Where Are You on the Road to Software-Defined Infrastructure?

In enterprise IT and service provider environments these days, you’re likely to hear lots of discussion about software-defined infrastructure. In one way or another, everybody now seems to understand that IT is moving into the era of SDI.

There are good reasons for this transformation, of course. SDI architectures enable new levels of IT agility and efficiency. When everything is managed and orchestrated in software, IT resources— including compute, storage, and networking—can be provisioned on demand and automated to meet service-level agreements and the demands of a dynamic business.


For most organizations, the question isn’t, “Should we move to SDI?” It’s, “How do we get there?” In a previous post, I explored this topic in terms of a high road that uses prepackaged SDI solutions, a low road that relies on build-it-yourself strategies, and a middle road that blends the two approaches together.

In this post, I will offer up a maturity-model framework for evaluating where you are in your journey to SDI. This maturity model has five stages in the progression from traditional hard-wired architecture to software-defined infrastructure. Let’s walk through these stages.


At this stage of maturity, the IT organization has standardized and consolidated servers, storage systems, and networking devices. Standardization is an essential building block for all that follows. Most organizations are already here.


By now, most organizations have leveraged virtualization in their server environments. While enabling high level of consolidation and greater utilization of physical resources, server virtualization accelerates service deployment and facilitates workload optimization. The next step is to virtualize storage and networking resources to achieve similar gains.


At this stage, IT resources are pooled and provisioned in an automated manner. In a step toward a cloud-like model, automation tools enable the creation of self-service provisioning portals—for example, to allow a development and test team to provision its own infrastructure and to move closer to a frictionless IT organization.


At this higher stage of IT maturity, an orchestration engine optimizes the allocation of data center resources. It collects hardware platform telemetry data and uses that information to place applications on the best servers, with features that enable acceleration of the workloads, located in approved locations for optimal performance and the assigned levels of trust. The orchestration engine acts as an IT watchdog that spots performance issues and takes remedial actions—and then learns from the events to continue to meet or exceed the customer’s needs.

SLA Managed

At this ultimate stage—the stage of the real-time enterprise—an organization uses IT service management software to maintain targeted service levels for each application in a holistic manner. Resources are automatically assigned to applications to maintain SLA compliance without manual intervention. The SDI environment makes sure the application gets the infrastructure it needs for optimal performance and compliance with the policies that govern it.

In subsequent posts, I will take a closer look at the Automated, Orchestrated, and SLA Managed stages. For now, the key is to understand where your organization falls in the SDI maturity model and what challenges need to be solved in order to take this journey. This understanding lays the groundwork for the development of strategies that move your data center closer to SDI—and the data center of the future.