Bank of America sees software-defined data centers as 'irresistible'

Patrick Thibodeau

Driven by a very strong belief in the future of software-defined data center technology, Bank of America is steering its IT to almost total virtualization, from the data center to desktop.

The technology does for the entirety of a data center what virtualization did for servers: It decouples hardware from the computing resources. Its goal is to enable users to create, expand and contract computing capability virtually, quickly and efficiently.

The software-defined data center is not yet a reality. But there are enough parts of the technology in place to convince David Reilly, Bank of America's global infrastructure executive, that it is the future.

"The software-defined data center is going to dramatically change how we provide services to our organizations," said Reilly. "It provides an opportunity for, in effect, the hardware to disappear.

"We think it's irresistible, this trend," said Reilly.

The direction Bank of America sets for IT is important. The financial services industry, as a whole, is a fast adopter and can build markets for new technologies. It also tends to have very large IT operations.

Goldman Sachs, for instance, employs about 10,000 IT professionals, representing more than 25% of its workforce. Bank of America won't disclose the size of its IT staff, but it employs around 250,000 people overall.

The financial services industry is expected to spend $430 billion globally on IT this year, or more than 20% of the expected worldwide IT spend of $2.14 trillion, according to IDC.

The implications of a shift to software-defined IT operations may have multiple impacts.

Bank of America has been a heavy user of propriety and special purpose hardware, but, "we see that, increasingly, there will be no differentiation in the hardware," said Reilly.

The bank is using more commodity hardware, which means x86-based systems, and decreasing its use of propriety systems, said Reilly. "You can imagine for many hardware partners that's a little bit of a frightening moment. The key for infrastructure is going to be the software that defines it, not the physical hardware layers."

The components that will make up the software-defined data center are arriving.

VMware, for instance, this month announced general availability of its Virtual San (vSAN) product that delivers a major part of what will make up a software-defined data center. The software, which is part of VMware's vSphere kernel, "decouples dependencies" that exist between the application and the underlying infrastructure, said Alberto Farronato, VMware director of product marketing for storage and availability.

That decoupling lets IT administrators treat storage as a resource pool instead of something attached to a specific device. It should help prevent over-provisioning, or buying more storage capacity than needed for an application, as well as reducing the need for specialized skill sets to manage various systems.

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