The evolution of the data centre

By Mark Nielsen*, Product Marketing Manager, Hewlett-Packard StorageWorks Division, part of the Enterprise Storage and Server (ESS) Group
Wednesday, 02 December, 2009

While CIOs continue to focus on maximising the value of their data centre investments, we’ll see vendors develop technologies like virtualisation and automation that will help to drive down costs and improve quality of service as they mature and gain traction. HP’s Mark Nielsen* outlines how customers will benefit from increasing flexibility of choice for their infrastructure, either by building it themselves, outsourcing it or tapping into cloud-related services.

Large-enterprise customers will increasingly rely on utility computing models to streamline their business processes and cut costs. There are new solutions on the market that allow businesses to simplify management at low cost. 2008 saw the introduction of the industry’s first network attached storage super-scalable (up to multi-petabytes) storage system.

Growth in data centres has encouraged key partnerships designed to discover untapped capabilities within the cloud, such as the recent teaming between Intel, Yahoo and HP to open a cloud computing research centre.

And clearly, as organisations grapple with how to leverage emerging cloud-based services, they will need to invest in service management, delivery and governance excellence as a way to ensure that all technology-enabled services are aligned with the intended business outcome.

Virtualisation developments continue to expand from desktop to the data centre, having a profound impact on how businesses provision and manage resources. Secure virtualisation is a primary consideration.

While many CIOs and IT managers understand the full business benefits of the technology, they should keep in mind that virtualisation brings its own set of challenges that can lead to security, compliance and management implications if left unaddressed. CIOs need to create an integrated pool of resources that operate in both physical and virtual environments.

Virtualisation increases the utilisation of servers, but it also places higher demands on the storage infrastructure, increasing implementation and operational costs. The key is using storage solutions that are designed for virtual servers.

To alleviate risks and get the most of out of a virtualisation investment, businesses should consider building effective management strategies for both host and guest operating systems, as well as securing management of the entire physical infrastructure. It is important to keep in mind that a virtual machine inherits all vulnerabilities of host operating systems.

Additionally, the physical infrastructure has a critical role in supporting the execution of workloads deployed on virtual servers. The security of the virtualised infrastructure is dependent on secure management of access control and the configuration of physical resources throughout the data centre. Keeping these tactics in mind, organisations can realise the full business benefits of virtualisation while decreasing the risk to their businesses.

Automation - storage, servers and network devices

As virtualisation has evolved, the role of automation as a ‘must-have’ in a virtual environment becomes evident. Because of the complexity introduced by virtualisation, automation is gaining importance as companies need to map dependencies between physical and virtual servers, keep tabs on network and storage resources, and control virtual sprawl.

Through 2009, automation of storage in conjunction with servers, network devices and processes, including automated virtualisation management, will continue to be critical to achieving application availability., a highly successful Australian electronic media monitoring service, evaluated its infrastructure requirements as a critical first step towards global expansion, which included setting up operations in Singapore. To achieve an economic outcome, the site would need to be a 24/7 operation, with a sophisticated server and storage infrastructure remotely managed with 100% redundancy, offering no single point of failure.

Because Visionbytes had a mandate to manage the Singapore data centre remotely, it went with a HP Blade solution that delivered superior onboard management software which comes as standard. The Onboard Administrator allows for excellent and intuitive remote capabilities including status monitoring, firmware upgrades and ease of management. This platform also meant Visionbytes did not have to train staff on managing the new hardware, saving time and money in the process.

With its new solution in place, Visionbytes now has a fully redundant Singapore-based system, with no single point of failure, and a significantly increased ability to capture and store information of up to 150 terabytes.

The rise of dynamic adaptation

Research conducted in March 2008 showed that more than one-third of CIOs believe that in two to five years their data centres will be unable to meet their organisations’ demands for business services and applications.

To address this issue, vendors continue to introduce technology tools and strategies to address top data centre initiatives, all designed to help businesses transform their data centres from a standalone collection of physical assets into a virtual and adaptive infrastructure designed to rapidly meet changing business needs.

One of HP’s partners, Somerville Group, recently worked with Kincoppal-Rose Bay (KRB), a boarding school for girls in Sydney which provides an education experience for students and parents that incorporates the use of new technologies. Students and teachers need to have access to rich media content and technologies such as video editing tools, MP3 audio and data, both in the classroom and, for boarders, in the boarding school bedrooms where they reside. The main driver for change at KRB was that the incumbent storage and server technologies could not scale up to meet its future storage needs.

Somerville provided the KRB school with a new HP SAN and server infrastructure, and 15 servers were then virtualised onto a platform of six servers, while one terabyte of storage was increased to a capacity of six terabytes of storage space. Scalability of the solution is also ensured, featuring plenty of scope for adding additional blade servers.

In addition to business continuity and a faster back-up and storage solution, Somerville has helped KRB achieve much greater scalability for both its future storage requirements and blade server needs. KRB has access to a healthy return on investment because its new infrastructure now makes it far less expensive to add new servers and storage space as needed. The school is also benefiting from a comparatively much simpler server and storage management platform and web-based interface.

Storage in the limelight

As organisations aim to create more efficient environments and tighten their technology budgets, the role of storage technology is becoming more critical. In the coming years, technologies, such as storage virtualisation, will help drive data centre transformation, as they improve storage utilisation and retrieval of mission-critical data, consolidate hardware systems and create an infrastructure that is easier to manage.

Greening the data centre

In 2009, the push to ‘go green’ is being driven predominantly by the need to reduce energy costs. Organisations will be challenged to quantify the money saved using green technology and measure their carbon footprint reduction.

IT vendors should be helping customers meet these requirements through continued focus on providing technologies that improve performance, slash energy costs and reduce carbon footprints. Specifically, energy efficiency can also be achieved through data centre layout and virtualisation-enabled consolidation.

Security gets SaaS-y

As security vulnerabilities remain a critical concern for technology organisations of all sizes, customers can get security up and running faster to minimise risks using software-as-a-service (SaaS).

Application security attacks, such as SQL injections, dominated the headlines in 2008 and show no signs of stopping in 2009. The launch of the new Google Chrome web browser, the first browser built to optimise web applications, points to an emerging trend where the web is becoming more of a platform for applications. While developing platforms bring exciting new features and user experiences, they can also introduce security vulnerabilities. To provide security against these malicious web attacks, applications need to start secure to stay secure.

Application security solutions via SaaS allow companies to quickly and cost-effectively centralise all of their web application security assessment programs into a complete scalable solution that is maintained and managed centrally.

Criminals have started to use online hacking services instead of having to deal with the technical challenges of running their own hacking software themselves. It’s crime-as-a-service. And with the cat-and-mouse game, the good guys need application security SaaS to avoid becoming victims.

The upcoming year promises exciting developments in enterprise data centre technologies. Looking even further ahead, next-generation data centres will emerge as a critical asset to any successful, agile and growing business.

* Mark Nielsen has more than 20 years’ experience in the Australian IT industry and is board member of SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association).

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