Building a software-defined data centre
Data centres are changing, becoming software-defined data centres, with IT organisations at varying levels of maturity. How is...
Add the cloud to legacy systems, and IT infrastructures look increasingly like a patchwork of different blocks that can sometimes be difficult to manage in a uniform manner. While software-defined networks and storage have already provided an answer to these issues, the switch to a software-defined data centre takes simplification a step further.
Today, IT solutions have a tendency to be hybrid, with the arrival of the cloud providing a new way of building computing infrastructures. However, while lots of companies are now using the cloud via SaaS, PaaS or IaaS, few have moved all their IT systems over, for reasons both of security and practicality. Many have, therefore, opted for a hybrid infrastructure, combining on-premises, public cloud and private cloud.
The job for IT manufacturers is to support users in this approach. “We have to let customers choose how they run their IT infrastructures. We aren’t going to create a solution just because we think it is a good one – it has to meet the customer’s needs,” explains Nicolas Mahé, the head of server products at Lenovo France.
Also, infrastructure uses are diverging. For example, e-commerce sites are using the public cloud as a make-do solution for peak activity times. This is the case, particularly, with French rail operator SNCF, which, through its systems subsidiary VSCT, runs a conventional data centre linked to OVH’s IaaS infrastructures. It uses this facility to offload flows to its merchant website when activity peaks.
Other organisations use the public cloud to roll out their services internationally. E-retailer Cdiscount, which has always kept full control of its infrastructure, still relies on Microsoft’s Azure technologies to address new markets quickly. It then repatriates its information systems back onto its own infrastructures.
Amid these different approaches, there remains the need to maintain total consistency across all of the blocks, but without causing costs to skyrocket. Use of software-defined network (SDN) and software-defined storage (SDS) solutions are becoming helpful in this regard.
For example, technologies such as VMware’s NSX manage resources dynamically in accordance with the organisation’s workloads. IT managers are able to move virtual machines around physical on-premises infrastructures or hosted infrastructures to ensure continuity of service.
Furthermore, with SDS, they can organise storage to meet workload and performance requirements. Depending on the criticality and use of the data, these virtualised solutions are able to define data storage in real time, whether storage takes place in the public or private clouds, on conventional or Flash bays, or on other systems.
Hyper-converged systems directly incorporate these different functions, and can orchestrate the various resources from a single point. The Holy Grail, as defined by Gilles de Richemond, VSCT’s general manager, is to move to the software-defined data centre (SDDC), where every single infrastructure resource is virtualised, so that user requirements can be met instantly. Today, VMware’s Evo:Rail OEM solution and Lenovo are able to roll out software-managed data centres in a matter of hours.
The management of hybridisation is also an issue for the on-premises infrastructure. There is no getting away from the fact that IT departments have to deal with legacy systems. Some, like PMU and Darty, are trying to move away from the mainframe by migrating their applications to x86 systems running under Linux, which are cheaper and easier to maintain. While most companies today favour x86, some manufacturers, like Lenovo with its NeXtScale bays, are spreading the use of more energy-efficient ARM chips.
It is, therefore, no longer a question of whether the IT system has to be hybridised. Rather, the issue is one of understanding how best to manage this hybridisation of public and private cloud, on-premises, mainframe and other systems.
This makes the use of SDS essential for storage and networks. The ideal is a data centre managed entirely by software. The use of SDDC guarantees full scalability for an infrastructure blending on-premises, public and private cloud systems, and, above all, it makes things easier to manage. “Our role is also to educate our customers to help them get the best from these solutions,” says Mahé.