Software-defined infastructure can be like playing with Lego bricks. But what if the bricks could bend? What if your datacenter was more elastic?  Both are possible.

Building blocks of software-defined infrastructure

At the Intel® Developer Forum, Ericsson research engineer Mark Murphy recently compared using a software-defined infrastructure (SDI) to playing with Lego bricks. In both cases, one starts with a collection of components that have diverse uses. One then assembles those components together in whatever way is suitable.

If you’re a kid, you assemble the bricks together into castles, dragons, or ships. When I was a kid, my brothers and I divided ours into groups, based on the function that each type of piece would have in our fictional universe. The flat blue pieces with smooth surfaces were dubbed “power pieces.” Attaching one to a device or character would make it fly higher or fight harder. The red pieces with a sloping surface were “beaks,” used to endow a creation with sentience and a personality.

Assembling resource pools

Basically, when we first started playing, we divided the unused bricks into pools of resources. And then we utilized those resources to build whatever came into our imagination. Then, when we no longer found those creations useful, we broke them apart, returning the resources to the appropriate pools.

If you’re a datacenter administrator (or, more likely, an autonomic process set in motion by an administrator’s configuration), and your datacenter uses SDI, then you’re going through a similar procedure. You’ve got separate pools for compute, storage, and networking. You assemble those resources together into virtual performance optimized datacenters (vPODs). Then, when the vPODs are no longer needed, they are de-provisioned, and the resources that they contained return to the pools.

Of course, the computer hardware components, unlike the Lego bricks, are not actually moving. But that’s the glory of SDI. A kid playing with plastic bricks isn’t worried about efficiency; a datacenter administrator (hopefully) is. But SDI functions more or less as if it were possible to, at lightning speed, assemble the necessary components into physical computers, and then break them down again.

Embracing datacenter flexibility

Recently, a popular Kickstarter project called Flexo took the Lego concept to another level. Essentially, Flexo makes toy bricks that bend. Flexo bricks are made to fit with Lego bricks, so kids with both sets of toys can create Lego structures with flexibility.


Flexo’s core concept, like the Lego concept, has an analog in the world of cloud computing: datacenter elasticity. An elastic datacenter is one that can efficiently adjust to handle workloads of different sizes. When there’s a big workload (say, during periods of peak traffic to a tenant’s website), more resources are provisioned. When the workload shrinks, and those resources are no longer needed, they are de-provisioned so that they can be used with other processes.

As a kid, I often wished the my Lego bricks could bend. Somehow, the flexibility of being able to make whatever I wanted still lacked actual… flexibility. And no doubt, my mother wishes that, like a de-provisioned vPOD, the plastic bricks I was done playing with would put themselves back in the box. Maybe that’s the next step.

If you want to learn more about our vision of hyperscale datacenters, please download our e-book on transforming your datacenter into your competitive edge or watch the video with Mark Murphy below:

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Images used with permission from Flexo.

Cloud Infrastructure

Michael Bennett Cohn

Michael Bennett Cohn was head of digital product and revenue operations at Condé Nast, where he created the company's first dynamic system for digital audience cross-pollination. At a traditional boutique ad agency, he founded and ran the digital media buying team, during which time he planned and executed the digital ad campaign that launched the first Amazon Kindle. At Federated Media, where he was the first head of east coast operations, he developed and managed conversational marketing campaigns for top clients including Dell, American Express, and Kraft. He also has a master's degree in cinema-television from the University of Southern California. He lives in Brooklyn.

Michael Bennett Cohn