Converged infrastructure approach paves way for improved data center productivity, private clouds

This latest BriefingsDirect discussion explores how converged infrastructure provides more business results productivity and offers a stepping stone to private cloud implementations.
Written by Dana Gardner, Contributor

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Learn more. Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard.

For more information on virtualization and how it provides a foundation for Private Cloud, plan to attend the HP Cloud Virtual Conference taking place in March. To register for this event, go to: Asia, Pacific, Japan - March 2 Europe Middle East and Africa - March 3 Americas - March 4

Improved data center productivity now appears to be a natural progression from converged infrastructure. Many enterprise data centers have embraced a shared service management model to some degree, and now converged infrastructure applies the shared service model more broadly to leverage modular system design and open standards, as well as to advance proven architectural frameworks.

The result is a realignment of traditional technology silos into adaptive pools that can be shared by any application, as well as optimized and managed as ongoing services. Under this model, resources are dynamically provisioned efficiently and automatically, gaining more business results productivity. This also helps rebalance IT spending away from a majority of spend on operations and more toward investments, innovations, and business improvements.

This latest BriefingsDirect discussion explores the benefits of a converged infrastructure approach, and now how to better understand attaining a transformed data center environment. We'll see how converged infrastructure provides a stepping stone to private cloud initiatives. But, as with any convergence, there are a lot of moving parts, including people, skills, processes, services, outsourcing options, and partner ecosystems.

We're here with two executives from Hewlett-Packard (HP) to delve deeply into converged infrastructure and to learn more about how to get started and deal with some of the complexity, as well as to know what to expect as payoff. Please welcome Doug Oathout, Vice President, Converged Infrastructure at HP Storage, Servers, and Networking, and John Bennett, Worldwide Director, Data Center Transformation Solutions at HP. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Bennett: I often think of many CIOs as being at the heart of a vise, where, on one side, they have the business pressures. ... They need to support growth. They need to do a faster job of creating acquisitions. They need to spend more on business projects and innovation. They need to exploit technology for business advantage. They need to reduce costs.

On the other side of the vise are the constraints that they have in the environment that get in the way of them successfully addressing the business needs -- legacy infrastructure and applications and antiquated methods of managing the infrastructure that make it difficult to be responsive to change, or people with the skills that won’t serve modern technology's needs or environments.

Data-center transformation (DCT) helps enterprises implement a data center and infrastructure strategy that's aligned to their goals and objectives. The key here is that it's customer-driven, and it has to be built around the plans and directions of the targeted organization. This is clearly not a one-size-fits-all type of environment.

For many organizations, those strategies for infrastructure can include traditional shared infrastructure solutions or servers using virtualization and automation with shared storage environments. Increasingly, we've seen a natural evolution into a tighter integration of the capabilities and assets of the data center in the fabric infrastructure.

HP's Converged Infrastructure represents a pretty significant step forward in terms of benefits and capabilities for customers looking at having infrastructure strategy aligned to their future needs. The neat thing is that converged infrastructure can be the foundation for private cloud architectures.

Oathout: About two-thirds, if not 70 percent, of the IT operations budget is spent on maintaining IT and the IT workload within the data center.

When you have a recession, like we just experienced, what happens is that 30 percent spent on innovation or new workload placement gets cut immediately to help manage the budget within an organization. Therefore, in the last 18 months, very little innovation and few new projects were taken on by IT to support new business growth.

Now we have customers who are starting to spend again and who are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They want their IT environment to be more flexible in the future. So, they're looking at their server and storage upgrades, and how they can implement converged infrastructure, so that the new infrastructure is more flexible and can adapt more to the requirements of the business.

As you're going through your technology refresh now, coming out of the recession, you can start implementing better and faster IT equipment. You can also use better and more efficient processes -- virtualization, automation, and management. When you put those pools of resources in place, you put them in a virtual environment so they can be shared among applications or can be transferred among applications when needed.

You are in the process now of creating pools of resources, versus dedicated silo resources, like you had prior to the recession, which couldn’t be reused for some of the application, and therefore you couldn’t support business growth.

The opportunity now is to break down those silos, give our customers the ability to share resources in the same footprint they have today, and actually become more efficient, so that when business changes or business needs change, they can adapt to the requirements of the business.

In a converged infrastructure environment, you really don’t want to care about the infrastructure you are putting it on. What you want to care about is that it's resilient, it's optimized, and it's modular, so it can grow and shrink with the application's demand.

Servers and storage lead the way

Let me give you an example. A server consolidation using virtualization and new server equipment will generally double or triple your capacity within your data center for the same footprint, just by getting the utilization of the servers up, better performance within the servers, and better capabilities within virtual environments. You can basically double or even triple the size of your capacity within your data center.

As you're going through your technology refresh now, coming out of the recession, you can start implementing better and faster IT equipment.

The same thing holds true for storage. Storage disk drives become twice as dense over a two- or three-year period. The performance of the drives gets better. So, for the same footprint in your data center you can actually fit twice as much storage.

... What you really have is a process change that's required between the IT application managers, the test and development people, and a team that actually runs the infrastructure. They need to talk more about standardization. They need to talk about how their IT comes together.

That's where the Data Center Transformation Workshop that John Bennett's team does helps. It gives you an architecture for future deployments, so that you have a converged infrastructure. You have pools of resources to put new applications down or revamp older applications onto a newer architecture, so it becomes more flexible.

You have to break down that silo or break down that fence between application deployments and what line of businesses are telling the application deployers and the people who run the infrastructure. Customers really do see that as a deployment barrier, but they're working through it, because there are significant benefits on the other side, just due to the fact that you increase agility, lower cost, and you have more money and more people to go do the innovation to support the workloads of future businesses.

Bennett: Good organizations are always rethinking IT. What are the organization's strategy, goals, and objectives? What is it going to take to realize those objectives? What capabilities do we need from IT in order to make those real? And then, how do we make them happen?

This is where the partnership between the technology team and the business team comes into play. The technology team will have more insights into how it can be exploited, and the key thing for the business is to make sure they specify their needs and not specify the answer.

... There's economic return to the organization from being able to roll out a new business service more quickly. There's an economic return to the business from being able to provision more resources when they are needed based on demand, so that demand doesn't disappear. There's a competitive business benefit, which is financial in nature, in being able to respond to competitive threats more quickly.

And a lot of the benefits of this are in the nature of direct cost savings -- the consolidation, modernization, and virtualization that Doug spoke to -- the savings from energy related projects and investments with Data Center Smart Grid, for example. All are easily quantifiable.

For more information on HP's Virtual Services, please go to: www.hp.com/go/virtualization and www.hp.com/go/services

Oathout: A cloud-computing environment is really an application-rich environment that allows you to bring more users on quickly and expand your capabilities and shrink your capabilities as you need them.

Converged infrastructure can be for public cloud, private cloud, or for a web workload or an high-performance computing (HPC) workload or an SAP workload. It doesn't really matter. A converged infrastructure is the optimal deployment of IT to support any kind of application, because it's modular in nature.

It has the flexibility to have more storage, more memory, less CPUs or more CPUs, less storage, or less memory, but it's all modular, so you can put the pieces together as you need them. So, it is a base support for either a cloud environment or a traditional IT environment. It really doesn't matter. It's designed to support both.

A private cloud is the IT department saying, "I'm now going to create a service catalog for my lines of business to develop upfront." You're getting software as a service (SaaS) now sitting on top of either a converged infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. A converged infrastructure is a lot easy to put SaaS on. But, you make that service catalog available to line of businesses, so they can turn on applications as they need them, very quickly.

Optimizing over time

Then, you can put more users on an enterprise resource planning (ERP) application, an online application, or a Web 2.0 application. IT is there as a support service now, setting that up, taking it down, and optimizing it over time, depending on the business needs.

So, private cloud is kind of that SaaS that sits on either a converged infrastructure or a legacy infrastructure or uniquely designed infrastructures that you get from some of the public cloud providers. Converged infrastructure is the optimal way to develop and deploy that in a standard data-center environment, and it's in support of a private cloud.

When you start bringing a storage and server and networking platforms together through a flexible fabric, the economies of scale of a shared resources and open systems is going to drive down the cost of acquiring IT. Then, with the software and the services capabilities that companies bring to market, they're going to bring the efficiencies along with them.

So, it is inevitable, starting with the simplest of workloads, moving to some of the hardest of workloads, that you are going to have a converged infrastructure. You are going to have application as a service, whether it's internal or external from a cloud provider, just because the economies of scale are there, and the ability to deploy the stuff is so simple once you get it set up that the efficiencies are also there besides the economies of purchase.

For example, a customer, the Dallas Cowboys, built a new football stadium in the Dallas area. It's a $1.4 billion investment. In the bottom of the thing is their data center. They run 30 different businesses out of the data center in the Dallas Cowboys stadium.

They have built it on a virtual environment. They have BladeSystems. They have the FlexFabric built into the environment. They went from over 500 servers down to 16 blades, with virtual machines running on them for the point of sale environment within the stadium. It drove a smaller footprint, but also the dynamics in the server and storage environment, so they can bring on new applications for the 30 businesses very quickly.

They changed their infrastructure to support their environment. ... They bring applications online and very reactive to the lines of businesses they are supporting. That's what a converged infrastructure really delivers, besides the lower economic cost that John and I have talked about. It's that efficiency to bring new opportunities to the lines of businesses, accelerate business growth, or increase customer satisfaction.

There are two ways to get started. They can contact one of HP’s business partners. Our business partners are enabled to do our Converged Infrastructure Maturity Model. Or, you can come to HP.com/go/ci, and it will take you to the landing page for a converged infrastructure.

For more information on virtualization and how it provides a foundation for Private Cloud, plan to attend the HP Cloud Virtual Conference taking place in March. To register for this event, go to: Asia, Pacific, Japan - March 2 Europe Middle East and Africa - March 3 Americas - March 4

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Learn more. Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard.

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