Nudging IT forward

There is basic agreement on the nirvana vision for the next-generation data center, but the tricky part is getting there from here.

That was the conclusion of speakers from Dell, Juniper and VCE (the company formed by Cisco and EMC with investments from VMware and Intel) in a panel discussion I recently hosted at the CABLExpress Data Center Symposium presented by CXtec and TERACAI, resellers in Syracuse, N.Y.

THE NEW DATA CENTER: Strategies and technologies for optimizing IT

Broadly speaking, the panel agreed that, if you could build it from scratch today, the modern data center would be comprised of x86-based virtualized resources with converged compute/storage/networking and access to cloud services for overflow demands. All storage would be shared and it wouldn't matter if it was in the isle or across the room. The network would be flat and never require more than a single hop between devices. And everything would be centrally managed.

But the reality today, as one buyer in the audience reminded us, is we spend our time building systems for different business requirements and continuously tweak them for those siloed needs, leaving us with both technical and political constraints that make it hard to change.

Compounding the problem: the difficulty in getting a handle on real TCO figures, said panelist Drew Engstrom, marketing director of enterprise strategy at Dell. It is very complex to come up with meaningful figures for, say, an ERP system given all the software and hardware components involved. Many customers don't know what they don't know, he said. Given that, "it is hard to make smart decisions about how to make IT more efficient."

Thankfully, virtualization is delivering efficiencies organically by driving up server utilization rates, panelists and attendees agreed. While some buyers are ecstatic to see rates jump from 3% utilization to 20%, most people in attendance seemed to think 50% was a reasonable target level.

But every virtualization project eventually becomes an IT reorg effort, the panelists warned. When it is as easy to add memory to a VM as sliding a bar on a GUI, you need to carefully rethink who can do what. Some vendors, for example, now enable server administrators to muck with virtual network controls. A user in the audience that tried that approach said it made server provisioning a breeze but ended up creating service nightmares.

There are no silver bullets, the panelists agreed, but there are enough compelling new technologies for companies to make strides forward. Converging compute/storage/networking is a core strategy, said panelist Greg Dubrule, principal architect with VCE's Northeast sales team. But it isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. You can implement it in stages.

Every step forward gets us closer to nirvana.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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