Welcome!

Cloud Security Authors: XebiaLabs Blog, Mehdi Daoudi, Derek Weeks, Liz McMillan, ManageEngine IT Matters

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that T-Mobile will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. As America's Un-carrier, T-Mobile US, Inc., is redefining the way consumers and businesses buy wireless services through leading product and service innovation. The Company's advanced nationwide 4G LTE network delivers outstanding wireless experiences to 67.4 million customers who are unwilling to compromise on ...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @CloudExpo | @ThingsExpo, June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY and October 31 - November 2, 2017, Santa Clara Convention Center, CA. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
Data is an unusual currency; it is not restricted by the same transactional limitations as money or people. In fact, the more that you leverage your data across multiple business use cases, the more valuable it becomes to the organization. And the same can be said about the organization’s analytics. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bill Schmarzo, CTO for the Big Data Practice at Dell EMC, introduced a methodology for capturing, enriching and sharing data (and analytics) across the organization...
Five years ago development was seen as a dead-end career, now it’s anything but – with an explosion in mobile and IoT initiatives increasing the demand for skilled engineers. But apart from having a ready supply of great coders, what constitutes true ‘DevOps Royalty’? It’ll be the ability to craft resilient architectures, supportability, security everywhere across the software lifecycle. In his keynote at @DevOpsSummit at 20th Cloud Expo, Jeffrey Scheaffer, GM and SVP, Continuous Delivery Busine...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR), an industry leader in automated, scalable and secure networks, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Juniper Networks challenges the status quo with products, solutions and services that transform the economics of networking. The company co-innovates with customers and partners to deliver automated, scalable and secure network...
New competitors, disruptive technologies, and growing expectations are pushing every business to both adopt and deliver new digital services. This ‘Digital Transformation’ demands rapid delivery and continuous iteration of new competitive services via multiple channels, which in turn demands new service delivery techniques – including DevOps. In this power panel at @DevOpsSummit 20th Cloud Expo, moderated by DevOps Conference Co-Chair Andi Mann, panelists will examine how DevOps helps to meet th...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Hitachi, the leading provider the Internet of Things and Digital Transformation, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Hitachi Data Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd., offers an integrated portfolio of services and solutions that enable digital transformation through enhanced data management, governance, mobility and analytics. We help globa...
@GonzalezCarmen has been ranked the Number One Influencer and @ThingsExpo has been named the Number One Brand in the “M2M 2016: Top 100 Influencers and Brands” by Analytic. Onalytica analyzed tweets over the last 6 months mentioning the keywords M2M OR “Machine to Machine.” They then identified the top 100 most influential brands and individuals leading the discussion on Twitter.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Hitachi, the leading provider the Internet of Things and Digital Transformation, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Hitachi Data Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd., offers an integrated portfolio of services and solutions that enable digital transformation through enhanced data management, governance, mobility and analytics. We help globa...
Most technology leaders, contemporary and from the hardware era, are reshaping their businesses to do software in the hope of capturing value in IoT. Although IoT is relatively new in the market, it has already gone through many promotional terms such as IoE, IoX, SDX, Edge/Fog, Mist Compute, etc. Ultimately, irrespective of the name, it is about deriving value from independent software assets participating in an ecosystem as one comprehensive solution.
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...
NHK, Japan Broadcasting, will feature the upcoming @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley in a special 'Internet of Things' and smart technology documentary that will be filmed on the expo floor between November 3 to 5, 2015, in Santa Clara. NHK is the sole public TV network in Japan equivalent to the BBC in the UK and the largest in Asia with many award-winning science and technology programs. Japanese TV is producing a documentary about IoT and Smart technology and will be covering @ThingsExpo Silicon Val...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in compute, storage and networking technologies, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/...
Judith Hurwitz is president and CEO of Hurwitz & Associates, a Needham, Mass., research and consulting firm focused on emerging technology, including big data, cognitive computing and governance. She is co-author of the book Cognitive Computing and Big Data Analytics, published in 2015. Her Cloud Expo session, "What Is the Business Imperative for Cognitive Computing?" is scheduled for Wednesday, June 8, at 8:40 a.m. In it, she puts cognitive computing into perspective with its value to the busin...
NHK, Japan Broadcasting, will feature the upcoming @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley in a special 'Internet of Things' and smart technology documentary that will be filmed on the expo floor between November 3 to 5, 2015, in Santa Clara. NHK is the sole public TV network in Japan equivalent to the BBC in the UK and the largest in Asia with many award-winning science and technology programs. Japanese TV is producing a documentary about IoT and Smart technology and will be covering @ThingsExpo Silicon Val...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CollabNet, a global leader in enterprise software development, release automation and DevOps solutions, will be a Bronze Sponsor of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, taking place from June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. CollabNet offers a broad range of solutions with the mission of helping modern organizations deliver quality software at speed. The company’s latest innovation, the DevOps Lifecycle Manager (DLM), supports Value S...