Evolution of the Enterprise Data Center

Meeting the needs of an increasingly complex and evolving enterprise.



We had the opportunity to meet with Phil Straw, CEO, Jason Van der Schyff, COO, and Andrew Moloney, V.P. Strategy at SoftIron on the virtual IT Press Tour #35.


According to Phil, the battle lines for the new data center have drawn. As data has become more valuable, there’s a battle for control over, and value creation from, data. The customer relationship with public clouds is evolving from a strategic partner to utility. The enterprise is shifting to ownership of hybrid multi-cloud infrastructure and the edge. Enterprises are reevaluating the value of hardware versus hardware. And, there is concern about the privacy and security of data and protecting data from bad actors and nation-states.


We’re entering a new phase of data infrastructure. Data is precious, processing will be disposable. Infrastructure will disaggregate to live where its value is the greatest. Cloud will become just another utility. The hype will be over hybrid and edge with the models of both fully-defined. Enterprises will continue to own infrastructure but only when there is a reason to do so. Software-defined infrastructure and open source will be key enablers of this evolution. Security and sovereignty will become harder and more important.


Datacenter infrastructure must evolve to meet the needs of the increasingly complex and evolving enterprise. Enterprises have moved from the extreme of the legacy on-premise solution to the extreme of everything on the cloud, and are now looking for a hybrid solution with data repatriated to a hybrid data center with the goal to enhance efficiency, data security, lower egress cost, and improve agility.


Hybrid and edge are challenging data center design. Public cloud vendors are vying to own control of “cloud-native” on-prem infrastructure which leads to concerns over data security and vendor lock-in. Hybrid and edge both push data to be closer to where it will be used but it comes with challenges around performance, scalability, management, density. The electrical and physical environment will likely not be optimized, nor efficient.


SoftIron addresses these challenges by providing a hybrid solution without vendor lock-in. Open-source software (OSS) coupled with task-specific hardware can surpass proprietary limitations. Specialization fosters performance breakthroughs. Auditable provenance provides the foundation of security.


SoftIron delivers the data center of the future with 1) storage - a dedicated Ceph appliance, purpose-built for scale-out enterprise storage; 2) networking - wire-speed network switch, purpose-built for hyper-scale, enterprise storage; and, 3) transcoding purpose-built for multi-screen, multi-format delivery.


Task-specific hardware uses Ceph for storage. Ceph is a unified, distributed storage system designed for performance, reliability, and scalability. Sonic is used for open networking in the cloud. Sonic is an open-source network operating system based on Linux that runs on switches from multiple vendors and ASICS. Transcoding is done with FFmpeg, an OSS for audio and video processing. Task-specific design is able to deliver twice the performance, 1/5th the cost in electricity, and 1/10th the cost in total power.


An integrated management dashboard simplifies open source user interfaces to leverage Ceph. It eliminates the need for command-line interfaces, provides a hardware auto-discovery wizard, and prevents bad setups and prompts. It enables a quick physical location of the actual disc that needs attention, easy addition or removal of machines to a cluster, and multiple admin “lockout” features.


On May 15, 2019, the White House decreed a national emergency on securing the information and communications technology and services supply chain. On February 10, 2020, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) unveiled a new National Counterintelligence Strategy for the U.S., addressing modern-day threats, including: “adversaries attempting to access national supply chains at multiple points by inserting malware into important information technology networks and communications systems.”


SoftIron believes the battle for data sovereignty starts with the hardware. Most data centers don’t know if their appliances are secure since most manufacturers don’t know either. The global supply chain is so complex, it has massive security gaps. SoftIron provides secure provenance including a hardware and software audit, all software vetted from source code, and transparent supply chains. SoftIron controls the entire design and build process and manufactures and assembles all products in-house, from the ground up including electronics subassemblies.


Use Cases


The team provided three case studies from three universities since these are approved for public consumption. About one-third of their customers are universities, one-third enterprises, and one-third government. They anticipate enterprise and government to outgrow universities moving forward.


  1. The Minnesota Supercomputing Institute realized cost savings and improved scalability. They used SoftIron to maximize Ceph functionality while minimizing complexity.

  2. The University of Kentucky virtualized its OpenHPC clusters to extend availability and access to a new generation of researchers.

  3. Sandia National Laboratories used SoftIron to deliver a fully-supported Ceph solution with an ARM technology base supporting the needs for the advanced application exploration activities on the Stria system.


Key Takeaways

  • Task-specific design, purpose-built for the data center

  • Redefines performance, density, efficiency, and deploy and manage open source infrastructure

  • Data security via secure provenance

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© 2020 by Tom Smith | ctsmithiii@gmail.com | @ctsmithiii