This is a question I spend a lot of time thinking about. My role allows me to see at first hand the challenges that our clients are facing, and in the main it is easy to see why a major by-product of our industry is grey hair. The data centre is the heart of corporate IT and today it represents a very complicated and confused animal. It needs constant care and attention and will bite you if you not very careful. It all comes down to our ability to manage complexity and herein lies a very important question:
“If one of the main functions of technology is to make our lives easier then why is it so easy for technology to make our lives so much more complicated?”
Perhaps a good explanation is to follow the journey we have been on over the last 20 years in the corporate data centre. Client / server takes over from the mainframe but this doesn’t scale easily and is extremely inefficient. Shared storage and server virtualisation are introduced to address the challenges but this adds a huge amount of complexity and separates the data centre into technology silos. Capacity and performance requirements are increasing at an exponential rate and the processes we use to manage all of this are often out-dated before systems go live. However do we cope? Barely…. is often the answer. We are following a path of ever increasing complexity in order to stay relevant. Aiming for a Nirvana that we can never reach. At what point does this journey become too difficult to maintain? I would argue that it already has!
So how do we leverage technology in order to make things simpler and what would you do if you could re-build the data centre from scratch tomorrow?
My answer to this is automation, automation, and then a little more automation. I say this because I believe strongly that today’s corporate data centres are already beyond the human interface to manage effectively by hand. There are just too many spinning plates for an organisation to keep in the air. The only way a credible service can be maintained is to throw money at the problem and I no longer believe this can be sustainable while remaining competitive. The data centre can be efficient, simple, flexible and effective – Now there’s a thought! It can differentiate your business and dramatically shorten the time to innovation. And let’s face it folks that’s really what we should be getting paid to do!
So if I were going to build a data centre from scratch tomorrow what would I do? I would do 3 things:
I would build it out of small and converged blocks of commoditised hardware utilising advanced software technologies to scale capacity and performance as you add more.
I would automate efficiency with software (not humans) driving the key decisions around application resource allocation, sizing and location.
I would automate infrastructure delivery in order to hand over infrastructure to developers in minutes and not months. No one gets out of his or her seat and the DC door remains closed!
This is what the big boys are doing and this is what drives innovation. They are doing it this way because it is impossible to achieve the scale they need any other way. A Facebook systems admininstrator is managing over 20,000 servers at any one time - The enterprise equivalent currently manages less that 300. But I’m not Facebook I hear you say….. very true, if only, but the benefits do translate to the enterprise. I experienced a situation recently where it took over nine months to deliver the infrastructure required for developers to start building mission critical applications for a client business. It is no longer necessary to re-invent the wheel every time and infrastructure automation would have saved £millions in this particular instance.
So why didn’t they do it? Now we get into some contentious territory! We should recognise that the ability to re-build from scratch is almost never an option. We also tend to do a great job of getting in the way of ourselves with politics, agendas and the fear of change playing a big role. However, taking a more pragmatic approach, an organisation's capacity for change evolves with the business conditions and it’s human nature to hang on to things when perhaps a more considered option would be to let them die. Like everything in life we require balance but I am a firm believer that the seven most expensive words a business can utter are - “because we’ve always done it that way”.
We are lucky to have a broad frame of reference through the myriad of interactions and challenges we help clients with on a daily basis. We’re also fortunate to have exposure to the next generation of corporate IT platforms at a relatively early stage in their development. Our job is to sort the wheat from the chaff and I can say that it is possible to simplify the data centre with the potential benefits being enormous.
For more information on the Journey to Next Generation IT Infrastructure please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org