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TechnoVision 2016 - Virtual Lego

Invisible Infostructure #1 - Virtual Lego

Virtualization is the key ingredient for rendering the IT infrastructure invisible and start benefiting from the cloud. It reduces costs and deals with the mounting complexity of divergent technology platforms. But there is more. With infrastructure rapidly composed from 'virtual Lego’ building blocks, it enables businesses to become more agile, more responsive and faster. A complete, software-defined infrastructure solution stack deployed in minutes and applications running in unbreakable ‘containers’ that shield off all peculiarities of technology: they are more than a metaphor for running a business with similar qualities.

Fueled by new and enhanced virtualization technologies – and accelerated by the insatiable demand for computing power – infrastructure advances rapidly. Even though virtualization has existed since the 1960s (originally as the logical partition of mainframe computing resources), it has now significantly evolved past the simple abstraction of pools of processors, memory and storage. Indeed, virtualization is becoming of age, with ultimately infrastructure capabilities combined in containers that are literally business-aware.
 
Software vendors drive the further evolution of compute ‘hypervisors’ and enable new types of abstraction at various layers of infrastructure. Hardware vendors deliver pluggable modules for hardware virtualization and push on-chip management and security components. Intelligence is being aggregated from the hardware stack into the hypervisor layer and being integrated closely with powerful orchestration platforms to automate operational tasks, thus providing a single pane of management.
 
It’s illustrated through concepts such as Software Defined Data Centers (SDDC) and Software Defined Networking (SDN) and enabled by industry standards such as OpenFlow and OpenStack.
 
Hyper-convergence takes it a few steps further, notably in the area of Cloud infrastructure. It aims to stop compute, network, storage and software living on their own. Instead it intimately connects and integrates them, packaged into highly virtualized, self-contained and infinitely scalable appliances (‘boxes’ really, as illustrated by platforms such as SimpliVity's OmniCube and Nutanix).
 
Another – arguably even more virtual - way this trend materializes is through software containers (such as the remarkably popular open source-based Docker platform). They support fully self-contained application ‘packages’ which can run on any operating system platform and in any deployment scenario, whether it is public cloud, private cloud or even ‘bare metal’.

Although Docker provides a lightweight version of virtualization with almost zero overhead, the platform delivers some impactful advantages around application portability, simplified multi-tenancy and rapid deployment. Having said that, with infrastructure starting to resemble Lego, the software that runs on top of it, needs to change as well: an application architecture of fine-grained, light-weight microservices will align much better with containers than a big monolith.

At this point it doesn’t need too much imagination to visualize the Lego analogy. Software containers can eliminate application environment dependencies. It differs from virtualization by sharing a single host OS (rather than replicating), they are showing a new way of delivering on the cloud promise of agility and cost savings. The plug and play capabilities of Docker enable application containers to run with higher and more efficient hardware utilization as well.

The power of Virtual Lego obviously helps to squeeze the most out of an infrastructure and manage complexity. But more importantly, it massively drives down speed to market. Still, with all its abstraction features, containers still assume both operations and software development staff is very much aware of the underlying infrastructure stack. That’s why alternative visions – for example the AWS Lambda smart, completely self- service – should be carefully watched and considered as well.

Hypervisor-based virtualization solutions have brought down deployment times from days to minutes and now, platforms such as Docker take it to the next level by enabling instantaneous provisioning times measured in seconds. They also enable the application to be run across multiple cloud providers without any extra tweaks. This is how the underlying infrastructure becomes truly invisible.
 
It is where infrastructure meets the pace of Digital business, together building on a cellar-to-ceiling capability, combining compute, network, storage and software to create real business outcomes instantaneously, rather than in weeks or months.

Expert: Ajith N C  

Part of Capgemini's TechnoVision 2016 update series. See the overview here.

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Ron Tolido

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