Conventional datacentre skills and tools to limit business growth

IT skills including capacity planning and performance management are no longer sufficient for business growth

IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) skills including capacity planning and performance management, which are widely valued in datacentres, are no longer sufficient to meet business needs in the digital economy era, analyst firm Gartner has warned.

"While major organisations continue to maintain and sustain their conventional capacity-planning skills and tools, they need to regularly re-evaluate the tools available and develop the capacity and performance management skills present in the web-scale IT community," said Ian Head, research director at Gartner. 

"Web-scale IT organisations do things differently – they learn from one another,” he added.

By 2016, the availability of capacity and performance management skills for horizontally scaled architectures will be a major constraint or risk to growth for 80% of major businesses, Gartner warned.

“Conventional IT organisations can use some of the web-scale techniques heading for mainstream adoption in the next three years," said Head.

Capacity planning skills involve estimating the space, computer hardware, software, network infrastructure and power resources needed over a future period of time. 

Datacentres are equipped with tools that help IT determine capacity planning and performance management.

But many enterprises move to cloud computing without a detailed capacity management strategy because the cloud platform is seen as infinitely elastic, where capacity can be purchased as and when needed. 

There are too few tools and skills to determine the amount of resources needed on a cloud-based infrastructure or to benchmark cloud capacity.

Capacity management is the most underestimated problem of cloud computing, Morgan Stanley’s executive director for IT strategy, Evangelos Kotsovinos, has previously told Computer Weekly. 

Buying resources on the cloud instantly can be expensive and enterprises can mitigate that cost by planning for capacity in advance and avoiding inaccurate provisioning, according to Kotsovinos.

But the analyst firm has outlined three recommendations for I&O professionals to get capacity and performance management strategies right.

Adopting horizontally scaling infrastructures

According to Gartner, web-scale IT extends virtualisation to work in a horizontally scaling infrastructure that facilitates rapid and near real-time reallocation of resources. 

Furthermore, workloads associated with these applications are standardised and categorised to enable the infrastructure team to assign infrastructure resources appropriately. 

“These vital characteristics of web-scale IT form the foundation for capacity and performance management,” said Head. 

Services constructed in this way are better equipped to scale geographically and share multiple datacentres with limited impact on user performance, he added. This approach also blurs the lines between capacity planning, fault-tolerant designs and disaster recovery.

Developing demand-shaping techniques to avoid IT overload

Demand-shaping techniques help adjust the quantity of resources required by applications so the infrastructure does not become overloaded. Gartner predicts that through 2017, 25% of large organisations will use demand-shaping tools to plan and manage capacity, up from less than 1% today. 

Techniques for demand shaping include limited launches – sometimes known as "canary launches" – where new functionality is released to a limited section of the user base, Head explained. The load can then be measured and extrapolated to the wider user base, and decisions can be made to allocate more or fewer resources to the new services as they are rolled out to different segments of users. 

"Dark launching" is another technique used to estimate and shape demand. In this case, functionality is released, usually to a subset of the user base, but users are not notified that the functionality is available, he said. 

IT leaders must plan both the application and infrastructure architecture carefully, and infrastructure and product teams must work together to use application functionality, Gartner advised. Such techniques will allow limited IT resources to be shared among different applications, providing an acceptable user experience and keeping vital applications running at all times. 

Learning operational analytics tools and big-data capabilities

Traditional capacity planning tools have limited use in web-scale and cloud architectures which are different, dynamic and vast. These architectures are defined by customised functionalities that existing off-the-shelf tools cannot provide. 

The common theme is extensive use of large volumes of operational data to plan IT capacity.

In-memory computing and deep analytics tools are generally used to extract the required information directly from the infrastructure and from instrumentation built into applications. This information is used to inform real-time decisions to allocate resources and manage potential bottlenecks. 

Similar functionality is also used to understand the impact of moving workloads and simulate the effects of potential infrastructure and application changes. 

"These operational skills and tools are currently unique to each web-scale organisation and are not yet available in most organisations," said Head. "However they will be in increasingly high demand as large organisations of all types begin to pursue the tangible business benefits of a web-scale approach to IT infrastructure." 

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