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Mapping your IT infrastructure: From organic sprawl to optimal scale

Whether IT professionals like to admit it or not, networks don’t always grow by intent or design. New technologies are reaching new audiences, leaving the infrastructure to grow and expand organically with the use of either internal users or outside partners. Essentially, it could be said that steady and consistent innovation impedes the progression of routine operation.

Imagine a data centre that was once considered massive but quickly runs out of space and capacity because it relies on tape backup. Picture an enterprise resource planning (ERP) infrastructure that can’t keep up with growth and bogs down the supply chain. These aren’t horror stories - they’re real.

For example, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, always sought to stay ahead of the curve in its critical field. However, it eventually had an IT infrastructure that featured space constraints, caused project delays and couldn’t respond promptly to service requests. At the same time, it had considerable levels of unused capacity - a result of unplanned sprawl. In a very different market, Fox Sports Australia made its reputation broadcasting more than 11,000 hours of live programming annually, but then found itself grappling with a business model that blended one-thirds broadcast with two-thirds new media streaming. Reaching fans on their phones and tablets mandated a very different kind of scaling.

So what does it take to move from organic sprawl to optimal scale? What’s the best way to achieve operational excellence in a hyper-growth environment?

To be clear, there’s no magic bullet: it takes a systematic strategy that encompasses specific elements from solution design and implementation to training and support. For their part, CIOs want flexible and secure data centres that can adapt to changing technology and business requirements. However, enterprises increasingly have new types of applications - think ‘third-platform’ apps for social and mobile computing, cloud services, Big Data, and the Internet of Things - that can grow to touch hundreds of thousands of virtual servers. This multi-tiered growth puts heavy pressure on the infrastructure.

Still, the innovation isn’t on the app side alone: Advances in infrastructure management, such as converged and hyper-converged solutions, help break down these silos and manual processes by sharing resources and leveraging software-defined approaches like cloud computing and on-demand business models. They deliver greater business value through simple automation, centralised management and policy-based processes that are attuned to the dynamic requirements of complex business applications. Therefore, even as the application scales up or down, the in-built intelligent software enforces the preset policies while maintaining a superior user experience.

Going back to the examples cited earlier: Fox Sports Australia knew that staying with its longtime IT approach - which had previously been so successful - meant disassembling and reassembling dozens of disparate hardware systems. So, instead, it built a private cloud with a converged infrastructure system, ensuring lower risks, a faster move to its new facility and greater business agility. In fact, the company now delivers video clips and sports statistics to mobile and otherwise online devices in a fraction of the time. System reliability and IT efficiency are higher, and IT has evolved from a reactive break- and fix-focused organisation to a proactive service provider.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center purchased and deployed no less than three converged infrastructure solutions to boost its new software-defined data centre. The environment has been designed to support not only a major medical centre upgrade, but also more than 750 other applications - from storing and offering access to the medical centre’s imaging studies to supporting its virtual desktop infrastructure. It delivers near-100 per cent availability, enhances performance by 30 per cent, speeds provisioning and slashes maintenance costs.

There is no doubt that next-generation applications are evolving. They are becoming more intelligent and more resilient, enabling them to manage more dynamic workloads. These changes allow businesses to focus more on a hybrid approach to data centre management, and benefit from cost efficiencies of scale. Ultimately, in order for innovation to flourish, flexibility and integration must be accommodated. It also needs to be balanced with existing realities, such as application type, the number of users and the level of workload.

A highly scalable software-defined converged infrastructure system can help businesses identify the right blend of technology advances, market shifts and user preferences to help drive greater innovation throughout the organisation.

Barry Cashman, VP of EMEA, VCE

Image source: Shutterstock/watcharakun