Crafting a Thoroughly Modern Data Environment

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s been the mantra for the data center throughout much of the IT era, but at what point does the enterprise have to consider the very real possibility that without significant upgrades, the data center of today will no longer provide the support needed for modern applications and workflows?

    At the moment, much of the industry is engaged in digital transformation to a new services-driven economy, and it is becoming clear that yesterday’s data infrastructure is woefully inadequate to the task. So without question, it must be modernized, and quickly. The question is, how? Is there value in revamping the local data center for the digital age, or should the enterprise go cloud-native?

    No matter how you do it, says VMware’s Muneyb Minhazuddin, the overriding goal should be to abstract infrastructure away from hardware so applications can achieve the flexibility they need to produce real value. The enterprise should start by mapping out which apps require on-premises infrastructure and which can go to the public cloud. Once you have an idea of where you want to be at each point in the transitional timeline, you can set about making the necessary changes in hardware and software. And all the while, you should see steadily improving agility and a greater capacity to innovate as software-defined infrastructure takes hold.

    Legacy IT vendors are eager to help the enterprise modernize IT infrastructure, but not necessarily through upgrades to existing data platforms. Instead, as Dell-EMC demonstrated at its recent world conference, modern IT will be built on a bevy of integrated solutions spanning public, private and hybrid clouds. Sure, this includes new memory-packed PowerEdge servers and hyperconverged systems like the Vx Rail appliance, but it also features advanced analytics and machine intelligence to give applications and data the proper resource support in real time. The company is also implementing a new pricing model that allows organizations to develop local infrastructure on the same financial footing as the public cloud.

    Managing the risks, financial and otherwise, has been one of the main stumbling blocks for data center modernization, says Schneider Electric’s Martin Heller, but as the process unfolds, it is getting easier to justify these risks to the front office. For one thing, modernization no longer means bigger, more powerful and more complex systems. Many of the leading platforms are built on lean, modular form factors that take up less space and consume less energy than the distributed solutions they replace. At the same time, they are vital in the race to get new products and upgraded designs to market first, providing a competitive advantage that could make or break entire business models.

    While it is true that the default approach to application support has shifted from the data center to the cloud in the past year, this should in no way lead digital organizations to conclude that a local data center has no strategic value. As ZDNet’s Jason Hiner notes, back-office apps are deployed in the cloud almost as a matter of course now, but custom apps and many legacy functions are launching on-premises. This comes down to the fundamental fact that cost is not the only factor in resource deployment. In fact, it is almost always trumped by performance and agility.

    Through modernization, today’s data center will continue to play a key role in supporting forward-leaning enterprise workloads, but only if the enterprise adopts a more strategic approach to hardware and software deployment. In the old days, new platforms provided general-purpose support to the enterprise data environment, so during the deployment phase, not much thought had to go into exactly how they were to be utilized. Today’s world requires much more careful planning, with multiple stakeholders getting together to identify not only how any new combination of resources will support a given function, but how it will likely change over the course of time.

    The modern data center will be able to give you nearly anything you want, but you have to know what that is ahead of time in order to derive top value from your IT investment.

    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.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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