No More Data Plane Administrators

April 22, 2014 0 By Eric Shanks

downloadThere are two terms used in IT that are often used in conjunction when learning about how technologies are built.  These two terms are “Control Plane” and “Data Plane”.  A quick and dirty definition of these two terms would be:

  • Control Plane – The decision making part of any system.  Usually considered the brains of the system.
  • Data Plane – The part of a system that carries out an operation.  This would be the routine tasks needed to make the system work.

Just as a sidebar, if you are looking for me to site my source on those definitions you’re out of luck.  These are my basic definitions that I’ve made up for purposes of this post.  If for some reason these definitions become common place, then I want some royalties.  🙂


Let’s look at a few examples:

VMware Distributed Switch

  • Control Plane – Stored on the vCenter and is used to create port groups, assign uplinks, configure VLANS, set Ingress or Egress policies, etc.
  • Data Plane – Stored on the individual ESXi hosts and is responsible for forwarding frames based on how the control plane told it to do so.

VMware Virtual SAN

  • Control Plane –  Comes from the Virtual SAN Software that is installed and is responsible for configuring which host is responsible for data in the scale out storage design and how the data will be protected in the case of a host failure.
  • Data Plane – The Solid State Disks and Hard disks utilized to store data on the drives and later recall it when the OS asks for it.

A Bus Route

I threw this one in, just to show that a “Control Plane” and a “Data Plane” don’t have to be just for the IT world.

  • Control Plane – A set plan that shows the route that buses will travel throughout a city.
  • Data Plane –   The buses that stop at the routes defined in the control plane and move passengers between these stops.


No More Data Plane Administrators

On to the thesis of my post.  “With all of the new Software Designed Everythings that are out in the Data Center space, Systems Administrators need to rethink the way they approach their jobs.”  In the past, it may have been common place for Admins to monitor the performance of their servers and modify settings to accommodate changes in workloads to keep their users happy.  This may have included doing things like migrating a VM to a new host, or provisioning a new server.  Similarly, a network administrator might spend his days provisioning new access switches with VLANs Spanning-Tree etc for handling new workloads.

I would consider the types of administration I just described as “Data Plane Administration”.  These Admins are doing the heavy lifting necessary for the infrastructure to hum right along and keep some happy users.  The Software Defined Data Center allows us to replace the Data Plane Administrators with software.


SDDC is changing the way we should look at this administration.  Products like VMware vCloud Hybrid Service (vCHS), vCenter Operations Manager (vC OPS), VMware NSX for virtual networking, and the vCloud Suite can be used to move the Systems and Network Admins from the Data Plane up to the Control Plane.  These tools allow for the automation of tasks such as performance monitoring, and building new virtual machines.  Systems Admins now can spend their time making decisions about how the infrastructure should handle different situations and the software will be the data plane that does the heavy lifting.