair share of dollars getting the networks virtualized. Well, some will argue NSX was Nicira's baby to start with, but the software-defined networking (SDN) solution ended up at VMware for 1.26 billion USD. Nevertheless, as we have it today, VMware NSX is the network virtualization platform for SDDC.

By bringing the operational model of a virtual machine to the (data center) network, the economics of network and security operations are greatly affected – on the positive side, that is. NSX lets you treat your physical network as a pool of transport capacity, with network and security services attached to VMs with a policy-driven approach. The idea behind this is to be able to move your applications together with their security and network settings with ease. Basically, you can process any workload anywhere as well as run both new and existing applications across multiple platforms and clouds with instant delivery to a chosen location/device.

By deploying the VMware NSX Manager, you take charge of settings and communication between vCenter and other infrastructure. The management part requires the use of at least three controllers – to build a quorum. In order to share data between different solutions, I would recommend using VMware NFV.

VMware did a terrific job by adding all sorts of goodies to its SDN solutions; for example, you have routing protocols implemented, NAT, etc. But the NSX implementation wins me over with its distributed L2-L3 processing on all hosts and distributed firewalls. There’s micro-segmentation with automated fine-grained policies tied to the virtual machines, which tightens security as well.

Creating entire networks in software has never been easier.

Storage virtualization comes on board

Storage virtualization was the last one to join. One could argue VSANs are still the weakest link today as network virtualization has stolen most of the spotlight in the last years. But things are about to change; at least judging by VMware Virtual SAN, which is a radically simple, enterprise-class shared storage solution for hyper-converged infrastructure. IT delivers high IOPs per host and supports technologies like high availability (HA), asynchronous replication, stretched cluster capabilities, deduplication, compression, and erasure coding. Not just exceptional performance and lower TCO (even by 50% in some cases), simplicity and scalability should/will convince you.

One of the nice features of a modern virtualized storage solution is its ability to self-tune: it can automatically rebuild and rebalance storage to align with the storage service levels assigned to each virtual machine in the cluster. And quality of service (QoS) that automatically limits and monitors the IOPs consumed by specific virtual machines eliminates potentially noisy neighbors.

In practice, VSAN  enables the most cost-efficient (all-flash) performance and can deliver up to 10x greater storage utilization through data reduction technologies to optimize data footprint. It is really nice to see storage climbing to another level.

It’s a virtualized world out there

VMware’s approach to a fully virtualized IT infrastructure is a comprehensive one. The software‑defined approach extends virtualization beyond compute, network, and storage. The goal is to make data center services and client applications as easy and inexpensive to configure, and to manage them as virtual machines. Since VMware’s solutions are designed to be fully integrated, engineered, tested, and validated, one could argue that even a third-grader could use them. And that’s a good thing!

The software-defined world brings ever present APIs and templates. With the use of self-service portals, users will be able to simply click the services they need, and the background automation will take care of everything else. Simple enough, right? You just have to love what virtualization has become …