Heads up to new thinking for simplified data centres

Tikiri Wanduragala

Tuesday 3 April 2018

Most customers find data growth a costly headache, and struggle to work out how to securely store, manage and retrieve their escalating data assets. Former Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt once gave a comparative view of these data tsunamis which we now face: “From the dawn of civilisation to 2003, humankind created 5 exabytes of data. Now we produce 5 exabytes every two days – and it is accelerating.” For data centre change leaders who must plan-out their infrastructures over the next two years, the challenge is daunting.

There’s a group of companies that cannot get enough of data – for them it’s the new gold. Data is enabling them to better predict their customers’ behaviours, streamline the way they interact with customers, and help them target new customers. This is causing a marked transition in thinking about IT systems and data centres in terms of how they integrate emergent technologies like public cloud, hybrid cloud, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, software-defined infrastructure, etc. This can help them profit from the data they already possess and create daily.

Failure to provide a seamless environment results in so-called Shadow IT, where application developers and lines-of-business buy unauthorised cloud services. Before long a significant percentage of IT spend takes place outside the control of the IT department. Incoming legislation like GDPR that’s related to data security and sovereignty adds another dimension to the data management challenge, now with financial penalties attached.

One major factor that has created this situation is the traditional approach to consumption of IT by enterprises. Those old processes of selection, integration and management of systems are taking longer and becoming costlier as complexity of the data centres escalates. IT professionals are seen to be more focused on the technology than the customer – a recipe for disaster in any business.

New thinking for simpler outcomes

To help address this scenario Lenovo introduced the ThinkAgile systems range. ThinkAgile provides an alternative consumption model based on services to simplify the adoption and consumption of on-premise IT. Lenovo has three solutions under the ThinkAgile brand: Nutanix hyperconverged infrastructure, VMware VSAN and Microsoft Azure Stack hybrid cloud solution.

In essence, ThinkAgile is a factory-integrated appliance built using Lenovo Services, ThinkSystem building blocks (servers, networking, storage) and software from Nutanix, VMware or Microsoft (depending on the system selected). The inherent complexity of integrating the components is handled by Lenovo and the respective software supplier to save customers time and budget.

Key to ThinkAgile are the lifecycle services and support offerings provided with the product. It starts with working with the customer in the pre-deployment phase to size the solution and ensure a correct fit into their environment.

Next the deployment services ensure the system is operational and – more importantly – provides knowledge transfer to customer technical teams. Then post-deployment services ensure the system is maintained at the correct level and validated by Lenovo and the selected software platform provider.

New thinking for system support

Customers who have deployed ThinkAgile systems find most value in the single point of support provided by Lenovo for all elements of the system, hardware and software components. The nightmarish scenario for customers is hardware vendors blaming software vendors for system issues, and vice versa; with ThinkAgile this is not possible – as Lenovo takes care of the entire solution.

ThinkAgile platform is tightly integrated; in some cases solutions require specific UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) code in the servers. Our management software XClarity has integrators so that the management of underlying hardware can be carried-out at the hypervisor level (or above) – so that operators can work with an interface they are familiar with.

I will focus here on the ThinkAgile Microsoft Azure Stack – a hybrid cloud solution – and focus on the others in a future blog.

Many customers in recent years have tried to build their own in-house custom hybrid cloud solutions – and have struggled with the cost and complexity. Microsoft Azure Stack is designed to simplify adoption of hybrid clouds by providing an integrated appliance assured by Microsoft and Lenovo (in the case of ThinkAgile). Customers have the benefit of on-premise control and the ability to ‘burst’ into the Azure public cloud in a controlled, managed way.

It’s important to note that Lenovo was one of the first hardware vendors chosen to partner with Microsoft. This has led to many Lenovo firsts with Azure Stack: Lenovo was the first vendor to demonstrate the ThinkAgile solution at Microsoft Ignite, and the first vendor to support Azure Stack on the Intel® Xeon® Scalable platform. Lenovo is also the only vendor with an Azure Stack solution in the Intel Select programme. UK Managed Service Provider (MSP) IT Professional Services (ITPS), became the first MSP to deploy Azure Stack worldwide using Lenovo’s ThinkAgile solution.

Lenovo’s ThinkAgile Azure Stack solution is particularly well-suited to those of MSPs as Lenovo does not compete with them by providing a rival cloud services offering – a relationship that is in line with our commitment to our channel partners who drive most of our business in EMEA.

New thinking for new data challenges

ThinkAgile encapsulates the complexity of hybrid cloud solutions, enabling MSPs to focus on business solutions that are of value to their customers. Here’s what they say:

“Lenovo ThinkAgile SX for Microsoft Azure Stack enables us to deliver easy-to-use hybrid cloud services that boost business agility and keep operating costs low, without sacrificing security or control.” – Søren Dandanell Nielsen, Partner & Vice President of Business Development, Cloudeon

“By running Microsoft Azure Stack on Lenovo hardware in our own jurisdictions, we can deliver the Azure services that clients want, with the peace of mind of having their data reside within the correct EU zone.” – Julian Box, Founder & CEO, Calligo

The design of ThinkAgile is a radical departure from traditional server thinking. It’s a service-led design that enables rapid deployment of technology, skills transfer to the operators, and then management through its entire lifecycle.

Albert Einstein said that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them”, and the statement is as valid today as it was when he made it decades ago. The demands set ahead of any successful business today require new thinking. Lenovo ThinkAgile brings that new thinking right into the data centre.

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