software defined everything

GOVERNMENT INSIGHT

Software-defined anything challenges status quo

Software-defined anything (SDx) is set to change the world as we know it, much as  the Internet has reordered the business landscape over the last decade. With SDx, if you can think it, it has the potential to become reality.

The framework behind SDx enables applications to understand, predict and deliver reliable capabilities and experiences to the end user regardless of location or device.  As a result, conventional technology restraints such as storage, network access and physical access controls will become irrelevant. The results will yield repeatable, sustainable, secure solutions that reduce costs and quickly deliver innovation into the hands of users securely and without traditional constraints.

Netflix was one of the first organizations to leap into SDx. The company’s initial offering in 1997, let people rent DVDs, which were then delivered and returned via the U.S. Postal Service. When Netflix made the leap to streaming movies online in 2007, it gave its subscribers the freedom to watch movies without traditional hardware constraints such as being in possession of and configuring a recording device or being at home in front of a television. 

But Netflix and others are only scratching the surface for how SDx can be successfully used to innovate the end-user experience.  With the nearly endless possibilities of SDx, a team of researchers at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) decided to create a proof of concept to emulate the use and security of the laboratory’s business systems accessed by a large number of virtual machines (VM).  The team’s first challenge was to overcome was traditional ways of thinking about application development and implementation. In applying SDx to the business environment, regular controls now can be software defined, and hardware will no longer be required to possess the intelligence to implement controls.  

By overcoming conventional hardware-based controls, INL succeeded in developing a virtual environment for its business systems, fully emulating the configuration and usage of each VM upon which the business systems run.

This was accomplished by building a template for the VMs. Once constructed, the template was cloned and tested -- a process that took a developer approximately 45 minutes from start to finish. Each clone was isolated from the others using logical separation. During testing, the team discovered that changes made to the template’s security and enclave configuration controls were applied to the clones automatically in a secure and repeatable manner. Moreover, during additional testing, the developer made configuration changes to the template while simultaneously creating additional clones. Despite logical separation, all clones implemented changes automatically and identically. The template remained secure and pristine, keeping all clones in sync.

Through the development of this prototype, INL succeeded in proving the potential for SDx to deliver amazing outcomes. The virtual environment created at INL demonstrates how SDx can be used to improve security, repeatability of processes and consistency in results.  By adopting such approaches, organizations will ultimately reap benefits such as reducing employee workload, improving security controls and optimizing investment in technology.

As the dependence on hardware for the intelligence to implement access and security controls diminishes, organizations must overcome traditional thinking and drive changes in regulatory restrictions. As these challenges are addressed, SDx will become more widely adopted and will change how information is accessed and consumed worldwide.

About the Authors

Wayne Simpson is the innovation architect at Idaho National Laboratory.

Tammie Borders is a research scientist at Idaho National Laboratory.

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