The Many Flavors of Data Infrastructure

Arthur Cole
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Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2016

It seems that with each passing day, the software-defined data center (SDDC) becomes more of a fait accompli. Data infrastructure will consist of advanced software architectures resting atop commodity hardware, and all but the largest of organizations will shift their entire data environment to the cloud.

This is both cheaper and easier to do, and it will also provide for much greater flexibility and scalability to meet next-generation workloads.

There is nothing wrong with this vision, of course, and with the advent of software-based networking architectures to supplement virtualized server and storage environments, the dream of implementing a fully abstracted data ecosystem is closer than ever. But just because we can do this, does that mean we should? And does that then mean it is the appropriate infrastructure for every organization or every workload?

It’s hard to argue against the SDDC when some of the most complicated, burdensome applications are already residing on virtual, cloud infrastructure. A case in point is Netflix, which is now almost entirely dependent on Amazon for its compute services and is on the verge of shutting down the last of its legacy data centers. The company still retains its own content delivery network and, to be fair, is already chafing at the fact that it is beholden to a single provider for its cloud services. But the point is that if a company like Netflix can not only exist but thrive in the cloud, what’s to stop anyone else from doing it?

The short answer is that most organizations have invested a great deal of time and money into legacy infrastructure and are currently employing virtualization and advanced management techniques to get as much out of it as possible. But is this really the best strategy going forward?  Flexera Software’s Andrew McGowan notes that while virtualization can turn eight physical servers into one, this is not the end of the story as many secondary and tertiary costs like storage and software licensing can quickly eat up those gains. And even then, the servers that remain tend to be larger and more expensive than the blades that are replaced. Software asset management (SAM) solutions can help, but only if they are coupled with flexible licensing terms by the developer.

Still, it is fair to say that today’s physical infrastructure is not the same silo-based plant of the past, and new approaches to rack design, cabling and devices themselves are making it easier and cheaper to maintain your own data environment. According to Vapor IO CEO Cole Crawford, new open rack designs, for example, go a long way toward easing the “barbaric” management requirements of so-called Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) systems. With front-side serviceability, device isolation and improved visibility, platforms like Open DCRE can make physical infrastructure cool again.

Data Center

It is also true that hardware does not require the same commitment that it once did. British firm Cannon Technologies is offering leased, modular data center solutions that can be set up and removed in relatively short order in response to changing data requirements. The Globe Trotter modules feature 19-inch racks, full cable management and power/cooling configurations that support up to 20 kW per rack. The company claims the units can be installed in minutes without specialized knowledge and can be leased on a pay-as-you-go basis for a minimum of one year.

In this light, it seems that the real development in recent years is not the rise of virtual, abstract architectures or the all-cloud, software-defined data center, but the fact that the enterprise’s options for data support are becoming more varied and diverse. No longer must digital architectures be crammed into the same basic data center construct, nor are applications and services restricted to the limits of the physical plant.

For an industry that prides itself on finding solutions for every problem, it’s only natural that there should be more than one way to provision infrastructure.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

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