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Data centre demands impact everything IT - feature

01 Apr 2012

The imperative for businesses to become lean, green and more efficient is bringing a renewed focus on third party service providers, virtualisation, cloud computing and the changing role of the data centre.

Data storage, management and access technology is becoming increasingly complex and costly leaving many organisations scratching their heads about the way forward and looking to resellers to recommend options that suit their specific needs. Should you virtualise and keep everything tightly managed in your own IT bunkers, swap everything out to a third party or maintain a hybrid of old and new? And what about disaster recovery and business continuity?

Frost & Sullivan senior analyst Mayank Kapoor says resellers, systems integrators and consultants need a solid understanding of the options to determine the best match for their clients.

Kapoor, who leads the Frost & Sullivan cloud services research team for Asia Pacific, says resellers should consult closely around who has the best location, space and technology, but urge clients to take things one step at a time.

"The right third party service provider with the right talent can help you restructure your IT systems, do business analytics and gain a better understanding of your own systems,” he says.

Leaving legacy behind

New Zealand is a mature market with a lot of systems becoming outdated, presenting a perfect opportunity for consolidation and upgrading through virtualisation, Kapoor says.

Chances are data centre use is already high, and high density servers and other legacy systems are using a lot more power and cooling than current technology.

"Virtualise everything which will create more space and use the infrastructure more efficiently. Go green then phase in your upgrade facilities,” he says.

While the bulk of the market conversation is around server virtualisation and cloud technologies, Kapoor recommends the discussion be broadened to include desktop virtualisation and containerised, or plug and play, data centres.

Even if clients have multiple data centres he suggests containerised centres can make life easier. In effect you purchase a mobile shed from vendors such as HP, Dell, Toshiba or Hitachi with server-ready racks and cooling and power components. "You just connect it to your power and cooling and add servers and you are up and running, rather than waiting two years for design and construction of a customised in-house facility.” These solutions may come bundled with servers specific to client needs.

Costly IT talent

When outsourcing everything, clients need to know how resilient their proposed partner is, their track record, their up-time and the core functions to be retained in a disaster recovery and business continuity plan.

Turning to a specialised third party data centre or service provider is a proven way to reduce operational and capital expenditure and manpower costs and to accommodate trends such as the mobility wave.

"Regardless of what kind of industry you are in, you need access to the right kind of talent to run data centres, with knowledge about virtualising and upgrading technologies and putting in private clouds,” says Kapoor.

While around 30% of companies have virtualised their servers, the trend to ‘bring your own device’ has presented some real challenges. That’s where Kapoor says desktop virtualisation comes into its own. "Once you move data storage and processing away from end-user devices to the data centre server everything is centralised, eliminating concerns around privacy and security.”

It also saves costs because everything is centrally managed with all upgrades happening in the background. "You just need a centralised staff to do this and technologies from VMware and Citirx for example.”

Another major consideration is to specify more efficient green technologies. "Intel and AMD already have green chips in place – if you talk to server or switch vendors or HP or Brocade, everyone is going for low power and low cooling.”

Stepping up to the cloud

According to IDC New Zealand, local companies are making their shift to the cloud in small bites, starting with outsourcing to third party data centres ahead of a wider commitment.

Its Top 10 ICT Predictions for 2012 claim the cloud will move from managing costs to an innovation driver over the next year; along with business analytics, client virtualisation and automation, this will set the pace for  transformational changes.

It says infrastructure as a service accounts for about 31% of cloud services revenue in New Zealand and could grow to 39% by 2015.

IDC infrastructure group senior analyst, Trevor Clarke, says the data centre represents ‘a big chunk’ of what the current market is about and resellers and integrators must engage in informed industry-specific conversations in order to position their clients accordingly.

He says the data centre, at facility, infrastructure and information levels, is pivotal not only to the IT environment but to the economy at large.

The focus is on consolidating, reducing costs and ‘simplifying complexities and sprawl’ as businesses become more intelligent about managing, designing and operating data centres.

Clarke says there’s a huge opportunity for the reseller channel to improve skills and knowledge as they advise organisations to move more of their x86-64 mission critical workload into a virtualised environment.

With IT departments hiring fewer people, and more virtual machines and service platforms being put into place, there are increasing opportunities to automate processes.

"You have to look at automating as much as you can in this environment with as little human interaction as possible in those processes to make them more efficient and to reduce the pressure of having to manage staff,” says Clarke.

Driving out costs

The pace at which data is acquired, changed, stored then required; whether in a physical or virtual environment, is stretching capabilities of in-house data centres and recovery and management tools.

"The rate and range of change is only increasing. There’s no tolerance for not being able to get access to email for an hour; I can’t imagine a company that would allow that today,” exclaims Charles Clarke, systems engineering manager for Veeam Asia Pacific.

He says tolerance for outages or lost data decreases conversely as the data flow through the organisation increases. "Having a strategy in place to handle that strange juxtaposition of events is really critical.”

Cloud, hosting and co-location service providers are an important part of facilitating that business transformation. "It’s changing the way they think about virtualisation and disaster recovery and helping to simplify and drive costs out of the enterprise.”

Clarke says resellers need the maturity and understanding to determine effective strategies for business continuity across different outage scenarios, whether that’s disasters, firewall breeches or hardware failure.

He says virtualisation generally underpins the move to the cloud and remote hosting. "I always envisage the cloud as a journey not a destination and we’re not even close to half way.”

The transition is not about computing power but saving money. "Enterprises can realise massive cost savings through power and cooling and business continuity.”

Even five years ago, he says, powering on a new server without any data loss was achievable but expensive. "Now thanks to virtualisation it’s possible for most organisations, along with the ability to provide fault tolerance and high availability without costing the earth.”

While cutting costs is one way to endear yourself to clients, it can’t stop there — it has to be part of a business case centred around return on investment (ROI).

Channel partners need to look at the cost profile of hardware, and recommend consolidating servers into a virtual environment, automating or using managed services, says IDC’s Clarke. "We typically say for every dollar you spend on acquiring a server for example you’ll be spending $8 in maintenance and for power and cooling over the life of that machine.”

He says moving from a pure cost basis to ROI means resellers need to be aware the options for disaster recovery, security and performance and have a strong position on data centre services.

Closer partnerships

A major concern in New Zealand, says Frost & Sullivan’s Kapoor, is the need for improved broadband and submarine capacity to support cloud services and growth in data centres.

"Does the company you plan to partner with have the right office infrastructure, where are their centres located, and can they provide connectivity if the internet is down?”

He says resellers, systems integrators or consultants have a pivotal role in customer decision making and should preferably get two or three parties to pitch their offerings concurrently.

When it comes to maintaining essential links with customers and the supply chain, systems integrators need to double as consultants to co-ordinate this process and determine what service level agreements should be in place.

Veeam says there are clear benefits for server virtualisation in data centres but the next step is achieving peak efficiency to drive mission critical applications into the virtual environment.

A data centre should be highly automated and efficient and while many businesses are already functioning with duel platforms, for example VMware’s vSphere and Microsoft’s Hyper-V, resellers need to better understand what it calls the biggest trend for 2012 – co-existence.

That includes the ways in which various hardware and software providers embrace these technologies in the data centre so they can assist IT managers plan the future of their infrastructure.

Part of the challenge is in helping to implement effective strategies and ‘being aware of the different players from a tools perspective including back-up, replication, monitoring and reporting’.

"When you bring the cloud into place or outsourcing you are typically looking at a hybrid environment and often a mix of service providers and service in that,” says Clarke.

The more you know about your customer and what they want the clearer the opportunities and threats will be. Having various players working together creates opportunities for the channel to build the best solutions possible, he says.

The fact that ISPs are migrating up the feeding chain as software and infrastructure service providers with hosting and co-location facilities increases the options for customers to move into the virtual environment.

Shake up to wake-up

Part of the role of the channel is to help figure out which service and hosting providers are suited along with the most effective disaster recovery strategies. "You may have a service provider for data storage, another for email and Microsoft Exchange, for offsite replication and data recovery but each story has to join up,” says Veeam’s Clarke.

That means being aware of the current state of a business and how things are running at any time so you can map the best way to get back online when an outage occurs.

Having a data centre with multiple locations is pivotal for reliable recovery and must go further than simply throwing in replication and back-up scenarios which say if the green light is on at the end of the day everything should have worked. "There has to be reliable testing and data verification at all stages in the process. This is the survival of a business that’s at stake here,” says Clarke.

Big data facilities

The increase in the number of big data centres is a global trend and attractive to customers who are looking for localisation for compliance reasons or sensitivity to having data stored offshore.

There’s a growing desire to work with centres that have a high speed link that will give them the ability to realise the benefits of virtualisation.

IDC’s Trevor Clarke says while most businesses tend to prefer local facilities ‘the cloud has opened up a regional or global construct, that’s maturing and we’re starting to see the local aspect of that opening up’.

He says multinationals understand you need to have facilities in-country and close to where clients are to ensure speed, performance, access, data sovereignty, and so clients can go and physically check put the facilities themselves.