Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Modern Data Centers Require Efficiency-Oriented Changes in Networking

Transcript of a sponsored podcast discussion on modernizing data centers to make them adaptable and flexible.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.

Special Offer: Gain insight into best practices for transforming your data center by downloading three whitepapers from HP at www.hp.com/go/dctpodcastwhitepapers.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you're listening to BriefingsDirect. Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on the increasingly essential role of networking in data center transformation (DCT).

As data center planners seek to improve performance and future-proof their investments, the networking leg on the infrastructure stool can no longer stand apart. The old rules of networking need to change, and that’s because specialized labor-intensive and homogeneous networking systems need to be be brought into the total modern data center picture -- to jointly cut complexity while spurring on adaptability and flexibility.

Advances such as widespread virtualization, increased modularity, converged infrastructure, and cloud computing are all forcing a rethinking of data center design. The architecture needs to accomplish the total usage pattern and requirements for both today and tomorrow -- and with an emphasis on openness, security, flexibility, and sustainability.

Networking, therefore, needs to be better architected within -- and not bolted onto -- this changeable DCT equation. Here to discuss how networking is changing, and how organizations can better architect networking into their data centers future, we're joined by two executives from HP. Please join me in welcoming Helen Tang, Worldwide Data Center Transformation Solutions Lead. Welcome to the show, Helen.

Helen Tang: Thanks, Dana. Glad to be here.

Gardner: We are also here with Jay Mellman, Senior Director of Product Marketing in the HP Networking Unit. Good to have you with us, Jay.

Jay Mellman: Thanks, Dana. Glad to be here too.

Gardner: Helen, tell us a little bit about the environment now for DCT. Why are organizations focused on this? Why is it such an important element in how they can plan their future, and begin to take more and better control over their IT efforts?

Tang: Great question, Dana. As we all know, in 2010 most IT organizations are wrestling with the three Cs -- reducing cost, reducing complexity, and also tapping the problem of hitting the wall with capacity from a base, space, and energy perspective.

The reason it's happening is because IT is really stuck between two different forces. One is the decades of aging architecture, infrastructure, and facilities they have inherited. The other side is that the business is demanding ever faster services and better improvements in their ability to meet requirements.

The confluence of that has really driven IT to the only solution of embracing change and starting a strategic project of transformation, which is a series of integrated data center projects and technology initiatives that can take them from this old integrated architecture to an architecture that’s suited for tomorrow’s growth.

Gardner: How does networking fit into that? What's the traditional role of the networking, versus where it should be?

Generic term

Tang: Let me set the context a little bit, before we dive into the role of networking within DCT. DCT is a fairly generic term. We don’t have a unified definition.

I'm a little biased, of course, coming from HP, but I do think HP has the most comprehensive answer for what people need to think about in terms of DCT. That includes four things: consolidation, whether it's infrastructure, facilities or application; virtualization and automation; continuity and sustainability, which address the energy efficiency aspect, as well as business continuity and disaster recovery; and last, but not least, converged infrastructure.

So networking actually plays in all these areas, because it is the connective tissue that enables IT to deliver services to the business. It's very critical. In the past this market has been largely dominated by perhaps one vendor. That’s led to a challenge for customers, as they address the cost and complexity of this piece.

Gardner: Okay, Jay, how has HP adapted to this in recognizing the need for change? What's been its response?

Mellman: The response that we've had is to recognize that it's one thing to say we want to have cost and more responsiveness, when we do a DCT, but it's really the understanding how and why that’s there. There has been a dramatic change in what's demanded of networking in a data center context.

The sheer number of connections, as we went from single large servers to multiple racks of servers, and to multiple virtual machines for services, all of which need connectivity. We have management integration that has been very difficult to deal with. We have different management constructs between servers, storage, and networking. Finally, there are things like cost and, more important, time to service.

HP has been recognizing that customers are increasingly not being judged on the quality of an individual silo. They're being judged on their ability to deliver service, do that at a healthy cost point, and do that as the business needs it. That means that we've had to take an approach that is much more flexible. It's under our banner of FlexFabric.

Today’s architecture, as Helen said, is very rigid in the networking space. It's very complex with lots of specialized people and specialized knowledge. It's very costly and, most importantly, it really doesn’t adapt to change. The kind of change we see, as customers are able to move virtual machines around, is exactly the kinds of thing we need in networking and don’t have.

Gardner: I'd like to get into some examples a little later, but maybe it would be good to just understand what some of the paybacks are if you do this properly, if you architect and design your data center well. If the networking, as a connective tissue, plays its role properly, what sort of paybacks are typical?

Tang: The power of transformation is great to the IT organization. It's along three axes. One is increasing agility and time to market, improving service levels to a point that we can now deliver any application perhaps in a couple of weeks, as opposed to months and months. The second aspect is about mitigating risk. We're looking at reducing manual errors through some of the automation capabilities.

Tremendous cost reduction

Last but not least, of course, is reduction in cost. We've seen just tremendous cost reduction across the board. At HP, when we did our own DCT, we were able to save over a billion dollars a year. For some of our other customers, France Telecom for example, it was €22 million in savings over three years -- and it just goes on and on, both from an energy cost reduction, as well as the overall IT operational cost reductions.

Mellman: Let me see if I can jump in and give some specifics as well of the relationship to the networking. When we look at agility and ability to improve time-to-service, we are often seeing an order of magnitude or even two orders of magnitude [improvement] by churning up a rollout process that might take months and turning it into hours or days.

With that kind of flexibility, you avoid the silos, not necessarily just in technology, but in the departments, as requests from the server and storage teams to the networking team. So, there are huge improvements there, if we look at automation and risk. I also include security here.

It's very critical, as part of these, that security be embedded in what we're doing, and the network is a great agent for that. In terms of the kinds of automation, we can offer single panes of glass to understand the service delivery and very quickly be able to look at not only what's going on in a silo, but look at actual flows that are happening, so that we can actually reduce the risk associated with delivering the services.

Finally, in terms of cost, we're seeing -- at the networking level specifically -- reductions on the order of 30 percent to as high as 65 percent by moving to these new types of architectures and new types of approaches, specifically at the server edge, where we deal with virtualization.

Customers were telling us that there were so many changes happening in their environments, both at the edge of the network, but also in the data center, that they felt like they needed a new approach.

There are opportunities where we go from more than 210 different networking components required to serve a certain problem down to two modules. You can kind of see that's a combination of consolidation, convergence, cost reduction, and simplicity, all coming together.

Gardner: Jay, give us a little historical context for this. HP has obviously been involved with networking for some time, and now the rules have changed. What's the pattern and what’s the expertise that’s been developing over the years to come together now?

Mellman: It's a real meaty question Dana and I appreciate that one. We've been in the business for 25 to 30 years and we are successfully the number two vendor in the industry selling primarily at the edge. Within the last couple of years, we've recognized that beyond the business opportunity, customers were telling us that there were so many changes happening in their environments, both at the edge of the network, but also in the data center, that they felt like they needed a new approach.

Look at the changes that have happened in the data center just in the last couple of years -- the rise of virtualization and being able to actually take advantage of that effectively, the pressures on time to market in alignment with the business, and the increasing risk from security and the increasing need for compliance.

Tie all these together, and HP felt this is the right time to come to market. The other thing is that these are problems that are being raised in the networking space, but they have direct linkage to how you would best solve the problem.

Special Offer: Gain insight into best practices for transforming your data center by downloading three new data center transformation whitepapers from HP at www.hp.com/go/dctpodcastwhitepapers.

Bringing talent together

Instead of solving it with just networking technology, we can do a better job, because we can actually bring the right engineering talent together and solve it in an appropriate way. That balances the networking needs with what we can do with servers, what we can do with storage, with software, with security and with power and cooling, because often times, the solution may be 90 percent networking, but it involves other pieces as well.

We saw a real requirement from customers to come in and help them, as Helen said, create more flexibility, drive risk down, improve time to service and take cost out of the system, so that we are not spending so much on maintenance and operation, and we can put that to more innovation and driving the business forward.

A couple of these key rules drive simplicity. The job of a network admin needs to be made as simple and have as much automation and orchestration as the jobs of SysAdmins or SAN Admins today.

The second is that we want to align networking more fully with the rest of the infrastructure, so that we can help customers deliver the service they need when they need it, to users in the way that they need it. That alignment is just a new model in the networking space.

Finally, we want to drive open systems, first of all because customers really appreciate that. They want standards and they want to have the ability to negotiate appropriately, and have the vendors compete on features, not on lock-in.

Open standards also allow customers to pick and choose different pieces of the architecture that work for them at different points in time. That allows them, even if they are going to work completely with HP, the flexibility and the feeling that we are not locking them in. What happens when we focus on open systems is that we increase innovation and we drive cost out of the system.

The traditional silos between servers and storage and networking are finally coming down. Technology has come to an inflection point.

What we see are pressures in the data center, because of virtualization, business pressures, and rigidity, giving us an opportunity to come in with a value proposition that really mirrors what we’ve done for 25 years, which is to think about agility, to think about alignment with the rest of IT, and to think about openness and really bringing that to the networking arena for the first time.

Tang: The traditional silos between servers and storage and networking are finally coming down. Technology has come to an inflection point. We're able to deliver a single integrated system, where everything can be managed as a whole that delivers incredible simplicity and automation as well as significant reduction in the cost of ownership.

Gardner: We’ve talked quite a bit about the technical issues that can lead to rigidity and complexity, being ill-equipped to support heterogeneity, and so forth. But there is a non-technical side of this problem as well: different teams, different cultures, lack of collaboration, and lack of a common language in many cases. What does moving toward the DCT level do for that?

Mellman: What a great challenge organizations have. Increasingly we do see our customers pulling these separate teams together more and more. It’s just been forced to happen, because the applications are more complex. Where we used to have single large applications, now data is pulled from a lot of different places.

We’ve got all sorts of different connectivity going on and going to different storage banks and server banks. But, what you have to do, if you're going to do this effectively, is not assume that you're going to get everyone understanding each other. You want to build systems that allow people to be in their universe and be in their roles, but collaborate better.

Different technologies

It’s sort of the old, "You can’t assume away the problem." I can’t just build product and assume that the networking team is going to suddenly go work with the server team. As you said, they’ve got different languages and frankly, it’s different technologies. What you want is the ability to have management tools and capabilities that allow these teams to better work together.

For example, we have a product called Virtual Connect, which has a management concept called Virtual Connect Enterprise Manager. It allows the networking team and the sever teams to work off the same pool of data. Once the networking team allocates connectivity, the server team can work within that pool, without having to always go back to the networking team and ask for the latest new IP address and new configurations.

HP is really focused on how we bring the power of that orchestration, and the power of what we know about management, to allow these teams to work together without requiring them, in a sense, to speak the same language, when that’s often the most difficult thing that they have to do.

Tang: I want to add to that. To some extent, Dana, it really is a cultural shift, and that kind of cultural change is going to meet resistance along the way. It needs to be effected all the way from the top down. This needs to be something that the CIO actively promotes. HP actually has a service offering, which really helps with this --- it’s called the Datacenter Transformation Experience Workshop.

We bring all the stakeholders into the same room -- the server team, networking team, storage, and facilities, and even the financial side of IT, so that we achieve alignment across all of them. They talk about the standard issues everybody needs to tackle when thinking about doing any kind of transformation, across not just the technology areas, but also processes, management tools, governance, etc. Coming out of it, you do achieve alignment and you come up with an actionable roadmap specifically customized for that organization.

We can’t afford to have customers have to rip and replace or throw away their existing infrastructure for the promise of some new future.

Gardner: Okay. Moving to the solution level here and looking at the future, a lot of organizations really can’t predict exactly what situation they are going to be in, in 5 or 7 years and data centers are often designed to last 20 years or more. So where does the ability to forecast come in and also bring in the legacy? I'm wondering about what the design elements are here that allow for the past, present, and the future to all be accommodated, particularly with the networking part of the equation.

Mellman: A point that HP is always taking a look at is this issue that we can’t afford to have customers have to rip and replace or throw away their existing infrastructure for the promise of some new future.

There are quite a few vendors out there who are saying that the future is all about cloud and the future is all about virtualization. That ignores the fact that the lion's share of what's in a data center still needs to be kept. You want an architecture that supports that level of heterogeneity and may support different kinds of architectural precepts, depending on the type of business, the types of applications, and the type of pressures on that particular piece.

What HP has done, and we do this in combination with HP Labs and with our services organization, is try to get a handle on what is that future going to look like without prescribing that it has to be a particular way. We want to understand where these points of heterogeneity will be and what will be able to be delivered by a private cloud, public cloud, or by more traditional methods and bring those together, and then net it down to architectural things that makes sense.

We realize that there will be a high degree of virtualization happening at the server edge, but there will also be a high degree of physical servers for especially some big apps that may not be virtualized for a long time, Oracle, SAP, some of the Microsoft things. Even when they are, they are going to be done with potentially different virtualization technologies.

Physical and virtual

Even with a product like Virtual Connect, we want to make sure that we are supporting both physical and virtual server capabilities. With our Converged Network Adaptors, we want to support all potential networking connectivity, whether it’s Fibre Channel, iSCSI, Fibre Channel over Ethernet or server and data technology, so that we don’t have to lock customers into a particular point of view.

We recognize that most data centers are going to be fairly heterogeneous for quite a long time. So, the building blocks that we have, built on openness and built on being managed and secure, are designed to be flexible in terms of how a customer wants to architect. At the core and aggregation levels in the data center what we do to actually power and make sure that people get connectivity, we are already looking at technologies like our Intelligent Resilient Framework, which allows clustering.

We're looking at a tier, across-tiers, across-geographies, and how customers can use that to create standard three-tier, a new collapsed two-tier architecture, distributed active geographically dispersed data centers that are managed from a single IP address.

We don't want to have to tell a customer they have to take something in a particular way, when we know that not only the state of their equipment, what their assets are in IT, and what they may have to accomplish in five years may be something that hasn’t even been thought of yet.

Gardner: Another thing that I often hear is the need -- when compliance, regulations, and security are brought into the equation -- of doing that all comprehensively. Trying to do a spot security approach and compliance approach runs into trouble. So, is there a payback here beyond the technical, when you have a comprehensive data center architecture in mind that includes the networking elements along with these others, so that you get a payback in terms of being able to manage comprehensively, and therefore, catch those security practice quirks and/or provide for regulatory and compliance adhesion?

Step one is to protect the infrastructure, and we can do that both at the infrastructure level and increasingly at the application level.

Mellman: Let's focus on the security and compliance issue. They are really two issues here that are critical. The first is what I might call the traditional network security and protection. How do I use the components to actually protect the infrastructure, but more importantly the applications and the data?

So we have the leading intrusion prevention system on the market today, powered by our TippingPoint Assets, that helps really do this in a very easy fashion. Instead of having to have policies that you have to continually update on different firewalls and on different parts of the network and servers and all across the infrastructure, you impose a policy centrally and they're automatically managed within the TippingPoint infrastructure.

The idea is that that’s automatically updated with leading researchers from around the world, so that the infrastructure never has to experience the malware. It's never taken down. It's zero day protection. You do it in an easy way. And easy is critical, because security is the place where, when it starts to get hard, people stop doing it. They stop updating their viruses. They stop their policies. They figure nothing has happened.

Step one is to protect the infrastructure, and we can do that both at the infrastructure level and increasingly at the application level. The compliance and risk management then gets to how well we're actually operating our environments. So whether it's payment card industry (PCI) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), those requirements mean that you have to have a more orchestrated and, in some cases, automated approach across the whole infrastructure.

If an organization has a separate networking structure, think of the overhead involved in trying to help that come to the table with the rest of the IT organization in meeting those standards. It's going to be much, much easier, when we take a converged approach, when the network is actually a first citizen in the IT organization. If nothing else, it will be more efficient. But, in many cases we actually see it being more effective as well in terms of being able to proactively meet compliance requirements and the needs of particular verticals in doing that.

Reduction in risk

We see it really in two fashions that we can improve not only the security and protection of the network, the applications and the assets, but also the alignment and the reduction in risk plays into how well we can help an organization comply.

Gardner: I'm fond of hearing how this works in practice. Are there any customer stories perhaps, either named ones or use cases that you can share, which demonstrate what happens when you properly architect, converge, and bring networking into the modern data center approach?

Mellman: We have quite a few. The best one that gets people’s attention is our own HP IT. They looked at a variety of different approaches to architecting their data centers and selected HP networking, so much so that they said, "Even if you don’t buy the company, in this case 3Com, we're going to use the product."

They’ve been able to now re-architect one of their six data centers that run all of HP -- that is all 300,000 employees, plus partners, plus supply chain, by re-architecting around HP networking gear that includes Core Aggregation, Edge, and the Security Products.

They're getting half the power utilization and twice the performance out of the HP device than they were getting out of their previous vendor, which is quite a good outcome in and of itself.

Instead of having to cable everything multiple times and have people sent in to remove wires, it takes a wire-once approach.

But, the other thing it demonstrates that is really critical is that customers usually think they have to bite everything off at once. They moved one of these data centers, but it's completely interoperable now with their existing infrastructure or their previous infrastructure that was built on a competitor's technology. So, we're seeing that those kinds of benefits are easily gainable in those environments.

Gardner: I should point out just for our listener’s sake that you did actually go out and buy 3Com, and it's now fully part of HP, isn’t that right?

Mellman: That’s exactly right. It fits into the product lines that we are offering as HP Networking -- the A-Series, which is our most advanced, and the E-Series, which is our essential and comes with the lifetime warranty. Our V-Series is targeted at the small and medium business (SMB) market, and then the S-Series is powered by TippingPoint and is really focused on enterprise network security.

Another example is what we're seeing at the server edge with a product like Virtual Connect, where we virtualize the connections at the back of the servers. Instead of having to cable everything multiple times and have people sent in to remove wires, it takes a wire-once approach, virtualizes the connections and the bandwidth, so that you can operate four separate virtual pipes on a single 10 gig pipe and deliver huge amounts of value.

What we're seeing when customers move to this approach in a data center is up to 95 percent reduction in network gear required, upwards of a 70 percent to 80 percent reduction in cabling, time to market improvements, taking weeks to hours or days, and dramatic cost reductions, because it's simply much less gear.

Real opportunities

These are real things, real opportunities, that customers could take advantage of that allow them to operate more effectively and have dramatically less complexity in their data center architectures.

Gardner: For those interested in pursuing more and getting more information about the convergence and the commonality of the design for networking, as well as other components within the modern data center, where can they go? What are some resources and how do they get started?

Tang: On a high level, a good place to go is www.hp.com/go/dct. That’s got all kinds of case studies, video testimonials, and all those resources for you to see what other customers are doing. As I recommended earlier the Data Center Transformation Experience Workshop is a very valuable experience. It's only half a day and has no PowerPoint. Customers really love that, and that’s something I highly recommend.

Mellman: What we ask in terms of networking is for customers to think about where their biggest pain points are. Certainly, exploring hp.com is a good start, but it's understanding where a customer is feeling the most pain. Is it at the server edge, because you're struggling with how many virtual servers you have to manage and what it is taking to deal with that? Is it at the network core, because you feel that your current gear is out of gas and maintaining a hierarchical approach to networking, when you’ve got to fan out across the data center, is just causing too much pain and too much cost? It may be security that's the biggest pain point.

Once you identify that, we simply advise engaging with HP’s services organization or our sales organization or one of HP’s partners and having the discussion of what's possible.

Start with a small workable project and get a good migration path towards full transformation.

What we hear from our customer is, "The level of simplicity that you can bring, the level of automation that’s possible or orchestration, the fact that you're bringing breakthroughs that really demonstrate convergence." Whether it’s FCoE between networking and storage, a Virtual Connect and the virtualization of connectivity for wire-once on demand between servers and networking, or the deep integration between networking and the management software at HP, they recognize that convergence at the technology level is paying out in real benefits.

It’s having the customer just step back and say, "Where is my biggest pain point?" The nice thing with open systems is that you can generally address one of those, try it out, and start on that path. Start with a small workable project and get a good migration path toward full transformation.

Gardner: I suppose that the pain that most folks are dealing with will probably only increase should they stand still. We're starting to see recovery in a number of economies around the globe. Things like virtualization have certainly been growing quickly and implemented more deeply into organizations, and we're looking at a lot of interesting private clouds and other infrastructure approaches to improve on efficiency and that flexibility. So the pain, the rationale for looking at networking differently and rethinking it will probably only get worse, I expect.

Mellman: That’s going to be true for a number of technology areas, but I think that what we really see are customers looking at convergence and the opportunity with cloud and either getting confused with it being the means or the end.

Means to an end

We see a lot of vendors out there thinking about virtualization and cloud as the end in and of itself. In reality, HP feels very strongly that these are the means to the end. The end is how you deliver services, and how you align, and allow someone to do that in a cost-effective way that we believe will use convergence, but helps them have the flexibility to deliver that service and meet changing services requirements over time effectively.

Customers that don’t look at this in the appropriate way will find themselves falling further and further behind. A lot of this is accelerating and what we believe at HP, and we’ve said for years, is that we focus on the outcome. So, if it turns out that virtualization is an inappropriate tool, we will leverage that to the extent that it makes sense -- and we're doing that today.

But, we won’t sit there and say, "Here, we're going to give you a strict virtualization solution, because we may think that that’s only part of the way to the end." Our goal is to help customers focus on what they are trying to accomplish and then bring them the appropriate set of products, solutions, services, and even things from partners, to make that happen.

If the appropriate way for a customer to be able to deliver that service is through a private cloud or a public cloud that gets interwoven with the other offerings that they are going to deliver via resources on premise, then we are here to help them do that. That’s really where we think the rubber will meet the road, and where customers that take the approach that HP is delivering will end up ahead.

Gardner: Great. We’ve been discussing how networking is changing and how organizations can better architect networking into their data centers for simplicity and automation, and how the issues impacting the business as well as the technology side of the house. We've been joined by Helen Tang, Worldwide Datacenter Transformation Solutions Lead at HP. Thanks, Helen.

Tang: Thank you, Dana.

Gardner: And we’ve also been joined by Jay Mellman, Senior Director of Product Marketing in HP Networking. Thank you.

Mellman: Thank you, Dana, for the opportunity.

Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. You’ve been listening to a sponsored BriefingsDirect podcast. Thanks for listening, and come back next time.

Special Offer: Gain insight into best practices for transforming your data center by downloading three new data center transformation whitepapers from HP at www.hp.com/go/dctpodcastwhitepapers.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Download the transcript. Sponsor: HP.

Transcript of a sponsored podcast discussion on modernizing data centers to make them adaptable and flexible. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2010. All rights reserved.

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