Can the software-defined enterprise save IT? Survey says: Yes.

Federal IT managers are moving toward the software-defined approach, which they say can eliminate routine tasks, spur innovation and save money, a recent survey reports.

Federal IT managers have started the shift to software-defined IT services — such as data center management, storage, and networking — as they recognize the role the emerging technology plays in fostering innovation and cutting operational costs.  However, full transition to the software-defined enterprise could take three years or more, according to a new report released by MeriTalk.

IT on the move

Federal IT managers are moving toward the software-defined enterprise to spur innovation and operational efficiency, but a full transition might take three years, according to a new MeriTalk report. Some highlights of the report:

  • 66 percent are transitioning to software-defined data centers
  • 59 percent are moving to software-defined storage
  • 55 percent are moving to software-defined networking

Eighty-one percent of the 152 federal IT managers surveyed assert that innovation is vital to their agency’s future, yet 79 percent of their IT budgets, or $62 billion annually, is spent updating and maintaining legacy environments. Moreover, more than half of federal IT managers said their agency is not able to acquire IT resources in a timely manner. That situation cannot continue if agencies want to reap the benefits of innovation and save money, according to the report,  “Innovation Inspiration: Can Software Save IT?” 

Survey respondents report spending more than 73 percent of their time waiting for technology and service deployments -- or performing routine tasks, such as provisioning equipment and services to end users, patch updates, break-fix tasks, load balancing, monitoring, backing up and restoring files, virus scans and security incident revive.

These routine tasks, which the software-defined data center promises to automate, are costing an estimated $4.7 billion each year in productivity. As a result, most federal IT managers said their agency needs a more flexible and agile IT infrastructure. They say they hope to achieve this through the software-defined enterprise, in which computing infrastructure and resources are virtualized, and management and control of those resources are automated by software.

More than half of the IT managers have started the shift to software-defined IT services for data center management, storage, and networking. Sixty-six percent have started the move toward software-defined data centers, 59 percent toward software-defined storage and 55 percent toward software-defined networking, according to the MeriTalk report, which was underwritten by VMware.

But many of the federal IT managers surveyed think a full transition to a software-defined enterprise will take at least three years. And with this transition comes challenges, including budget constraints, security, agency politics, a complex procurement process as well as agencies being locked into vendor contracts. The federal IT managers suggest agencies redirect savings to new applications, cloud and improved program management.

The federal IT managers’ views on the opportunities for innovation and IT operational efficiency that can be unleashed by the move to software-defined approaches coincides with many industry experts’ view of the technology’s potential.

"What this emerging trend is essentially doing is taking what has happened over the last 15 years with server virtualization and bringing that to the network and storage levels,” Doug Bourgeois, chief cloud executive for VMware's U.S. public sector division and former director of the Interior Department's National Business Center, told GCN in a recent interview. “Once these three levels of the infrastructure have been virtualized, the data center becomes orders of magnitude more agile than ever before."

And this level of virtualization will bring industry and government closer to the concept of “everything-as-a-service,” said Anthony Robbins, vice president of federal sales with Brocade. “As virtualization takes over the entire IT infrastructure, ‘as a service’ will really take off, enabling all IT as a service, in particular cloud, whether public, private or hybrid," Robbins said.

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