Software defined networks are gaining fans in the IT infrastructure business, but it has caused some controversy and debate among professionals with conflicting views about the practicality of changing the way a business works. Many argued that using the change would cause more problems than it solved, but recent products such as VMWare’s NSX appears to have overcome many of the issues that worried IT pros.
We use VMWare with Dell hardware and are reasonably new to network virtualization, but so far, we’ve had a smooth ride. Our data centre used to house a number of servers, but we recently changed and consolidated our hardware to just two units, in two locations, running a number of virtual machines. The next logical step was to consolidate the network storage in the most efficient way possible, which resulted in starting with two identical NAS systems at both locations. We quickly realised that we were defeating the objective and eventually recognised that VMWare’ software layer was essentially giving us a single unit architecture, distributed over a private WAN and the data transfer required to duplicate everything was just not practical.
The decision to move to a software defined data centre (SDDC) happened because we recognised that most of the network options on the market already had a software layer in them anyway. Also, the benefits of flexibility and more management capabilities coupled with the added security of working in what is essentially a private cloud meant that we could move to a cloud storage system, but maintain far greater control of our data.
Our situation is unlikely to be unique, but it was still a leap of faith to move from hardware that had done its job with reasonable performance for a little over 15 years. We had been using Solaris on SPARC machines for handling our data in-house and as one of only a handful manufacturers of photolithographic masks in the world, customers had been willing to work with us in our methods.
Until last year, we still used FTP to receive customer designs, edit and transfer them back for approval before manufacturing. Now we assign customers a portion of our private cloud and they can upload and access their edit designs there instead of accessing FTP directories. In practical terms, the move has been a success, but the initial disruption meant that we needed to simultaneously operate two systems at once (at least internally) for a number of weeks that meant extra workload. That did not go down well with many staff members, but the result is an environment that is much easier to work with both customers and in-house.
In fairness, change is never easy, but our experience with vCloud Suite’s private cloud has resulted in increased productivity, although we did have some problems initially with adopting legacy software to work with distributed architecture, but we quickly found a workaround.
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