Hardware Decisions in Times of Digital Transition

    Digital transition is a long-term phenomenon for the enterprise, but budget decisions are always right around the corner. So when it comes to outfitting and provisioning the data center, how are IT executives supposed to square their overarching data strategies with the hard decisions regarding hardware, software and the cloud?

    The optimal solution, of course, is to set a goal and then architect around it. But with technology, processes and even business models shifting so quickly, how realistic is this?

    According to Gartner’s Will Cappelli, the mere fact that data centers are becoming abstract constructs should give the enterprise hope that it will be able to adjust to any changes that come along. Already, nearly 25 percent of business events are tied to an underlying IT process, and in industries like financial services, this jumps to 70-80 percent. By default, then, data infrastructure can no longer be hermetically sealed from the business world, but must adapt quickly to the fast-paced world of sales, marketing and customer engagement. If the enterprise does nothing else, it should at least break the hard dependencies that exist between infrastructure and services.

    This all sounds perfectly reasonable, but at some point the enterprise needs to decide on a hardware platform for the future. And here is where things are starting to get a bit tricky because as the function of IT starts to change, so too does the hardware. Where once it was easy to provision core systems like processors, nowadays there are myriad workload considerations that will favor traditional platforms like the Xeon or emerging solutions like AMD’s new Epyc. On the one hand, AMD claims its design offers better performance at a lower price point and power envelope, but on the other, there are bound to be issues when it comes to integrating a new architecture into legacy environments.

    And while server manufacturers like HPE and Lenovo are backing the Epyc, at the moment they are pushing new agile, intelligent platforms on high-performance Xeons. Lenovo’s ThinkSystem portfolio supports the new Scalable family of Xeons built on the SkyLake architecture, offering a diversity of form factors in server, storage and networking devices to accommodate a wide range of hardware footprints. At the same time, the company has been hiring key personnel directly from Intel, including Kirk Skaugen, president of Lenovo’s data center unit, and Kim Stevenson, formerly Intel’s CIO and now general manager of the data center unit.

    But perhaps all of this is missing the point, at least as far as the enterprise is concerned. As Datacenter Knowledge’s Drew Robb asked recently, if everything is becoming a service, will anyone actually need a data center going forward? The world is moving to a scale-out, fungible and fully democratized data ecosystem, so it only makes sense that the enterprise should concern itself first with the transition to that environment and then the management of applications and operations as they traverse virtual infrastructure. While certain large operators would probably see some benefit to owning their own hardware, the overwhelming majority will no doubt find it easier, and cheaper, to let someone else deal with hardware – or at best, convert to fully modular, plug-and-play infrastructure at home.

    It’s never easy to make firm plans in times of great turmoil. So for the moment, the best thing the enterprise can do is plan for continual change. While hardware decisions will still arise as part of the normal three- and five-year refresh cycle, the gradual transition to cloud and abstract architectures should also continue apace, particularly for dynamic, scale-out applications in the IoT.

    And in the end, know that whatever data environment you wind up with will be the right one as long as it has been designed to meet the needs of business, not simply to employ whatever technology happens to be rising in the hype cycle.

    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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