Data centres for agile business

Klaus Manhart, Computerwoche

Friday 7 April 2017

Traditional data centres are too rigid, inflexible and expensive for today’s business needs. But new virtualisation technologies are bringing flexibility to old structures, revitalising all essential parts of a data centre – storage, server and individual network components, and finally enabling businesses to become agile.

Data centres have been pursuing the virtualisation trend for years. Top factors driving this have been cost savings, simplified administration and higher availability. And this trend looks set to continue. Not only are servers becoming virtual, but also clients, software applications and databases. Increasing hardware virtualisation is giving companies precisely the flexibility that they need today.

“Half-way measures are no longer considered sufficient,” explains the IDC Study Software-defined infrastructure 2016. Now, it is more about “bringing together the potential of these solutions and technologies in a software-defined infrastructure, to greatly increase IT performance capability”.

A software-defined infrastructure requires businesses to overcome their dependency on hardware. Software-defined X is not restricted to the virtualisation of selected components such as server, clients or databases. In fact, virtualisation is much more comprehensive and has grown to include all crucial data centre components. The letter X stands for the data centre itself as a software-defined data dentre (SDDC).

The fundamental feature of an SDDC is to intelligently link diverse resources, with integrated services delivering them to the data centre. To provide these, hardware components are bundled in pools, aggregated and flexibly issued as software services.

The aggregated services can then be combined using guideline-based supply, automation and monitoring functions. Connectors and application programming interfaces (APIs) allow applications to be extended to private and public cloud services.

The benefits of a software-defined data centre

Software-centric data centres are becoming more necessary today than ever before because modern applications are increasingly configured for the internet, social networks and mobile devices. SDDCs provide the perfect technological basis to meet this need. They are ideal mainly due to their high flexibility and theoretically unlimited scalability. They are also easy to manage, for example, enabling organisations to quickly roll out a new business application that requires a rapid build-up of data centre resources.

An SDDC also takes some of the workload off IT staff, who often struggle to keep up with other departments’ IT resource requirements. An SDDC usually requires only one employee to manage server, storage and networks. If the IT infrastructure is centrally managed, the requirements can be much better met because the resources are aligned with the demand from applications and services, regardless of whether an operation is on-site or in the private or public cloud.

Moreover, introducing an SDDC requires less administrative time and effort, lowering costs and simplifying IT resource allocation. This is significant because, prior to the introduction of SDDCs, data centre management was previously considered the largest cost centre.

Also, the reliability of an SDDC is considerably higher than traditional data centres. The software-based architecture offsets hardware glitches and comes up with failover redundancy and fault tolerance functions for problematic IT areas at a lower cost.

The software ensures that the affected applications are transferred to other servers in the data centre if a hardware component fails. This has a positive impact on the availability of the entire system because the time it takes to restore it minimised.

Lenovo’s broad product palette

Lenovo supports users who are interested in setting up an SDDC – regardless of whether the customer requires a complete SDDC, software-defined storage or a customised solution.

As early as 2015, Lenovo and Nutanix entered into a partnership to manufacture hyperconverged infrastructures. Nutantix has developed a software solution that virtualises essential data centre components such as storage and networking, and then provides them as an integrated system. Using this solution, partner companies offer such as Lenovo a complete SDDC and support for implementation.

The Lenovo Converged HX series is equipped with the Nutanix Xtreme Computing Platform (XCP) Software. It integrates the software, provided by the brand leader for hyperconvergence, in a Lenovo server with proven reliability and scalability, thus combining the once separate storage, server and hypervisor components.

The software alone now defines the assignment of a virtual machine on a hypervisor, making the infrastructure invisible to IT users.

If a customer does not want a complete SDDC set-up, or prefers instead to limit it to a modern storage solution, then software-defined storage is a good alternative. To cater for this scenario, Lenovo entered into partnerships with Nexenta and Cloudian, and integrated their SDS applications into its proprietary hardware. The solutions are marketed under the StorSelect product line.

In addition, the manufacturer set its sights on developing a new and even better version of its network operating system (NOS). The new Lenovo Cloud NOS is intended as a core element of the SDDC and is designed to support companies setting up and managing their own SDDC.

Finally, if a customer is looking for a customised solution rather than an out-of-the-box solution mentioned above, Lenovo recommends VMware SDDC architecture. This approach uses VMware software products and the following Lenovo systems:

– Lenovo System x3550 M5
– Lenovo System x3650 M5
– Emulex 10 GbE adapter
– Lenovo RackSwitch G8272
– Lenovo RackSwitch G8264CS
– Lenovo RackSwitch G8052
– 8 Gb Fibre Channel adapter
– Lenovo SAN-Switch
– Lenovo Storage V3700 V2

Agile business

Companies can benefit in many ways from implementing SDDC solutions like the ones from Nutanix. A pre-configured appliance with server, storage and network components, all aligned with one another, can reduce both system complexity and space requirements, which is not possible with conventional data centres.

What is even more important for IT organisations is that the Nutanix solution greatly increases system reliability and, at the same time, simplifies the time and effort necessary for managing a data centre significantly. This simplified management, plus the associated reduced staffing needs, can greatly reduce enterprise’s IT costs.

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