Datacentres are going through various stages of consolidation. Driven by the development of technology and the need to contain costs and improve services, the system infrastructure has become more resilient, more available and more secure.
To achieve these goals, servers and storage have to be centralised or pooled. This is the first phase of consolidation. Once it has been completed, the business benefits from a rationalisation of the system infrastructure to allow IT departments to better manage the overall resources.
Storage networking has played a significant role in this change. An aspect of this first-phase consolidation is that systems tend to be supplier-specific.
Research by Macarthur Stroud International revealed that by the end of 2004 most organisations had consolidated their storage and servers, 66% had consolidated both, with the other 34% consolidating either storage or servers.
But there are many applications and environments that must be supported over daily, weekly and monthly system cycles.
To meet this requirement, infrastructure services are being developed to better use system resources. Technologies such as VMWare and Infiniband are supporting server virtualisation, and IBM's San Volume Controller and EMC's Invista enable storage virtualisation in the network.
Virtualisation tools are triggering the second phase of consolidation. System management gains are enabling organisations to increase the security and availability of their systems with a sound return on investment. The business and system needs that are being addressed are:
- Protecting and securing the data at different sites across the organisation.
- Introducing security policies to permit access to approved users and applications
- Resource management to address fluctuating workloads and to enable system reconfiguration if system performance is impacted or any failure occurs.
The visible aspect of this second phase of consolidation is the sure and steady acceptance of virtualisation technologies. Physically, this is visible from the consolidation of switches and directors (managed switches) into larger directors within the datacentre, while there are ongoing consolidation projects within distributed business units and branch offices.
In the third phase, it is necessary to provide supporting services across the network. Data protection practices are backing up users with wide area file support applications and in high-volume applications with the use of storage routers.
The need to have faster system restores means new processes need to be put in place. Moving to a continuous data protection environment built on a system infrastructure will enable fast and rapid data movement.
The network management functions already define access routes and permit approved access. Tracking the activity at each node in a network will become of increasing importance as system security is enhanced.
Managing the IT infrastructure in more automated ways will also be an area that system managers will address. The service level expectations of users are that systems are always available.
Although delivering the service level agreements may vary from business-critical processes to support applications, the impact on each and every user is additional cost, if systems on which they depend are not available.
Resource management tools not only track the utilisation of server, storage and network resources, they enable the reconfiguration of systems by preset policies or through management direction.
Finally, the implementation of high-speed storage networks, whether Fibre Channel or IP, is setting the framework by which the next phase of system productivity developments will be realised. Virtualisation, across all system and network components, is driving the change.
Hamish Macarthur is founder of IT analyst firm Macarthur Stroud International
This was first published in August 2005