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Interop 2017 preview: Is IT Infrastructure dead?

While traditional IT infrastructure may be dead, industry experts say that software-defined infrastructure is ushering in a golden era of IT.

While some prognosticators say that cloud computing has driven a stake through the heart of traditional IT infrastructure, key trend watchers disagree. They see cloud computing as disrupting IT, certainly -- but hardly being its death knell.

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Interop 2017 keynote session

Martin Casado, general counsel at Andreesen Horowitz, and formerly general manager, networking and security at VMware, took up the subject during a keynote at the Interop 2016 conference. As Casado articulated it, the common understanding is that cloud computing is making traditional IT infrastructure irrelevant. With the cloud, IT resources can be delivered and managed on-demand from a provider rather than a company’s IT department. Doomsayers believe that the cloud equals plunging sales for on-premises IT infrastructure.

But Casado, who was pivotal in developing software-defined networking (SDN) at Nicira and then VMware, said that trends like SDN are poised to make infrastructure not just relevant again but critical to enterprise revenue.

“We’ve all heard it before: Public cloud is consuming workloads in such a way that there isn’t a lot of opportunity for the rest of us,” Casado said during the keynote session. “Not only do I think it is overly pessimistic, if not dead wrong.”

To the contrary, Casado said, the next era of infrastructure is due for a renaissance. “We’re on the cusp of on the golden era of infrastructure. “It is about to come to life in ways that we couldn’t have imagined five years ago.”

IT infrastructure by the numbers

Casado’s message is likely to be sharpened even further at this year’s Interop conference, a key annual event for IT infrastructure. Consider the data on cloud versus on-premises spending, which provides a mixed picture of what’s happening to traditional IT infrastructure.

According to Uptime Institute, for example, 65% of workloads still run in on-premises data centers. At the same time, infrastructure is heading to the cloud. According to the International Data Corporation (IDCWorldwide Quarterly Cloud IT Infrastructure Tracker, total spending on IT infrastructure products (server, enterprise storage, and Ethernet switches) for cloud environments will grow by 18% in 2017 to reach $44.2 billion. The majority (61%) will involve public cloud data centers. Conversely, spending on traditional, noncloud, IT infrastructure will decline by 3% in 2017 but will still account for the majority (57%) of end-user spending.

Until at least 2020 and possibly beyond, the story will remain mixed, a tale of hybrid infrastructure, where companies house legacy IT while also migrating to the cloud.

“We continue to see enterprises taking a hybrid approach,” said Kelly Morgan, research vice president for services, at 451 Research in “The Hybrid Data Center: Bridging Legacy and Cloud.” “Many larger enterprises will continue to rely on in-house data centers, particularly for legacy equipment and applications.”

Is the future of IT software-defined infrastructure?

Casado outlined three trends that are fundamentally changing traditional IT infrastructure. These trends signal a changing of the guard rather than the death of a trillion-dollar industry. But, he warned, the old guard had better brace to be disrupted by new entrants.

  1. The move from hardware to software. With software-defined, infrastructure functionality that used to reside in hardware can reside in software. “Software has evolved to the point where there are abstractions that have allowed for the consumption of infrastructure,” Casado noted, and that allows for greater automation and more centralized management of infrastructure resources.
  2. The move from software to services. To sidestep the thorny issues of deployment and operations in managing infrastructure, companies are offering infrastructure-as-a-service models. This eliminates the problems associated with shipping software, which can be hard to troubleshoot and manage remotely. It means for new entrants that R&D costs are lower because providers can do everything in software. And second, services can be built and deployed more quickly.
  3. The rise of developers. None of these shifts would be possible, however, without the expertise of developers. “Once you start moving this functionality from sheet metal to software, it’s entering the realm of developers; they have a growing influence on choosing frameworks and in what gets built or deployed,” Casado said. He noted that this rise will also fundamentally change go-to-market strategies for new entrants; they will need to enlist developers on their teams. “It’s the biggest transformation that we’re all going to have to deal with,” Casado said.

He emphasized that these trends will require flexibility about what next-generation infrastructure looks like and how we get there.

“Trillions of dollars of stuff that was tied to sheet metal is being reimagined in software, and you don’t have to be tied to the traditional go-to-market engine anymore,” he said. “I don’t think there is any bastion of infrastructure that is safe from this change. Everything is going to be upended.”

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Lauren Horwitz

Managing Editor, Cisco.com