Welcome!

@CloudExpo Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Aruna Ravichandran, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Containers Expo Blog, Cloud Security

@CloudExpo: Blog Post

Software-Defined Technologies: Transforming the Value Stream | @CloudExpo #SDN #NFV #Cloud

Software-defined technologies explicitly change the way functions and activities are organized and managed

Software-Defined Technologies: Transforming the Value Stream

Software-defined is a concept that refers to the ability to control some or all of the functions of a system using software. The concept is sometimes incorrectly characterized as a buzzword or marketing jargon, when in fact it has a clear meaning that needs to be understood by organizations looking to keep pace with change.

When technologies become software-defined, there are major systemic benefits for organizations that use them, including lower costs, higher quality products and services, and less risk.

At the same time, software-defined technologies require major organizational changes for incumbent enterprises to adopt and use effectively. This often involves expensive and risky transformation projects that reengineer the value stream to take advantage of decoupled components, reduced dependencies and new management capabilities.

Today we will look at the origins of the "software-defined" concept and how its application presents both opportunities and challenges to the enterprise.

The beginning: ‘Software-defined Radio'
The software-defined concept comes to us from the evolution of radio transmission technology. A traditional radio communications system uses physically connected components that can only be modified through physical intervention. The antenna connects to the amplifier, which connects to the modulator, and so on. Operators are locked into the specifications of the components, the order in which they are connected, and whatever controls they expose. It's an extremely inflexible technology and changes are best done by simply buying a new system.

As you can imagine, for businesses that operate large-scale radio deployments such as wireless telecom providers, technology decisions are hugely impactful. They can last decades and demand large upfront planning and capital costs. Keeping pace with change is extremely expensive and difficult.

Base Transceiver Station
In the mid-eighties however, researchers began to take specific components of the radio and make them digital, implementing functions like oscillators, mixers, amplifiers and filters by means of software on a computer. By emulating these functions in software, the system becomes adaptive and programmable, and can be configured according to the needs and requirements of the operator, rather than the specifications or the manufacturer.

In 1995, the term Software-Defined Radio (SDR) was coined to describe the commercialization of the first digital radio communication system, and this development changed the way these services and products can be delivered.

On the technical side, in becoming software-defined, many functional limitations are removed from radio systems. For example, by simply reprogramming the software, a device can have its frequency spectrum changed, allowing it to communicate with different devices and perform different functions. This has enabled a quick succession of technical advances that were previously the domain of theory and imagination, like ultra-wide band transmission, adaptive signaling, cognitive radio and the end of the "near-far" problem.

On the business side, the changes are equally profound, having a significant impact on the value stream of enterprises throughout the wireless and radio industry, and the industry itself. A wireless telecom provider employing software-defined radio can easily add new features to its network, adapt its systems to take advantage of new spectrum bands, or reconfigure itself when a new handset technology like LTE 4G becomes available. A telecom provider iable reconfigure its infrastructure by deploying updates to software rather than by buying new hardware can take advantage of huge operational savings while eliminating capital expenses.

SDR therefore provides significant strategic advantage to these businesses, introducing adaptability, modularity and agility to the organization where it was previously rigid and inflexible.

Taking advantage of SDR, however, is a long, transformational process, needing a lot of capital and a significant departure from the status quo. Not only does it require changing all infrastructure over to the new technology, but it also requires the business to think differently and reengineer the value chain to take advantage of the new capabilities.

Software-Defined Infrastructure
The IT industry has also been deeply impacted by the advent of software-defined technologies. The following examples have created industries and enabled a generation of evolved products and services:

  • Hypervisors - A hypervisor is an operating system that runs virtual machines, like VMWare ESXi or Microsoft Hyper-V. It runs directly on the physical machine, abstracting and distributing the hardware resources to any number of virtual machines. This has undoubtedly been one of the largest and most impactful advances in IT in the last 20 years, ushering in the era of point and click server deployment and changing the way we manage and deliver IT services.
  • Software-Defined Networking (SDN) - Traditionally, operating a network means managing lower level infrastructure that allows devices to connect, communicate with each other, and figure out where to send their packets. These switching devices - called "layer 2 devices" - each need to maintain their own state and configuration information, and make decisions about how to route packets based only on limited, locally available information. SDN abstracts layer 2 networking, and is the ‘secret sauce' behind cloud computing - a critical functionality for all public cloud services including AWS, Azure and OpenStack-based providers. It allows the service provider to centralize routing and switching, and provides the orchestration capability required for large-scale multi-tenancy, i.e. the ability to create and manage millions of logically isolated, secure networks.,
  • Network-function virtualization (NFV) - Building upon SDN, NFV allows services like load balancers, firewalls, IDS, accelerators, and CDNs to be deployed and configured quickly and easily. Without NFV, to operate infrastructure at scale you would need a lot capital investment and an experienced team of highly specialized network engineers. NFV makes it easy to deploy, secure and manage these functions without having to understand the complexities underneath the hood.

"Software-Defined" Defined

Having looked at where the concept came from and a few examples of modern software-defined technologies, I propose the following definition for what it means to be "software-defined":

Software-defined means some or all of the functions of a system can be managed and controlled through software.

Some key attributes of a software-defined technology:

1. The functions are abstracted
Software-definition strives to have stateless functions i.e. functions that do not maintain their configuration or state themselves. State and configuration information is maintained outside the function, i.e. in the software. By decoupling the state and configuration from the function and centralizing it, we gain adaptability, resilience, and the benefit of visibility at scale.

2. Software controls functionality
No direct operator or human intervention is required for the function to operate - functions are managed solely through software. Management and administration are therefore decoupled from the function. We gain the ability to automate processes and activities, and manage the system independently from functional limitations.

3. Functional components are modular
The software layer operates independently from any dependency on functional components. This means the functional components can be commoditized, modular and scalable. We can easily change or replace these components without disrupting the system.

Adoption through Transformation
On the face of it, software-defined technologies are better-faster-stronger, and companies that use them will have a competitive advantage over those that do not. They lead to lower costs, higher quality and less risk for the business. Smaller organizations building products and services that leverage these technologies can use them to disrupt incumbent enterprises.

For those enterprises, however, especially those locked in the middle of a legacy lifecycle, software-defined technologies present a significant challenge. Adoption requires rethinking the value stream and integrating with legacy systems. As stated in the book Lean Thinking,

"We are all born into a mental world of ‘functions' and ‘departments,' a commonsense conviction that activities ought to be grouped by type so they can be performed more efficiently and managed more easily" (p. 25)

Not only do software-defined technologies present a threat to the enterprise in the hands of startups, they also explicitly change the way functions and activities are organized and managed. Adoption demands rethinking how, where, when and by whom functions should operate in the value stream. This entails changing culture, reorganizing roles and team structures, and reengineering the value stream. This kind of change must be driven through risky and expensive and expensive transformation projects.

Traditional enterprises therefore face major challenges with developing competencies with new software-defined systems. Leaders in these organizations will need to be highly flexible and open to a paradigm shift in how they think about their work.

More Stories By John Rauser

John Rauser is the IT Manager at Tasktop Technologies, a global enterprise software company. He also serves as VP Operations at the board of the Project Management Institute - Canadian West Coast Chapter, providing leadership and expertise on technology issues. He has a passion for discussing the business impacts of technology and analyzing strategies for managing IT.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@CloudExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that TidalScale, a leading provider of systems and services, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TidalScale has been involved in shaping the computing landscape. They've designed, developed and deployed some of the most important and successful systems and services in the history of the computing industry - internet, Ethernet, operating s...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM has been named “Diamond Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California.
Infoblox delivers Actionable Network Intelligence to enterprise, government, and service provider customers around the world. They are the industry leader in DNS, DHCP, and IP address management, the category known as DDI. We empower thousands of organizations to control and secure their networks from the core-enabling them to increase efficiency and visibility, improve customer service, and meet compliance requirements.
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Michael Burley, a Senior Business Development Executive in IT Services at NetApp, will describe how NetApp designed a three-year program of work to migrate 25PB of a major telco's enterprise data to a new STaaS platform, and then secured a long-term contract to manage and operate the platform. This significant program blended the best of NetApp’s solutions and services capabilities to enable this telco’s successful adoption of private cloud storage and launchi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that TidalScale will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TidalScale is the leading provider of Software-Defined Servers that bring flexibility to modern data centers by right-sizing servers on the fly to fit any data set or workload. TidalScale’s award-winning inverse hypervisor technology combines multiple commodity servers (including their ass...
As hybrid cloud becomes the de-facto standard mode of operation for most enterprises, new challenges arise on how to efficiently and economically share data across environments. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Dr. Allon Cohen, VP of Product at Elastifile, will explore new techniques and best practices that help enterprise IT benefit from the advantages of hybrid cloud environments by enabling data availability for both legacy enterprise and cloud-native mission critical applications. By rev...
As popularity of the smart home is growing and continues to go mainstream, technological factors play a greater role. The IoT protocol houses the interoperability battery consumption, security, and configuration of a smart home device, and it can be difficult for companies to choose the right kind for their product. For both DIY and professionally installed smart homes, developers need to consider each of these elements for their product to be successful in the market and current smart homes.
Join IBM November 1 at 21st Cloud Expo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, and learn how IBM Watson can bring cognitive services and AI to intelligent, unmanned systems. Cognitive analysis impacts today’s systems with unparalleled ability that were previously available only to manned, back-end operations. Thanks to cloud processing, IBM Watson can bring cognitive services and AI to intelligent, unmanned systems. Imagine a robot vacuum that becomes your personal assistant tha...
Companies are harnessing data in ways we once associated with science fiction. Analysts have access to a plethora of visualization and reporting tools, but considering the vast amount of data businesses collect and limitations of CPUs, end users are forced to design their structures and systems with limitations. Until now. As the cloud toolkit to analyze data has evolved, GPUs have stepped in to massively parallel SQL, visualization and machine learning.
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, will lead you through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He'll look at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that N3N will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. N3N’s solutions increase the effectiveness of operations and control centers, increase the value of IoT investments, and facilitate real-time operational decision making. N3N enables operations teams with a four dimensional digital “big board” that consolidates real-time live video feeds alongside IoT sensor data a...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, will provide a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. Together we will solve a machine learning problem and find an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intellige...
In a recent survey, Sumo Logic surveyed 1,500 customers who employ cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). According to the survey, a quarter of the respondents have already deployed Docker containers and nearly as many (23 percent) are employing the AWS Lambda serverless computing framework. It’s clear: serverless is here to stay. The adoption does come with some needed changes, within both application development and operations. Tha...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Avere Systems, a leading provider of enterprise storage for the hybrid cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Avere delivers a more modern architectural approach to storage that doesn't require the overprovisioning of storage capacity to achieve performance, overspending on expensive storage media for inactive data or the overbui...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend 21st Cloud Expo October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, CA, and June 12-14, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.
Data scientists must access high-performance computing resources across a wide-area network. To achieve cloud-based HPC visualization, researchers must transfer datasets and visualization results efficiently. HPC clusters now compute GPU-accelerated visualization in the cloud cluster. To efficiently display results remotely, a high-performance, low-latency protocol transfers the display from the cluster to a remote desktop. Further, tools to easily mount remote datasets and efficiently transfer...
Though cloud is the future of enterprise computing, a smooth transition of legacy applications and systems is critical for seamless business operations. IT professionals are eager to start leveraging the cost, scale and other benefits of cloud, but with massive investments already in place in existing infrastructure and a number of compliance and resource hurdles, it can be challenging to move to a cloud-based infrastructure.
Digital transformation is changing the face of business. The IDC predicts that enterprises will commit to a massive new scale of digital transformation, to stake out leadership positions in the "digital transformation economy." Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, Oct 31-Nov 2, will find fresh new content in a new track called Enterprise Cloud & Digital Transformation.
SYS-CON Events announced today that mruby Forum will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. mruby is the lightweight implementation of the Ruby language. We introduce mruby and the mruby IoT framework that enhances development productivity. For more information, visit http://forum.mruby.org/.