Sometimes we spend so much time involved in the inner-workings of something (“inside the sausage factory”) that it’s valuable to occasionally come up for air to get a fresh perspective on things. I had one of those moments this week during a conversation with a Sr. Engineer at one of our customers. After a long whiteboard session about networking within their Data Center, he asked me if it was useful (YES!) and then he said he wasn’t sure how that had anything to do with Cloud Computing. The rest of the conversation went something like this:
ME: That was great because you highlights many design considerations for building massively scalable data center networks. [SCALABLE]
HIM: Glad it was helpful, but please don’t tell me this is Cloud Computing. This is just the evolution of Data Centers because now VMs and Applications can be mobile.
ME: OK, what do you think Cloud Computing is?
HIM: Cloud Computing is the stuff on the Internet, you know, like Amazon AWS or Google. All the on-demand, self-service, *aaS stuff that marketing people talk about.
ME: OK, fair enough. Does your company (Enterprise -- Financial Services) use any Cloud Computing?
HIM: Are you serious, we have rules about where our data goes, how it’s accounted for and how it’s audited. You can’t do that in Cloud Computing. (NOTE: Not completely true -- Cisco is doing some important work in that space.)
ME: Do your IT group use your resources (Compute, Network, Storage) efficiently?
HIM: In the past we weren’t great at it, we did a lot of design for peak usage, which meant utilization was low at time. But things like Virtualization is starting to help with that. And as we move to 10Gb Ethernet, we’re starting to combine LAN and SAN traffic. So the newer areas of the Data Center are much more highly utilized than before. [EFFICIENT]
ME: How long does it take to deliver IT resources to the line-of-business these days?
HIM: It used to take quite a while, maybe 4-6 weeks. That included purchasing, installation, configuration, cross-coordination with other teams, etc. But we’re started automating some of those processes (VM templates, server profiles, wire-once 10Gb Ethernet, etc.) and the times have come down quite a bit. We’re probably at a few days now and should be within a day before the end of the year. [ON DEMAND]
ME: So much more on-demand than in the past?
HIM: Yeah, I guess so.
ME: What about the applications you use?
HIM: You know we have tons of apps to deal with. Obviously many of them are legacy client-server apps that we’d like to get rid of but can’t for a while. We’re about 40% virtualized, hoping to do more. And then there are some new types of applications that the analytics/quant teams are starting to build which are pretty different, they use all sort of parallel paths and lots of machines. But those run periodically, not all the time. [MULTI-TENANT]
ME: So you have to build three different networks for all of those?
HIM: No, we have to figure out how to put them all on the same infrastructure, as much as possible. Basically the network has to evolve to deal with the new stuff (lower-latency, extending L2 domains, application mobility) and try not to break the old stuff. It’s been good and bad, since we learned some new skills and keep pushing forward, but we’d love to be using more of the newer applications faster.
ME: Do you have a plan for Disaster Recovery or alternative locations if this Data Center has issues?
HIM: Yes. We have to plan for failures. It can be expensive, but so can the loss of revenue and productivity if we only had a single site.
ME: So what you’re telling me is that you’ve design the infrastructure to be highly-scalable; you are becoming more efficient through consolidation; you are becoming more responsive to the business through automation and you’re adapting the infrastructure to deal with multiple types of applications and internal business units? And you’re able to apply internal security and auditing models to that environment? I don’t know if you want to call that Cloud Computing or not, but if nothing else, it sounds like you’re delivering better IT services to the business.
HIM: Hmm, I see where you’re going with that….