Building the next-gen data centre: where traditional and web-scale apps co-exist

Stuart Andrews, Computerworld UK

Monday 20 February 2017

For all the excitement around microservices and cloud-native apps, enterprise hasn’t lost the need for traditional applications. In fact, the enterprise is strengthened when the two co-exist, enabling businesses to build for the future while maximising the value of their existing apps and data.

 

Enterprise IT is changing, as businesses focus on digital transformation through the development of new cloud-native and microservice apps. However, these won’t render traditional enterprise apps obsolete overnight, if ever. Instead, both need to co-exist.

Digital transformation is a priority for enterprise. We’re looking to optimise their business processes, forge stronger relationships with customers and drive new business growth. For many of us, this will take the form of new apps and cloud-based services that can help employees work more effectively or pull value from our business data. As Tikiri Wanduragala, EMEA Senior Consultant at Lenovo puts it, ‘Enterprises are looking for technology that can power richer customer experiences or optimise their workflows. In markets where the threat of disruption is always around the corner, they want apps and services that can help them grow more agile and better equipped to compete.’

These new apps and services tie in with new ways of handling IT. They tend to be cloud native – built on and designed specifically to run on cloud platforms and leveraging their native features. They also work as part of a cycle of continual development, testing and release, helping us push new features out to users while constantly improving the quality of the code.

They’re also likely to work within a microservices architecture, where the application is effectively a suite of smaller, discrete services, each running within their own virtual container and communicating with other services through lightweight mechanisms. This improves reliability and makes scaling more efficient. As Wanduragala explains ‘there’s no need to scale-up a whole application when you can save resources by scaling-up only the most heavily-used components.’

RIP traditional apps?

The development of these apps and services is crucial, but they don’t render existing enterprise applications obsolete. Most of us are still reliant on our big, mission-critical applications. We’ve built our business on them and have no desire to throw away many years of investment. That goes double for the data tied into those apps, so we need a way to keep them going and extract maximum value from them, even while we’re building platforms for the new breed of apps.

For some of us, this will mean maintaining a split between traditional applications running on-premises and cloud-native apps running on public cloud infrastructure. For more of us, however, it makes more sense to have both types meeting in the data centre. With the right platforms and architecture in place, it’s practical to build cloud-native apps that deploy and scale quickly, while enabling traditional mission-critical workloads to run more efficiently. Optimise, and you can free up resources while reducing operating costs.

Real challenges

As Mauro Iotti, Storage & Next Gen IT Product Director EMEA at Lenovo says, ‘This approach doesn’t come without its challenges, from building the right teams to developing an infrastructure that can handle traditional applications while delivering the flexibility and scalability required for the new breed.’

Beyond the technical demands, companies will need an IT workforce that can pull in development skills as well as IT skills, particularly in CIO roles, potentially even moving to a DevOps mentality, where IT and development specialists can collaborate on platforms that support fast deployment and frequent iteration. Companies with a depth of expertise in Microsoft or Oracle technologies may find themselves short of the native cloud skills required. Fixing that won’t happen overnight.

Real solutions

Luckily, the technology exists to help. On the one hand, existing trends towards virtualization, automation and software-defined storage actively support the approach we’re talking about. In fact, they’re key to optimising traditional workloads, replacing inefficient, aging infrastructure with virtualised infrastructure that’s more flexible and more efficient. Move to Lenovo’s X6 Series servers, and you can find the performance headroom to optimise and consolidate, improving utilization and application performance. At the same time, you’ll find the flexibility to power hybrid cloud, combining on-premise systems, private cloud and public cloud in a way that supports both traditional and cloud-native workloads.

On the other hand, the drive towards cloud-native apps is mirrored by the trend towards hyperconvergence. Here compute, storage and network resources aren’t divided between different products but integrated within one appliance, managed through a single software layer. Appliances like those in Lenovo’s Converged HX Series are simpler, easier to deploy and easier to manage, with single appliances (or ‘nodes’) working as the building block for larger clusters, which can pool resources in an elastic, highly-scalable manner.

In Iotti’s words, ‘Hyperconverged appliances really lend themselves to running containerised, cloud-native, microservice apps, but they’re also perfect for hosting more traditional enterprise applications. They love heavy database workloads but at the same time they’re incredibly resilient.’

Boosting agility, lowering costs

Whichever way you go there are opportunities to lower capex and reduce long-term opex and complexity. In fact, using system management solutions, such as Lenovo XClarity, it’s possible to reduce the burden of management, automate many day-to-day tasks and enable IT teams to get new cloud-native apps up and running faster.

When you can automate the small but important stuff you’ve got more time to focus on the large, strategic stuff. There’s scope for IT teams to spend less time managing infrastructure, and more time working on the exciting, innovative apps and services that can help the business compete and grow.

In the end, it’s about supporting all your applications in an environment that works for you. As Randall Lundin, Senior Product Manager for the Lenovo Data Centre Group put it in a in his article titled Optimizing Scale-Up Mission Critical Workloads, ‘the right server approach with the right mission-critical workloads has the power to transform business. It makes IT more services-oriented, lowers the cost of IT services while reducing the time to deliver them, and increases their business value.’

Optimise, innovate, transform

Enterprises don’t have to choose between existing applications and new cloud-native services and apps. In fact, we shouldn’t; it’s both crucial and beneficial that the two co-exist. To make that happen, though, we need an infrastructure that can support the optimisation of existing application workloads, while providing the flexibility and scalability required to power web-scale apps for the future. As Guy England, Director of Data Centre Group at Lenovo puts it, ‘You need a choice of hardware platforms that meet all these requirements. That’s what will give you maximum value from existing applications and the web-scale apps that will drive long-term growth.’

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