The Smart CIO’s Guide to Modernizing a Data Center

How CIOs can get the most out of their data centers with hyperconvergence.

By Dipti Parmar

By Dipti Parmar October 10 2019

A datacenter is the nerve center of any organization’s IT ecosystem. It’s essentially a set of servers that are networked together to help store, retrieve, analyze, process and deliver data and results across the organization. From the most basic email software, to app development platforms, to ensuring security for top-secret company data and financial records, some aspect of a data center is needed to keep these operations going.

Data centers used to be mammoth undertakings, occupying whole rooms with buzzing servers, routers, storage drives, cables and other paraphernalia. Over the past decade, the traditional data center has evolved with more integrated technologies and new cloud services. Whether or not a company’s data center is connected to public services creating a hybrid or multi-cloud environment, it’s always a good time for CIOs to see if their IT setup is optimized for their company’s needs. It’s not about keeping up with the Joneses – it’s about maintaining the integrity of data and applications essential to the business. It’s about optimizing IT infrastructure to improve productivity and ensuring the organization can focus on innovation rather than administrative work.

This article examines hyperconverged infrastructure and other developments in data center technology aimed at ensuring business continuity and protection from cyber-attacks.

Things Every Enterprise Data Center Needs

The right type of support infrastructure makes a good datacenter.

1. Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS): This one’s a no brainer. Unless a data center generates its own power, it must invest in a set of connected UPS machines or have its very own backup generator, to ensure that critical business processes don’t break down or important data doesn’t disappear in the event of an unexpected power failure. Power distribution units that include intelligent power management capabilities are a great addition to a data center. Together with a UPS, they help record, track and effectively manage power usage across the datacenter.

2. Top-notch security: Security and access control systems limit who and how many people can go around your security measures. Not only does this protect data and applications, it also reduces company liability in case of a data breach. Many industries are bound by compliance requirements – such as HIPAA for health and medicine related businesses, PCI for businesses that process credit card payments, and so on. A datacenter that adheres to these regulatory requirements to the T automatically ensures that the business fulfills its compliance requirements adequately.

3. Climate control: Large air conditioners and cooling fans are the norm in most typical data centers. Many times, industrial HVAC systems with vents, ducts and clear pathways for airflow are needed to ensure hot air does not accumulate in isolated spots. Further, humidifiers must be set at the optimum levels to control the amount of moisture in the air. Even aligning server racks uniformly is part of standard procedure to ensure that data centers operate at full capacity without overheating.

4. Scalability: It’s essential to be able to expand or contract the number of servers and their supporting infrastructure to match the demands of the business. Data centers must also be designed to adapt to new technologies, especially new hardware, that may come up a few years down the road and need to be integrated with the existing setup. All of this requires a nimble, well-planned, and proactive approach to designing and managing data centers.

5. Software and manpower support: A well-trained staff of engineers is needed to babysit and troubleshoot data centers on an everyday basis. But increasingly, new technologies like hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and enterprise cloud operating systems make it easier for IT personnel to carry out routine checks and inspections to ensure maximum uptime to support business objectives.

Where Data Centers Go Next

The rows upon rows of servers that make up popular perception of data centers may soon become as rare as rotary phones in people’s homes.

A recent study by AFCOM shows that the average business has about 8.1 datacenters. Of these, 7.8 (or nearly all) would be renovated over the next 12 months. In other words, businesses see the value in matching their IT infrastructure as their technology and business grow rapidly.

A fast-rising new technology in the data center space is hyperconvergence. HCI replaces the siloed worlds of the traditional datacenter and combines in a single unit computational, storage and networking capabilities.

Hyperconverged Infrastructure Adoption Chart

Source: Nutanix 2018 State of the Enterprise Datacenter report

The best HCI systems give data center support teams a way to automate routine maintenance and simplify important tasks, like provisioning, scaling and cloud governance. There are additional operational efforts involved in training the IT team to run an HCI; however, a “single pane of glass” that consolidates all critical infrastructure components offers clear visibility and lowers the time spent on managing the environment or tracking key metrics, thereby enabling IT admins to be more strategic and responsive.

Source: Nutanix 2018 State of the Enterprise Datacenter report

A data center is typically a host to all the critical data and resources that an organization needs to run smoothly. However, the prospect of setting up disaster recovery is often too complex and expensive for many businesses. With cloud-based Disaster Recovery (DR) and HCI — data, applications and other resources get protected in the cloud and can be recovered in just one click.

“To achieve proper DR protection, organizations traditionally needed several products like replication and DR orchestration to be configured and maintained,” said Gil Haberman, senior director of product marketing at Nutanix.

“The complexity and maintenance was often prohibitive. But with cloud-based DR as an extension to HCI, the service is instantly setup from within the HCI software, so we see many organizations finally comfortable adopting and properly testing their DR plans.” 

Data Centers Grow When Data Grows

Research from Cisco shows that IP traffic around the globe will grow 3x over the next five years. Clearly, the volume of data we generate every day and its corresponding storage and management requirement will only keep growing exponentially. To keep up with this fast-growing strain on their resources, data centers will be forced to modernize and embrace the best in class features offered by newer technologies like hyperconvergence and corresponding infrastructures.

It’s time CIOs recognize this paradigm shift and explain to C-suite colleagues why HCI-based data centers will prepare IT to meet future needs. Getting senior leadership to buy into the concept smooths the way to quick and hassle-free adoption once the transition process begins. Why waste time on inefficient, legacy systems when leaner, more productive, cost-efficient, and cutting-edge technology is well within reach?

Dipti Parmar is a contributing writer. She has written for CIO.com, Entrepreneur, CMO.com and Inc. Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @dipTparmar.

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