Infrastructure advancements, standardization, performance density, and network services efficiencies are all allowing for bigger and fewer data centers and strategically architected and located facilities that can efficiently carry more of the total IT requirements load.
But to gain the benefits of these large and strategic infrastructure undertakings, the impact on the network beyond the firewall has to be considered. User expectations for performance and IT requirements for reliability need to be maintained, and even improved.
Fewer data centers means longer distances between servers and users. Network services and Internet performance management therefore need to be brought considered to produce the desired effect of topnotch applications and data delivery to enterprises, consumers, partners, and employees at far lower cost.
Here to help us better understand how to get the best of all worlds -- that is, high performance and lower total cost from data center consolidation -- we're joined by James Staten, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research; Andy Rubinson, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Akamai Technologies, and Tom Winston, Vice President of Global Technical Operations at Phase Forward, a provider of integrated data management solutions for clinical trials and drug safety. The panel is moderated by me, BriefingsDirect's Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Staten: Oftentimes, the biggest reason to do [consolidation] is because you have sprawl in the data center. You're running out of power, you're running out of the ability to cool any more equipment, and you are running out of the ability to add new servers, as your business demands them.
If there are new applications the business wants to roll out, and you can't bring them to market, that's a significant problem. This is something the organizations have been facing for quite some time.
As a result, if they can start consolidating, they can start moving some of these workloads onto fewer systems. This allows them to reduce the amount of equipment they have to manage and the number of software licenses they have to maintain and lower their support costs. In the data center overall, they can lower their energy costs, while reducing some of the cooling required.
... Most applications actually end up consuming on average only 15-20 percent of the server. If that's the case, you've got an awful lot of headroom to put other applications on there.
We were isolating applications on their own physical systems, so that they would be protected from any faults or problems with other applications that might be on the same system and take them down. Virtualization is the primary isolating technology that allows us to do that.
... More and more applications are being broken down into modules, and, much like the web services and web applications that we see today, they're broken into tiers. Individual logic runs on its own engine, and all of that can be spread across some more monetized, consistent infrastructure. We are learning these lessons from the dot-coms of the world and now the cloud-computing providers of the world, and applying them to the enterprise.
... On average, across all the enterprises we have spoken to, you can realistically expect to see about a 20 percent cost reduction from doing this. But, as you said, if you've got 5,000 servers, and they're all running at 5 percent utilization, there are big gains to be had.
Rubinson: I focus mainly on delivery over the Internet. There are definitely some challenges, if you're talking about using the Internet with your data center infrastructure -- things like performance latency, availability challenges from cable cuts, and things of that nature, as well as security threats on the Internet.
It's thinking about how can you do this, how can you deliver to a global user base with your data center, without having to necessarily build out data centers internationally, and to be able to do that from a consolidated standpoint.
... From the cost perspective, we're able to eliminate unnecessary hardware. We're able to take some of that load off of the servers, and do the work in the cloud, which also helps reduce them.
... In terms of responsiveness, by using the Internet, you can deploy a lot more quickly. It allows us to give that same type of performance, availability, and security that you would get from having a private WAN, but doing it over the much less expensive Internet.
This is really important, as we have seen more and more users that are going outside of the corporate [networks]. People are connecting to suppliers, to partners, to customers, and to all sorts of things now.
... By optimizing the cloud, we're able to speed the delivery of information from the origin as well. That's where it's benefiting folks like Tom, where he is able to not only cache information, but the information that is dynamic, that needs to get back from the data center, goes more quickly.
Winston: When I joined [Phase Forward], it had two different data centers -- one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast. We were facing the challenge of potentially having to expand into a European data center, and even potentially a Pacific Rim data center.
By continuing to expand our virtualization efforts, as well as to leverage some of the technologies that Andy just mentioned ... Internet acceleration via some of the Akamai technologies, we were able to forgo that data center expansion. In fact, we were able to consolidate our data center to one East Coast data center, which is now our primary hosting center for all of our applications.
So it had a very significant impact for us by being able to leverage both that WAN acceleration, as well as virtualization, within our own four walls of the data center.
We run electronic data capture (EDC) software, and pharmacovigilance software for the largest pharmaceutical and clinical device makers in the world. They are truly global organizations in nature. So, we have users throughout the world, with more and more heavy population coming out of the Asia Pacific area.
... We have a very large, diverse user base that is accessing our applications 24x7x365, and, as a result, we have performance needs all the time for all of our users.
... Our primary application, our flagship application, is a product called InForm, which is the main EDC product that our customers use across the Internet. It's accelerated using Akamai technology, and almost 100 percent of our content is dynamic. It has worked extremely well.
Staten: ... Users are all over the place. Whether they are an internal employee, a customer, or a business partner, they need to get access to those applications, and they have a performance expectation that's been set by the Internet. They expect whatever applications they are interacting with will have that sort of local feel.
That's what you have to be careful about in your planning of consolidation. You can consolidate branch offices. You can consolidate down to fewer data centers. In doing so, you gain a lot of operational efficiencies, but you can potentially sacrifice performance.
You have to take the lessons that have been learned by the people who set the performance bar, the providers of Internet-based services, and ask, "How can I optimize the WAN? How can I push out content? How can I leverage solutions and networks that have this kind of intelligence to allow me to deliver that same performance level?" That's really the key thing that you have to keep in mind. Consolidation is great, but it can't be at the sacrifice of the user experience.
... The right location [for data centers] has to be optimized for a variety of factors. It has to be optimized for where the appropriate skill sets are. It has to be optimized for the geographic constraints that you may be under.
You may be doing business in a country in which all of the citizen information of the people who live in that country must reside in that country. If that's the case, you don't necessarily have to own a data center there, but you absolutely have to have a presence there.
Winston: ... We had users in China who, due to the amount of traffic that had to traverse the globe, were not happy with the performance of the application. Specifically, we brought in Akamai to start with a very targeted group of users and to be able to accelerate for them the application in that region.
It literally cut the problem right out. It solved it almost immediately. At that point, we then began to spread the rest of that application acceleration product across the rest of our domains, and to continue to use that throughout the product set.
Rubinson: ... We recently commissioned a study with Forrester, looking at what is that tolerance threshold [for a page to load]. In the past it had been that people had tolerance for about four seconds. As of this latest study, it's down to two seconds. That's for business to consumer (B2C) users. What we have seen is that the business-to-business (B2B) users are even more intolerant of waiting for things.
It really has gotten to a point where you need that immediate delivery in order to drive the usage of the tools that are out there.
... Just putting yourself in the cloud doesn't mean that you're not going to have the same type of latency issues, delivering over the Internet. It's the same thing with availability in trying to reach folks who are far away from that hosted data center. So, the cloud isn't necessarily the answer. It's not a pill that you can take to fix that issue.
... For Akamai, it's really about how we're able to accelerate. How we are able to optimize the routing and the other protocols on the Internet to make that get from wherever it's hosted to a global set of end users.
We don't care about where they are. They don't have to be on the corporate, private WANs. It's really about that global reach and giving the levels of performance to actually provide an SLA. Tell me who else out there provides an SLA for delivery over the Internet? Akamai does.