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The Evolution of the Data Centre: Simplifying Network Architecture to Reduce Costs

By Justin Hadler, Director of Engineering, Hardware.com.

 

Date: 18 Feb 2013

 

 

 

Previously when IT professionals discussed network infrastructure and data centre costs, “simple” was not a word they often used. However with the evolution of open standards equipment, virtualisation, and cloud computing, technology leaders are now able to place greater emphasis on simplicity when establishing their network architecture. Through data centre consolidation, coupled with adopting a multi-vendor or standards-based approach to network infrastructure, IT professionals can achieve significant cost, time, and energy savings.

 

 

To understand why and how this evolution is happening, it’s important to recognise two of the key drivers in data centre evolution:

 

 

Virtualisation

 

 

According to a survey conducted by the International Data Corporation (IDC), the highest IT priority for Chief Information Officers in 2012 was virtualisation and server consolidation.[1] Originally introduced as a way to achieve higher server density and therefore maximise an organisation’s investment in hardware, server virtualisation quickly became a way for companies to achieve significant cost savings, increase operational efficiency, and conserve energy.

 

 

Numerous companies, including Hewlett Packard (HP) and IBM, have announced plans to reduce the number of their physical data centres in favor of virtualised servers. In fact server and storage virtualisation projects conducted by IBM in 2011 resulted in an energy-use reduction of over 142,000 MW—and cost savings of approximately $16.5 million (£10.2 million).[2] Similarly in 2007, HP announced that it would cut its global data centres from 85 to 6, saving the company an estimated $1 billion (£622.7 million) annually.[3] In addition to reducing power and cooling costs, such initiatives will lead to savings by eliminating storage space and reducing the amount of staff needed to run the data centres—including facility engineers, operational specialists, and computer operators.

 

 

However the benefits of virtualisation extend beyond cost savings. Organisations that virtualise their servers achieve faster network connections, increased data security (as data is stored in fewer places), and increased IT compliance. Furthermore, organisations that reduce their number of data centres free-up staff time, enabling them to focus on more important, strategic initiatives within the company.

 

 

The Multi-Vendor Approach

 

 

A second emerging trend in data centre evolution consists of building network infrastructures using multiple vendors and standards-based technology. Over the last decade or so, leading technology vendors, such as Cisco, heavily promoted the “single vendor” approach to network architecture as an easier, more cost-effective way to build and maintain data centres. Although good in theory, the practice ultimately leads to increased vendor complacency, less competitive pricing, and reduced flexibility between platforms—driving-up data centre complexity and costs for customers.

 

 

Today, organisations are realising they are able to control costs and reduce network complexity by adopting a multi-vendor approach. According to research from IT advisory firm Gartner, organisations that introduce additional vendors to their data centres “reduce total cost of ownership by at least 15 to 25 percent over a five-year time frame.”[4] By introducing competition for existing products, organisations will ensure vendors are continuously vying for their business—keeping costs competitive for both short- and long-term budgets.

 

 

While some IT leaders may be concerned that adding technology vendors will only serve to increase network complexity, research from Gartner demonstrates this is not the case. In their report, “Debunking the Myth of the Single-Vendor Network,” Gartner found that a “surprising benefit from [our] investigation was that for most organisations, the complexity of the network was reduced when they introduced another vendor.” Multi-vendor networks encourage the use of building infrastructures with standards-based technology instead of proprietary solutions, giving customers more options and greater flexibility in case of a product upgrade or technology refresh. In today’s rapidly evolving networking industry, avoiding vendor “lock-in” is key to controlling costs and ensuring interoperability.

 

 

Getting Back to Basics

 

 

Overall, the progression towards virtualisation and multiple vendors offers organisations an “out” (or at least a break) from today’s often overwhelming IT demands. By significantly reducing the number of physical data centres they operate, organisations can realise significant cost and energy savings while eliminating some of the complexity that comes from managing storage space, staff, and troubleshooting of multiple facilities. Additionally by retaining their primary vendor’s competing product on the floor and building with standards-based technology instead of proprietary solutions, IT leaders can ensure enhanced, more competitive pricing in the long-term while protecting their investment in hardware equipment.

 

-ends-

 

[1] http://www.informationweek.com/news/storage/virtualization/232400150

2 http://www.datacenterdynamics.com/focus/archive/2012/07/ibm-virtualizes-its-way-out-paying-us165m-data-center-energy

3 http://www.computereconomics.com/article.cfm?id=1271

4 http://www.dell.com/downloads/global/products/pwcnt/en/Gartner-Debunking-the-Myth-of-the-Single-Vendor-Network-20101117-published.pdf

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