Automation to redefine Asia's data centers

Next-generation data centers will be self-managing and require less manpower, says a Hewlett-Packard executive.

SINGAPORE--The next-generation data center is likely to be one that requires less manpower and has the ability to self-manage, according to a Hewlett-Packard (HP) executive.

Speaking to reporters at the HP Asia-Pacific Enterprise Media Summit 2007 held here last week, Lee Choon-Chiat, worldwide manager for Adaptive Infrastructure at HP's Technology Solutions Group, said: "We believe that...automation is going to play an increasing role in the next-generation data center.

"Our vision in the new world of the next-generation data center is one where there are fewer people…hopefully it might be one [that is] self-managing and, hence, a [24 hours and 7 days a week] lights-out computing environment," he said.

Lee added: "Much like there is no longer any debate about virtualization as a technology today, automation--as you will see in the coming years--is a space to watch and there will be a lot of exciting developments in this area."

Automation is an approach that will be "primarily delivered by software", and is important in terms of eliminating human errors, drudgery, time and effort spent, as well as reducing the risk of just a script-based automation, Lee said in an interview with ZDNet Asia on the sidelines of the event.

Lee noted that the next-generation data center will be "deeply virtualized", which is a pre-requisite or "fundamental step" toward automation. "A highly-virtualized environment will go hand-in-hand [with automation]...the power of automation will be enhanced and realized in that [environment], once you wrap automation around that big, virtualized environment," he added.

On whether automation will help to consolidate and standardize the data center environment, Lee said: "Automation is a pretty advanced topic, but I think that consolidation [is] a trend that has been going on for a while now, and [it is] clearly driving costs out."

Lee explained that taking costs out by consolidating physical assets and replacing multiple systems with one bigger system, which reduces data center power and cooling costs, "it's a very compelling strategy".

Once standardization and consolidation of assets are achieved, which are important pieces of the puzzle, the next step would be to "turn these resources into services", he added.

"One of the big assumptions that we have made [about] data center operations across the industries [is that] we believe there is a finite number of workload patterns, [which] you can reduce the universe of the data center operations with," Lee said.

And once workload patterns are defined, automation can then be applied which, HP believes, is a way for businesses of all sizes to improve the quality of IT services delivered.

What IT managers want
Citing the findings of a Symantec study, State of the Data Center Report , Matt Kixmoeller, senior director of Product Management for Veritas NetBackup at Symantec, said the main objective of data center managers worldwide is to reduce the overall expense through consolidation and standardization.

"Cost is a huge factor. When applications, storage [needs] and servers are growing, you just have to find ways to reduce the complexity and the cost," Kixmoeller told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview.

The study, which polled over 500 IT professionals from enterprises across the Asia-Pacific, as well as North America and Europe, revealed that respondents seek consolidation and standardization.

Eighty-five percent of respondents cited the increase in the number of servers and applications as a factor contributing to the complexity in the data center, while 80 percent said it was due to the increase in the number of management tools used and 72 percent attributed it to the increase in the number of operating systems in their environment.

More than half--56 percent--of the IT professionals surveyed indicated plans to consolidate the number of tools they are using, said the Symantec report. Respondents currently use nine server and application management tools on average, and key considerations driving consolidation include functionality or performance, cost, and benefits of an integrated platform.

In a bid to standardize processes to reduce the complexity in the data center environment, 99 percent of respondents worldwide are implementing service delivery frameworks, such as ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) and ITSM (IT service management), to manage IT services.

Of the respondents polled, 18 percent have implemented ITIL, while 52 percent indicated that it is an ongoing process, and 29 percent plan to implement ITIL over the next one to three years.

Survey respondents from Asia also placed a greater importance on the standardization of management processes using ITIL and ITSM, compared to respondents from markets in North America and Europe, noted Kixmoeller.

Other challenges revealed in the study include decreasing headcount, while 50 percent of respondents said human error was a significant factor in causing unplanned downtime in the data center.