Next-generation data centre

The data centre is evolving to become a virtualised component of business.

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The data centre is critically important to business operations in the enterprise. However, companies often have difficulty leveraging their data centres as a strategic business asset. This is due to increasing costs linked to a scarcity of appropriate IT skills, as well as spiralling expenses associated with bandwidth requirements, storage, cooling and other infrastructure demands.

Against this backdrop, data centres are steadily evolving to become virtualised, along with their server and storage infrastructures. Virtualisation is changing the footprint of the in-house data centre, shrinking it in size and scope along with the need for physical servers and large storage repositories.

Although applications and storage are moving to the cloud, the on-site data centre remains a critical cog in the corporate IT wheel, particularly in terms of application delivery to the enterprise user.


Today, the data centre's role is centred on seamlessly interweaving cloud and terrestrial applications, services and cloud components - notably networking, server and storage infrastructures - while supporting the management of mobile virtual machines (VMs) and end-users.

Corporate IT departments today are challenged to deliver greater data centre efficiency while orchestrating better operational processes to support, for example, multiple virtual servers and networks demanding more bandwidth.

They're tasked with coping with the congestion resulting from increased traffic flows across the network, often caused by processes and procedures that were once the province of a single server, but which are now distributed across the data centre on multiple servers.

With virtualisation changing application architectures - by separating application layers across multiple VMs on multiple physical servers - it's time for next-generation thinking when it comes to data centre offerings.

Complete package

The first and most important consideration is associated with the number of management tools required to run the data centre. Streamlining through the introduction of new 'holistic' management tools must be the order of the day, particularly in the light of modern skills shortages.

Taking this idea a step further, the evolution of the data centre presents a number of opportunities for dealers and resellers to work with vendors on data centre conversions, especially storage and virtualisation management projects.

Management is key to providing visibility, automation and control over physical and virtual data centre resources. It is also vital for tracking and reporting on VM movement, ensuring the proper network resources are allocated when a VM is provisioned.

Modern management technology is essential to allow for the grouping of VMs into supporting business roles. For instance, management systems should detect, register and authenticate VMs while providing access control and the automation of policy assignment for virtual LANs, class of service, quality of service, rate limiting and rate shaping.

Ideally, the IT department's server, networking and storage teams should have access to a unified provisioning process through the management system's ability to automate the application of individual policies to various data objects in the switching fabric.

Virtualisation is changing the footprint of the in-house data centre.

Tomorrow's data centre management structures must be capable of providing convergence, ultimate control over performance and the ability to simplify data centre and network topologies, including the dynamic configuration of the virtual switch and physical infrastructure.

This will require a decisive move towards the acceptance of the so-called software-defined data centre (SDDC), a new architectural approach to IT infrastructure that extends virtualisation concepts such as abstraction, pooling and automation to all of the data centre's resources and services.

In contrast to a traditional data centre, where the infrastructure is typically defined by hardware and devices, in an SDDC, all infrastructure components are virtualised. They are provisioned, operated and managed through an application programming interface.

Control of the SDDC - which can encompass private, public and hybrid clouds - is fully automated by software, with hardware configuration maintained through intelligent software systems.

It appears as if the core architectural components that will comprise the SDDC of the future include 'compute virtualisation', the software implementation of an entire computer system, and software-defined networking, the process of merging hardware and software resources and networking functionality into a software-based virtual network.

In this model, the SDDC is released from its underlying physical network and firewall architecture, while software-defined storage, or storage virtualisation, enables multiple storage types and brands to be addressed from a single software interface. Management and automation software enable administrators to provision, control and manage all SDDC components, automatically redirecting workloads to other servers in the data centre to minimise load.

The SDDC is a necessity if an important stepping stone is to be reached. This is IT as a service, a competitive business model recognised as the necessary foundational infrastructure for scalable, efficient cloud computing of the future.

Martin May

Regional director (Africa) of Extreme Networks.

Martin May is the regional director (Africa) of Extreme Networks. The author of the book: “Everything you need to know about networking”, he is a leading authority on infrastructure security using NAC, IDS/IPS and other network-based technologies. With experience gained in Russia, Germany, UK, the US and various parts of Africa, he is directly involved with system design and implementation at enterprise level. His emphasis is on the evolution in network architectures brought about by the concept of cloud computing. May hosts regular workshops assisting South African dealers and resellers to understand the implications, complications, opportunities and international trends surrounding the cloud. A proponent of social networking for business, he is active on Facebook and makes extensive use of YouTube.

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