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Software-Defined Infrastructure: The Platform of Choice

As more organizations adapt to a hybrid working model for their distributed workforce, enterprise CIOs and CTOs are tasked with delivering new productivity-enabling applications, while also seeking ways to effectively reduce IT cost, complexity, and risk.

Traditional IT hardware infrastructure is evolving to more software-based solutions. The worldwide software-defined infrastructure (SDI) combined software market reached $12.17 billion during 2020 -- that's an increase of 5 percent over 2019, according to the latest market study by International Data Corporation (IDC).

The market grew faster than other core IT technologies. The three technology pillars within the SDI market are: software-defined compute (53 percent of market value), software-defined storage controller (36 percent), and software-defined networking (11 percent).

"Software-defined infrastructure solutions have long been popular for companies looking to eliminate cost, complexity, and risk within their data centers," said Eric Sheppard, vice president at IDC. "And while this technology has been available for many years, recent technology advancements are driving new features and capabilities."

Software-Defined Infrastructure Market Development

IDC believes that software-defined infrastructure is rapidly becoming the platform of choice for data center modernization and digital transformation. In particular, software-defined compute has become a standard in the data center for server virtualization use cases.

However, according to the IDC assessment, the market continues to evolve, and recent modernization initiatives have shifted the growth in the market to cloud system software and in particular, containers.

IDC has outlined Software-Defined Infrastructure categories:

Software-defined infrastructure (SDI) refers to logically pooled resources of compute, memory, storage, and networking, which are managed by software with minimal human intervention. SDI systems are independent of the underlying hardware, as long as the hardware meets certain technical specifications.

The underlying hardware in SDI systems is industry-standard, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products that have enterprise-grade certifications. While a complete SDI solution will include software and hardware, this IDC SDI market sizing focuses only on the value of the software component.

Furthermore, the SDI software market can be segmented into three core sub-markets. Abbreviated definitions for each of these sub-markets follow.

Software-defined compute (SDC) virtualizes groups of physical compute nodes into a single logical compute resource. This abstraction of physical resources allows computations to occur in any COTS hardware that is a part of the logical pool of resources.

SDC is implemented at various software stack layers and can be used in public or private clouds and virtualized environments. SDC software -- which includes both open source and commercial software -- is often bundled with other infrastructure software, management software, and application platforms.

SDC software can be broadly categorized into three areas: virtual machine software (i.e., hypervisor software), container infrastructure software, and cloud system software.

Software-defined storage (SDS) controllers represent a storage software stack that delivers a full suite of storage services in conjunction with COTS hardware to create a complete storage system. For any solution to be included within the software-defined storage controller software functional market, it needs to be extensible and autonomous and allow data access via known and/or published interfaces.

The solution is a standalone system or an autonomous system. In other words, it provides all essential northbound storage services and handles all southbound data persistence functions without requiring additional hardware or software. SDS solutions should offer a full suite of data access interfaces, storage, and data management services.

SDS solutions may be delivered in multiple forms such as appliances, software, and subscription-based offerings. SDS solutions include discrete storage systems (i.e., external storage) designed to provide only storage-specific services or as converged solutions that combine all compute and storage services into a single, scale-out solution (i.e., hyper-converged infrastructure).

Network virtualization and software-defined networking (SDN) controllers are made up of network virtualization overlays and SDN controllers used in datacenter networks. Both overlays and controllers bring alternate SDN architectures to the network, supporting multiple protocols and southbound/northbound interfaces or APIs.

Network virtualization overlays are logical, virtual networks that on top of physical network infrastructure. SDN controller software also runs on top of physical network infrastructure (residing between applications and the network), providing logically centralized network control and a means for application policy to be enacted across the network. It can also facilitate automated network management and network-wide visibility.

Altogether, across the globe, the upside potential for additional software-defined infrastructure growth is very compelling.

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