Tackling Operational Complexity – Fresh perspectives on role of DataCenter Infrastructure
In less than 48 hours, on Nov 6th, Cisco will officially announce details of its approach to Application Centric Infrastructure based on innovations from Insieme networks.
[To join our Webcast with John Chambers and Insieme Soni Jiandani on Wednesday November 6 at 10:30 am EST/7:30 am PST register here ]
No doubt that there are great expectations riding on this announcement. In part due to Insieme’s pedigree, and in part due to the promise it brings. The former I covered in my previous blog – Application Centric Infrastructure gets ready to rumble. As for the latter, it is important to put the promise in perspective.
As businesses of all sizes continue to pump billions of dollars of investment into data center and cloud IT and consumption models, the expectations for IT to generate a credible RoI in terms of business agility, productivity and efficiency has never been higher. IT today epitomizes a very powerful business function that directly impacts agility and contributes to bottomline and customer experience. It is but natural to think of data centers are futuristic, glamorous environments, quietly humming away transforming businesses at their core. Many new data centers are in fact that, and seem to come out for sci-fi movie.
However, in a majority of cases, many data centers have just “grown-up” too fast over the last decade that saw adhoc spurts in data center consolidation and server virtualization. While both phases have provided tremendous benefits in terms of efficiencies and economies of scale, they have also contributed their mite to increasing operational complexity. From cabling sprawl, to network and server sprawl, to VM sprawl – the rapid growth has in some cases negated cost efficiencies gained through server virtualization. The same can be said of software stacks with complex licensing and version control issues. The affinity to applications in this chaos has somehow been either taken for granted or partially lost in the complexity, making it harder to bring predictability into application deployments or troubleshooting, leading to both time and cost overruns. How can this be simplified? How can infrastructure be better linked to the needs of applications? How to make life simpler for data center operations and facilitate a better application experience?
Per a survey conducted by ESG last year, 63% of IT pros say new app deployments take a month or more, 50% say upgrades take just as long. 77% of enterprise IT pros say they would manage more than 150 applications over the next year. This is a lot! For IT to deliver high performing apps, they need a way for infrastructure to automatically respond to the needs of the application, and to have excellent visibility when something goes wrong and requires troubleshooting during application deployments or upgrades.
ESG’s data points are revealing and are indicative of the complexity that has crept into data centers today. It is interesting to see that all aspects of infrastructure – including network, server, storage and virtual machines have a role in contributing to performance problems. Thus, optimizing a single component, while beneficial, will not suffice to yield complete benefits – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The issues encountered in the network, and the virtual machine infrastructure will clearly need to be tackled head-on.
Historically, networks have been agnostic of applications that run on them, and most applications have treated networks as either a function of connectivity and bandwidth. To bring greater agility and infrastructure responsiveness as a whole, a holistic systems approach needs to be taken. The whole needs to be greater than the sum of the parts.
While the Software-defined anything movement has indeed ignited a firestorm in the industry, it is debatable whether these issues can be solved purely through a hardware or software approach. It is also improper to assume that everything is virtualized in the data center and that the physical is no longer relevant. These are all assumptions that don’t reflect the true nature of data centers today or over the next 5+ years. Further, it is not just the initial deployment that matters. Ongoing Day 1, Day 2 operations are where a lot of the operational complexity and cost lie. These must be given equal if not more importance.
The role of the network has never been more strategic as it is today. It is interesting therefore to see that the Networking team involved in all aspects of the application deployment life cycle. To make their engagement effective, a better communication process and more collaborative tools between the network and application teams will clearly go a long way. These are areas where the Application Centric Infrastructure can step up and create impact.
With all the R&D investment and brainpower that has gone into the developing the ACI model, if it can make a meaningful dent into making life easier for the data center operations team, or to making the application deployment life cycle perform better and be more predictable, suffice to say it will have served its purpose. Reducing complexity will go a long way in increasing agility.