Systems management: Getting clarity in the data centre

Tikiri Wanduragala

Monday 5 September 2016

Tikiri Wanduragala, Lenovo’s EMEA x86 Server Systems Snr. Consultant, writes for Think Progress about an incredibly important but little-discussed topic: management of systems in the data centre.

This month, I want to discuss something I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, but haven’t really gone into much detail on. XClarity is our systems management product, and I mentioned it when talking about data centres going green and when doing my 2016 trends piece. What I want to do now is just shine a little more light on the subject as a whole, and XClarity in particular.

How it all began

Systems management is basically how you control a server or a group of servers. Historically, it all started when customers got interested in TCO – total cost of ownership. At that point, the manufacturers panicked because before then they’d never really thought about it. Their job had been to make things faster and cheaper.

So they started developing little bits of software – systems management software – to enhance total cost of ownership. That’s because in many markets, Europe and the US for example, the biggest contributor to the overall cost of ownership is labour costs – people costs. So if you can simplify that element, such as by reducing their workload, you hit TCO numbers much better.

Simplifying the monster

So systems management started as a little bit of software, a little utility, that grew and grew into the monster that many systems management tools are today. People wanted more function, so it was added in, and that meant it became a really clunky, unusable system. It does reduce TCO, but that comes with massive overheads, such as the complexity and time it takes to learn that system.

At Lenovo, we took a radical approach, and the answer was XClarity. The thinking went that when systems management was first thought about there was nothing else in the market, so people had to invent it. Now, things have changed. The market has matured and technologies like virtualisation are prevalent. They do a lot of management themselves, so why not combine the two?

I think it’s fair to say that XClarity sums up Lenovo’s thinking on servers. It’s a really focused product that has one aim: to manage our hardware. It’s an agentless management system, which means you don’t have to have code flying about all over the place, making life much easier for everyone!

It has a very straightforward, defined criteria, which is to manage our hardware. Don’t try to boil the ocean, to borrow a phrase.

The car example

A second important element is that it passes the information to a higher-level management system – one that is in the hypervisor of the virtualisation layer.

What this means is that a customer doesn’t have to learn two things. If they’re happy just using management from Microsoft, VMware or wherever, they can manage our hardware underneath their systems; it integrates with the management layers above it.

For example, if your car has a management system for just the left wheels, it may do a great job of that. It may make the wheels faster and reduce wear and generally optimise them, but it will only think about those left wheels. Its actions could ruin the right wheels.

It would be far better, say, to have a management system that looks at everything – all four wheels, the gears, the engine and so on. So what I mean is that the higher level the decision is made, the better it is and the more realistic value is derived from it.

There is a third element of XClarity that I want to mention. It has a REST API, so you can program to it. Another problem with many management systems is that customers will often say, “It doesn’t do this or that.” Well, with XClarity you can write your own stuff, so you can manage your servers the way you want to.

What this means for CIOs

When I talk to customers after an installation project, whether that’s a virtualisation or a data centre project, I ask them what they would do differently or spend more time on. I would guess that 99 per cent would say the management or control side of things. That’s what people often overlook and often it’s a flaw in the construction. It determines how efficiently your operations run, because you have measurements.

Now, when we build solutions using other people’s software and hardware, XClarity is like the glue that holds everything together.

That’s very important because the data centre is probably the most complex environment in the enterprise. So the more information you can get hold of, the more control you have, and the more chance you have of addressing complexity.

Anything that can enhance productivity is a big plus for a CIO. And that’s what XClarity does. It’s really about maximising people skills by simplifying the complexity that is inherent in data centres.

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