Businesses turn to virtualisation of data centres to improve efficiency

February 10, 2011 3:16 pm

By Ali Ahmar, regional sales manager, MENA, Brocade Communications

To maintain a competitive advantage in today’s dynamic business environment, IT organisations are facing untold pressure to reduce costs and improve efficiency. An organisation’s ability to enhance agility, reduce costs, and improve efficiencies hinges on building a powerful yet flexible IT infrastructure that gives employees the tools and information they need to react quickly to changing market conditions.

As a result many are turning to virtualisation technologies and looking at ways to leverage its solutions built around pools of flexible server and storage resources that can not only meet dynamic business requirements but also help them consolidate resources, save on capital expenditures, reduce operational costs and improve management for their server and storage infrastructure.

But in doing so, many organisations fail to consider the overall impact of virtualisation on the data centre. From degraded application performance to inadequate data protection, and increased management complexity all of which could impact the business negatively as a result of being unable to meet SLAs, achieve compliance, or meet data growth requirements.

Virtualisation solution can eliminate challenges

Implementing a holistic virtualisation solution across the data centre cannot only help to achieve these objectives but also eliminate the challenges and unexpected complexities. For instance the acceleration of server virtualisation, in particular is enabling IT departments to build dynamic pools of compute power that can be allocated on demand as the business needs.

In fact, many organisations are starting to realise even more benefits by extending virtualisation beyond the server environment to the rest of the data centre, transforming their IT infrastructures into next-generation data centres. Nevertheless, implementing holistic virtualisation across the data centre is not yet a simple and straightforward task.

There are several challenges that are preventing organisations from realising true and holistic data centre virtualisation today. The first is performance – if organisations look at the data centre as a supply chain (each layer working in tandem to produce and deliver a product) they can start to understand that making the compute environment faster and more efficient doesn’t necessarily make the entire process of delivering information to end users faster and more efficient.

Organisations are also finding it expensive to deploy new infrastructure that is flexible and capable of delivering the benefits of virtualisation, having invested heavily in building existing data centres. Added to which, interoperability issues make it hard to deploy a flexible infrastructure that is capable of supporting multiple platforms, protocols, and hardware brands.

Then there is the third and perhaps most pressing issue – complexity. Virtualised environments are inherently complex, relying on constant movement of resources to meet rising and falling traffic levels. While virtualisation certainly reduces the physical number of hardware devices, the connections between servers, networking components and storage can become much more complex.

Virtualisation makes for more flexible systems

Through virtualisation a system can be a web server one minute and a transaction server the next or even both at the same time, leading to a major increase in multiple domains with each requiring separate connections that need to be set up, monitored, and managed. Not to mention this complexity can also affect performance, availability, data integrity, and security while inhibiting the ability to recover quickly from a system outage or to ensure business continuity.

Fortunately, there is a recognised need for a holistic data centre solution and vendors such as Brocade are attempting to solve these performance, price, interoperability, and complexity issues. While there is no quick fix solution available yet, organisations should continue to work with these vendors to deploy dynamic data center infrastructures that are ideally suited for a complete data center virtualisation strategy.

As organisations move to implement this type of infrastructure, they should consider the following key characteristics: flexibility, scalability, utilisation of existing resources, cost efficiency, support for existing business continuity strategies and centralised management – it is important that the IT department can monitor and maintain all IT commodities from a common management framework.

Virtualisation transforms delivery of data

While the effort is not without challenges, virtualisation technologies are transforming the way organisations deliver data to employees and customers, creating a dynamic and agile business while optimising IT resources and reducing costs. Organisations can extend virtualisation benefits by implementing a more holistic data centre strategy, a process that begins and ends with creating dynamic pools of IT resources – servers, storage, applications, networks, and the interconnect layers – that can be allocated automatically or on demand as market needs dictate.

Clearly the move to virtual environments introduces new management challenges for IT, but understanding these key principles and using open network infrastructure will ensure organisations reap the benefits, making IT more efficient, both today and in the future. As a key element of a next-generation data centre and an enabling technology for data centre transformation, the true benefits of virtualisation cannot be fully realised without a holistic solution that touches each layer of the data delivery process.