You can’t have digital transformation without transforming the infrastructure

Jean Cassegrain, Le Monde Informatique

Monday 20 March 2017

As businesses and their needs change rapidly, IT departments have to develop their infrastructures quickly, otherwise there is a risk that their digital transformation projects will fail.

“The effectiveness of the IT infrastructure has become key. In every sector, companies are faced with a huge transformation in their businesses. Like Airbnb, Uber and other Amazons, there are more and more digital-savvy competitors arriving on their turf, with processes and infrastructures that are far more flexible than theirs,” declares Ludovic Levé, managing director France, Data Centre Group.

Consequently, enterprises need to transform their IT to meet these new challenges while keeping costs under tight control. This requires the introduction of scalable, high-performance data centres using technology solutions such as software-defined storage (SDS), software-defined networks (SDN), Flash technologies and high-performance computing (HPC) management.

One factor leading enterprises towards software-defined solutions is that they are massively reliant on the cloud, which has become central for the 74% of CIOs based in EMEA who embarked on digital transformation projects in 2016, according to Lenovo’s survey. A further 20% of enterprises intend to start such projects this year.

Today, companies are working with increasingly scattered information systems, while having to manage the increased mobility of their teams and an abundance of access points. SDN is one of the keys to meeting these challenges.

For example, software management tools from VMware, Citrix or Cisco can scale the system automatically. In situations where there are mobile teams, software management tools enable IT managers to create virtual private networks (VPN) in order to provide secure access and connection to corporate applications by scaling and organising an individual virtual machine (VM) for each employee. And if there is a physical fault on the networking infrastructure, SDN can switch workloads to unaffected areas to ensure continuity of service.

Without SDN, hybridisation management becomes risky

IT hybridisation has become a significant issue. The use of public or private cloud alongside on-premises infrastructure has become the norm. To ensure connectivity between the various parts of the infrastructure, SDN is becoming an essential enabling technology, which is why 87% of data centre operators installed these types of solutions on their systems in 2016. Furthermore, to ensure that its services on its merchant site operate properly at peak times, French railway company SNCF uses SDN to offload part of its workload to cloud service provider OVH’s IaaS.

Many organisations have designed a private cloud to handle growing workload requirements, and this increasingly demands the use of high-availability, scalable infrastructures. Although the use of x86 servers is the norm, some manufacturers, such as Lenovo with its NeXtScale systems, are also offering ARM chips to reduce energy consumption, and therefore costs.

SDS: Three storage modes, one solution

Storage arrays are becoming more and more software-centric. Today, three modes of storage dominate the market: object storage (NAS), block storage (SAN) and file storage, as popularised by Amazon on its S3 cloud.

Each meets different requirements and so must live side-by-side on the infrastructure and, preferably, on the same system. This is what manufacturers are offering with hyper-converged storage solutions that combine these three storage modes. Some providers, like Lenovo, with its DX8200 bays and ThinkServers, build in dedicated SDS solutions such as vSAN, NexentaStor (block and object) and Cloudian (object and file).

SDS solutions can also assist with data backup and restoration. “We are forging as many partnerships as we can with firms like VMware, Cisco, Juniper, Nutanix and Cloudian, to provide these software solutions on our hardware systems,” explains Ludovic Levé.

The very basis of storage these days is hybrid. While HDD is still very much in use, many companies are moving towards SSD to boost performance for critical applications and data. Data is increasingly profitable for enterprises, so the way it is processed is a major concern. This explains the more widespread use of Flash technologies.

Yet, when it comes to storing high volumes of data, SSD still poses problems related to cost/volume ratios. While manufacturers are trying to get around this issue – like Lenovo, which is about to launch a 48TB Flash storage board – the use of hybrid systems remains the norm. The most effective way to combine these two solutions is a system that is designed to incorporate SDS solutions to manage the data.

Biogema gains 99% increase in performance with HPC

The issue of data is becoming increasingly important as the growth of the IoT and artificial intelligence heralds an explosion in volumes and computing capabilities. To meet these challenges, IT departments will need to adopt specifically scaled solutions. Hyper-converged systems are also emerging as one of the keys to the success of this transformation.

They can be used to meet many modern requirements, be they related to storage, the network or processing. Hyper-converged systems also provide increased scale out. By adding solutions such as Nutanix or Scality, it is possible to vary the size of the infrastructure at will to meet the storage requirements.

For processing, the use of HPC systems based on Intel Xeon processors or Nvidia GPUs is increasing. For example, the Biogema laboratory brought in Lenovo to integrate an HPC solution comprising NeXtScale nx, System x3850 and IBM Storwize fitted with a cluster of 200 cores. This infrastructure has returned performance gains of up to 99%.

Scaled in-memory for SAP Hana

Today’s software-centric infrastructures are also enabling significant changes to be made to legacy solutions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP). With its in-memory database, SAP’s Hana has rejuvenated the world of ERP by achieving performance levels well beyond those of conventional systems. And by creating in-memory storage solutions, manufacturers such as Lenovo are offering systems that are directly optimised for SAP’s latest ERP platform.

“When it comes down to it, IT departments are now faced with accelerated change in corporate and user requirements. Fortunately, the solutions are there to help them meet these challenges, whether it is a case of SDS, SDN, hyper-converged systems or even HPC,” says Lenovo.

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