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Are Software-Defined Data Centers Growing in Health IT?

Software-defined data centers use growing virtualization technology to consolidate and simplify an organization's IT infrastructure architecture.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- A software-defined data center is an evolving technology that virtualizes components of an organization’s data architecture, saving on cost and space. So is it a good fit for health IT infrastructure?

Healthcare software-defined data centers

A software-defined data center (SDDC), sometimes referred to as a virtual data center, covers virtualization concepts geared toward automating and abstracting data center resources. Each element of the infrastructure including networking, security, and storage is virtualized and implemented as a service.

SDDC uses abstraction to bring different components of infrastructure architecture together, usually managed through an application programming interface (API). The number of virtualized solutions in within an SDDC makes it complicated to manage without and API assisting the developer. APIs abstract the layers of virtual technology within the data center, only displaying functions critical to the developer making the SDDC easier to manage.

SSDC can be deployed in an organization’s private cloud data center or by an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) option.

The three main architectural components of SDDC are:

Similar to most virtualization technology, SDDC technology is rising. A recently published report by Research and Markets predicts the global SDDC market to reach a total market size of $81.381 billion by the end of 2021 due to the increased use of internet networking heightening the demand for storage space, computing power, and complex networking.

“SDDC is a sophisticated concept that allows the data centers to seamlessly scale up their infrastructure plus it helps the in the simplified management of all resources and unification of networking and server storage,” the report stated. “It is cost effective, allows scalability, provides flexibility, and simplified manageability to data centers. SDDCs have an advantage because it’s capable of being implemented on any hardware and also has multi-tenancy support.”

SDDC is not a technology organizations can adopt in one deployment and it’s rare to see any organization running on a fully virtual environment. Gartner outlines in an SDDC market overview that many organizations may be several years away from implementing an SDDC infrastructure or any other virtual infrastructure.

“Simply changing a legacy infrastructure for a set of software-defined products is unlikely to yield the desired benefits,” Gartner analysts state. “Before an activity is automated and self-service is implemented, the process associated with the IT service needs to be completely rethought and optimized. This may require new skills and a different culture to what is currently available within certain IT organizations.”

Gartner Vice President and Analyst Dave Russell suggests examining all solutions making up an organization’s current infrastructure and figure out which component of the infrastructure will benefit the organization the most from being virtualized. Starting with the most mission critical components and planning to adapt the rest of the infrastructure over time is the best way to approach SDDC.

"A broken process is still a broken process no matter how well it is automated," said Russell. "Build the right skills in your organization by enabling top infrastructure architects to experiment with public cloud infrastructure in small projects, as well giving them the opportunity to get out and learn what their peers in other organizations and visionaries in this field are doing."

Software defined networking, storage, and virtualization solutions are all currently available for deployment in the healthcare industry, however, the healthcare industry tends to hesitate when adopting new technology, particularly virtualization technology.

A report released by ZK Research earlier this year attributes evolving IT infrastructure technology as one of the major reasons why healthcare organizations have been slower to adopt software-defined solutions.

“Historically, hospitals and other healthcare institutions have been slow to adopt new technology, as maintaining the status quo was viewed as safer than risking disruption from new technologies,” the report stated.

While healthcare organizations may be slow to adopt virtualization solutions for their IT infrastructure, SDDC looks promising as a new standard for healthcare data centers.

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