Goodbye, Silos: The Benefits of Converged Data Centers

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Kent Christensen brings more than 20 years of experience in IT management and software engineering to his role as virtualization practice manager for Datalink, where he consults with customers on initiatives spanning storage consolidation, virtualization and cloud computing. You can read his latest blog here.

KCHRISTENSEN-DatalinkKENT CHRISTENSEN
Datalink

IT silos tend to get a bad rap in the data center these days. In an age of ever-increasing consolidation of physical devices (servers, storage, and networks) into one big family of shared resources, the legacy of IT silos is viewed more and more as one of great inefficiency, and as an example of how not to do things.

And, frankly, there’s good reason for much of the disdain against them. Evidence continues to mount against the silo’s inherent weaknesses. Just a few include:

  • An inability to better utilize or share the silo’s resources
  • The added time it takes to deploy, update or manage a new siloed environment
  • Rising operating costs, given each silo’s unique processes needed: From management to availability and backup
  • Additional complexities and the need for redundant systems to meet availability requirements and related management needs
  • The rising cost to grow a silo and its architectural inflexibility for scaling

Any discussion of IT silos is not complete without also mentioning the corresponding IT organizational and political “silos” that evolved to support these structures. These can be the support groups, themselves, who are often organized around their organization’s respective servers, network or storage systems, but who don’t always work together for the common good of a business.

Now, fast-forward to today’s trend of consolidation, virtualized data centers, and, ultimately, data center convergence. The server/network/storage stack begins to look a lot different from its early client/server-with-direct-attached-storage days.

As the data center bids goodbye to the silo and continues to transform, you can expect to see the benefits for enterprises — and their applications — continue to grow.

Replacing Silos with Consolidation and Virtualization

A brief history of this type of data center evolution may help shed light on the emerging benefits of convergence.

As we saw with many Datalink enterprise customers who moved from the silo model, IT data centers first began to incorporate server virtualization technology to logically represent multiple servers on one or more consolidated, physical systems with smaller data center footprints. The data centers also began to incorporate their own dedicated network and shared storage to support them.

Suddenly, one physical server could be used to serve up the needs of multiple applications, which it often did with glowing results. But, a ripple effect of virtual server growth often expanded storage and network needs significantly. Suddenly, cost savings in one area could be offset by growing expenses in another.

Next, in a positive bid to gain greater efficiency and cost savings, many also began developing virtual data centers (VDCs), where they could extend the benefits of virtualization onto the storage and network layers as well. VDCs allow the client, network, and storage layer to simultaneously combine and partition their physical resources into their own virtual-yet-distinct resource “pools” of storage, servers and networks.

With VDCs, a smarter use of existing resources allowed greater logical partitioning to meet the growing needs of applications. Yet, while early VDC environments found less physical moving parts to manage, data center teams still found themselves having to coordinate integration, management and manual oversight of the various server, network and storage layers. This was so that the resources from various vendors (and from various designated IT support teams) could play together well enough to support the data center’s growing slate of applications.

The Next Big Wave: Data Center Convergence

The current data center transition to a converged data center has since begun to streamline application delivery even farther.

Borrowing from the findings of many public cloud infrastructures who made effective use of their own server/network/storage infrastructure “blocks,” today’s data center environments have also begun to benefit from many pre-integrated, pre-tested (i.e. “converged”) infrastructure solutions now coming to market from a consortium of network, server and storage vendors.

Similar to the automotive industry which transformed from the use of individual piece-parts to more integrated systems of components, these vendor consortiums have effectively taken on much of the early integration work and now present a unified (or converged) fabric system from which applications are much easier to deploy, manage, expand or upgrade.

This converged system is one in which the server, network and storage layers are increasingly aware of each other and work together closely to ensure optimal resource use for predefined applications.

The benefits for IT can lead to:

  • Less moving parts (and less individual vendor touch points) to manage or troubleshoot
  • Greater resource utilization at a lower cost
  • Faster application provisioning (one enterprise customer went from their prior three weeks to just 15 minutes to provision new applications)
  • Faster IT response to business priority changes or changing market conditions
  • Easier scaling and greater elasticity of the infrastructure
  • Related integration and cross-training of previously siloed IT teams, themselves, in order to align IT further to the business
  • A shorter pathway to on-demand services or private cloud environments to meet the IT needs of internal business units
  • A lower cost to support the growing data and application needs of the business (Another enterprise customer who runs its own SaaS business found itself able to offer better quality services to current and new customers at a lower overall cost to itself.)

While the chapter for data center convergence is still yet to be completed, early findings of its benefits show great promise that it will continue to serve the needs of both applications and the business much better than that of early IT silos.

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  1. Steve Rudner

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