What Is a Software-Defined Data Center?

A software-defined data center (SDDC) refers to a data center infrastructure that allows the end user to treat all components—including computing, storage, networking, and security—as an abstraction, and to manage their operations through an application programming interface. Unlike traditional data centers, an SDDC uses automated software to deploy, configure and operate the entire data center infrastructure. As its name implies, a “software-defined” data center represents this infrastructure as a software abstraction, versus managing physical hardware independently.


Data centers have existed for decades, but the technology has evolved as servers continued to process larger and larger quantities of information. With the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, the need for data centers grew exponentially as companies moved much of their business online. However, these data centers generally lacked the capacity to virtualize their entire infrastructure. It’s only in the last five years that the idea of software-defined data centers has truly taken off. For example, the software-defined networking market has massively increased in value from $360 million in 2013 to $3.7 billion in 2016.

SDDC Elements

Data center infrastructure virtualization is the foundation of any software-defined data center architecture, and there are three core components of this virtualization:

  • Network virtualization. SDDCs make use of software-defined networking (SDN), which places abstractions over the low-level physical hardware. Network administrators can simply list which servers to connect and which service-level agreements are appropriate, and let the data center infrastructure management software (DCIM software) take care of the details.
  • Server virtualization. A single physical server is often divided into multiple virtual machines in order to take full advantage of the server’s processing power. Like software-defined networking, server virtualization seeks to make the data center more agile by hiding information from the user, in this case information about resources like servers, processors and operating systems. This abstraction saves the user from spending time and brainpower on the details of server management.
  • Storage virtualization. Finally, storage virtualization presents the end user with a single storage entity, centrally controlled by data center management software, which is actually composed of multiple storage devices in different physical locations. Storage virtualization is employed for several reasons, including more efficient use of storage and better uptime and availability than if the storage devices were maintained separately.

VMWare and SDDC

One of the industry leaders in server virtualization, both past and present, is VMWare. In the late 1990s, VMWare introduced x86 server virtualization, also known as software-defined compute. This major advance detached CPU and memory resources from the physical hardware, allowing servers to utilize much more of their processing power. In recent years, VMWare has also developed technologies for software-defined networking (NSX) and software-defined storage (Virtual SAN), completing the SDDC triad. Today, creating a VMWare software-defined data center can be done using VMWare technologies like NSX, cloud computing platform vCloud, and VMWare IT Business Management Suite software.


The VMWare approach to the Software-Defined Data Center meets the key requirements for powering data centers of many enterprises worldwide.

Why You Need SDDC

Due to the startup and maintenance costs of establishing a data center infrastructure, many small businesses lacked access to the powerful number-crunching that could be done in a data center. However, as companies large and small continue to adopt cloud computing, organizations are changing their views on the role of IT in their operations. Increasingly, businesses are moving toward “as-a-service” models, like software-defined data centers, that charge a subscription fee and provide capacity on demand, rather than owning the infrastructure outright.

SDDC is a business-focused, rather than an IT-focused, approach. The DCIM software automates the relevant processes for you and provides the required resources when you need them. By abstracting your business away from the low-level technical details, an SDDC lets you rely on a single, simpler platform for managing your data center operations.

Benefits of SDDC

Software-defined data centers represent a profound shift in the way that data centers are built and perceived, and as such they offer a wide range of benefits to users and organizations:

  • Because your resources are represented and controlled entirely virtually, SDDCs eliminate your dependency on any particular hardware and let you make changes without having to physically manipulate the infrastructure.
  • Using automation and orchestration can speed up the delivery of services, allow your company greater agility and efficiency, and save money on IT costs.
  • SDDCs can improve your company’s data security by standardizing and centralizing control over your information.

A software-defined data center eliminates your dependency on hardware, increases agility and efficiency, reduces costs, and provides greater security and control over your information.

SDDC Scenarios

Certain types of organizations will find SDDCs particularly appealing, including:

  • Startups without the knowledge or capital to invest in the infrastructure for a data center.
  • Companies without a strong IT department that would be able to scale hardware if need be.
  • Businesses who place a high value on agility and flexibility, particularly with vendor selection.
  • Organizations who are attracted to the subscription, or operating expenditure, model, rather than the deployment, or capital expenditure, model.
  • Companies who need the processing power of a data center on-demand, rather than a consistent level of demand throughout the year.
  • Businesses who are looking at SDDC as a step towards IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS).