Data centers have long faced the challenge of finding ways to provide more storage and computing services to customers within the physical confines of the facility’s footprint. While data centers run the gamut from quite small modular arrangements to sprawling hyperscale facilities, it’s the servers stored on the data floor that make everything possible. For many years, these facilities ran up against hard limitations because they had to continuously add servers to accommodate increased demands, which in turn placed additional demands upon power and cooling capacity.
But all of that is changing now thanks to server virtualization.
Virtualization technology allows data centers to recreate the storage and computing capabilities of IT hardware into software form. Rather than offering dedicated physical servers to customers, facilities can use virtualization to harness the power of that hardware and effectively multiply the number of services they offer. Segmentation techniques make it possible for multiple customers to utilize the same server while also distributing workloads across multiple servers. Virtualization effectively transforms a data center into a single, gigantic server that can offer a wide range of services by drawing upon the whole of its infrastructure.
Data centers utilizing this approach have come to be known as software-defined data centers (SDDCs) because they offer their storage and computing services primarily through software-driven tools rather than traditional hardware. In the past, a client might purchase a certain number of distinct servers that would form the basis of their service needs. If they wanted to increase their performance, power, or storage, they had to buy additional server space. An SDDC service model, however, operates more like a cloud computing model. The facility has virtualized its resources and customers can simply purchase what they need when they need it without having to worry about how many servers will be required to power their business.
Pooling all of its computing and storage resources into a single, virtualized service is a challenging process, but one that can deliver many advantages. Once fully implemented, virtualization allows SDDCs to manage their services and resources more effectively. Workloads and power needs can be regulated directly through software, making it much easier to redirect the resources customers need quickly and efficiently. Rather than putting in a work order to incorporate a new server into a customer’s infrastructure and working out the logistics of how that addition will affect power usage and cooling needs, a software-defined data center architecture allows them to simply apportion those resources virtually without much delay.
The power and cooling benefits of virtualization are also a significant benefit for data centers. At the turn of the century, data centers faced a serious power crisis, with some experts even predicting that they would eventually pose a severe threat to the world’s energy resources. While data centers still consume roughly three percent of the electricity produced on the planet, they use that power much more efficiently than older facilities thanks in part to virtualization techniques that allow them to maximize the potential of their hardware.
While data centers benefit tremendously from virtualization, their customers are the real winners. Virtualization of computing resources makes it easier for them to control costs by only purchasing the services and storage they actually need. Since everything is implemented through software, customers also gain better visibility over their data and assets. They can easily monitor their network traffic to identify usage trends over time that allow them to better optimize their systems. That same visibility also allows them to define who has access to secure networks and regulate important security measures like cryptographic key generation.
Just as virtualization makes it easier for data centers to expand services, it provides unparalleled flexibility for customers. An SDDC can easily scale services up or down as easily as a cloud provider, helping companies to navigate unpredictability in the marketplace. By allowing customers to pay only for the services they need, SDDCs are especially good for smaller businesses that can’t afford the capital-intensive infrastructure of their larger competitors. They can use virtualized data centers to house processing-intensive workloads, enabling them to develop and test applications that far exceed the capabilities of their in-house resources.
With customers demanding more flexibility and competitive pricing from their data center partners, the trend toward virtualization is sure to intensify in the coming years. New facilities are already being designed from the ground up to take advantage of this strategy, making them the first generation of data centers to truly position themselves as SDDCs. Even for existing facilities, shifting to virtualization will allow them to enhance their services to deliver even greater value to their customers.