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Data centres: Evolution and revolution

Data centres, the heart and nervous system of any IT system, continue to evolve at a rapid pace. What’s more, we see no evidence of this changing any time soon. So how have data centres changed over recent years and how is their role, and the role of the data centre manager, developing with time? By Sridhar Iyengar, Vice President, Product management, ManageEngine.

 

Date: 6 Mar 2013

The history of the data centre industry is an interesting one – and one that reflects society’s relationship with computers and IT more generally. In the 1960s, the age of the super-computers, data centre mainframes housed the colossal machinery required at the time. Not only were such IT systems large and expensive to run, but they were also incredibly costly to purchase. As a result few organisations could afford to use these – running applications tended to be for weather forecasting, molecular analysis, quantum physics and nuclear simulations.

As technology improved and micro-computers began to emerge in the 1980s, the data centres of old were transformed into server rooms in which specialised applications ran. And with facilities being cheaper to own and maintain, they also became more accessible to a number of organisations.

However it was the 1990s dot-com era in which the data centre really began to command greater attention. Modern-day organisations needed modern-day computing power, and internet accessibility and high-speed computing which could host applications took centre stage.

Hardware costs, however, continued to present a barrier for a number of organisations, leading to the trend for renting the necessary equipment, as opposed to investing hard-sought capital in it. The resulting effect was the emergence of web-hosting providers and Internet Service Providers, who offered their services on a dedicated or co-location model.

Today’s data centres, responsible for offering both applications and platform as a service, have to be designed with a vast number of technological demands in mind. Massive data volumes, speeds and latencies beyond anything previously required – all these features go far beyond traditional architectures. Yet society now demands this – today’s web applications for businesses, social networks and mobile devices require it.

It is unsurprising then that we are increasingly seeing emerging technologies, which aim to help data centre architects meet these ever-increasing demands. For example, data centre fabric can transform silos of computing and storage into a shared pool of resources, while virtualisation has driven server consolidation in the data centre. An industry peer once shared with me an interesting story, which effectively illustrates the issues facing data centres when it comes to consolidation. Top management at this particular organisation decided that all servers from various divisions should be pushed to the data centre – the analogy my associate gave was “They cleaned up the mess in the house, but put it in the attic where it’s not visible to outsiders. However, the fact remained that the attic was still in a mess.” That is to say, that the IT complexity had been entirely placed on the shoulders of the data centre manager.

If you are in an ops team there are several issues with the potential to turn this situation into an organisational nightmare: for example, heterogeneous network equipment which doesn’t work efficiently together, servers that don’t lend themselves well to virtualisation and a plethora of management tools, not to mention data centre architecture that does not serve applications fast enough to the end user.

My point is this – data centre consolidation can be an effective tactic to save costs, but ultimately it must be viewed as a long-term strategic goal, which needs to be architected and managed correctly. If undertaken in the appropriate manner, consolidation of data centres can help reduce power, real-estate, cooling and cabling costs, improve application latency and ensure better resource utilisation via dynamic and flexible resource provisioning. Modern technological advances, such as software defined datacentres, unified fabric technologies and integrated IT management techniques are useful tools to have in one’s arsenal when looking to simplify the data centre.

Agile and flexible resource allocation, combined with better accounting of utilised resource and chargebacks will enable IT to operate effectively, efficiently and profitably – and will enhance the data centre manager’s profile within any organisation.
 

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