The virtual data center is one of those things that sounded like a great idea at first, only to lose much of its appeal upon reflection. But while few organizations are pursuing a fully abstracted, end-to-end data environment, it appears that many data processes will benefit tremendously by not having to rely on integrated hardware/software infrastructure.
The virtual data center has gotten a boost from a number of key software developments lately that remove much of the complexity in creating functional data stacks in either on-premises or third-party clouds. One is the Mesosphere Datacenter Operating System (DCOS), which recently saw the release of a software development kit that allows cluster-wide installation and operation of Java, Go and Python services using a simple web or command-line interface. The system features a range of schedulers for various application types, such as long-term micro services, batch processing and storage, allowing enterprises to custom-build data frameworks to support highly specialized functions.
As well, a Canadian company called HTBase has released two new components for its HTVCenter platform designed to simplify management of high-scale ITaaS deployments. Fortis acts as a self-service portal that offers super-user status to admins and business unit leaders to craft IT services as needed, all the while maintaining parameters on resource consumption and other costs. Meanwhile, Nephos acts like a data center within a data center by allowing for the creation of containers using dedicated resource levels. In this way, individuals and groups can carve out their own piece of the cloud to enable specialized working environments that can reside on local infrastructure or be distributed across the wide area, even globally if necessary.
Even Microsoft is working toward a virtual data center with its new Nano server. As Channel World’s Jonathan Hassell noted recently, the project has the potential to reinvent the data center by eliminating anything to do with the GUI and GUI application support. Not only does this provide for a headless and sessionless server, but there is also no local login, so no need for keyboard or mouse support. What’s the point? For one thing, it can fulfill service-end user requests without a lot of user-session interaction, and thus support a wide variety of web applications using C#, Java, Node.js and other runtimes. At the same time, it can handle numerous infrastructure services like scale-out file serving, DNS, DHCP and others, all on a virtual plane with little or no human involvement or even awareness that this virtual environment is quietly chugging away in the background.
Virtual data centers are not without their challenges, of course. According to Pernixdata’s Frank Denneman, a major issue is performance isolation. When an application housed in a virtual machine requires additional resources, it expects to find them. But when multiple apps start contending for the same things, performance across the board can suffer, and this tends to increase as applications, business requirements and underlying infrastructure change over time. This being Pernixdata, of course, server-side Flash is a great way to overcome this problem in that it provides not only the needed isolation but more uniform scalability across compute and storage resources. In this way, functions can maintain their required service levels without diminishing the capabilities of other apps in the cluster.
Rather than view these developments as pieces of the virtual data center, it seems they are gravitating more toward producing a myriad of virtual data centers within the over-arching enterprise environment. As applications continue to assume responsibility for building their own resource sets, functions that were once provisioned for large numbers of applications and data loads will become more finite, essentially causing infrastructure to conform to the service rather than the other way around.
It’s still virtual, it’s still a data center, but it is more a collection of interactive, interdependent operating entities than the uniform, and uniformly static, data environment we are used to.
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, Carpathia and NetMagic.