Data Centres: Fossil or foundation for digital transformation?

It’s all happening at a dizzying pace. Rapid digital transformation and emerging technologies – such as IoT, mobility, cloud, blockchain, machine learning and artificial intelligence – are becoming business staples in today’s enterprise.

Central to building a digital foundation capable of embracing these innovations is the data centre. Yet as the pace of change intensifies, our aged infrastructure is increasingly holding us back. After all, many of our systems were built at a time when these technologies were either in their infancy, or simply didn’t exist.

As the need for these technologies grows, a new strategic imperative is sweeping through the enterprise – an urgent need to reimagine the data centre to prepare the organisation for the future.

The technologies transforming the way we manage data

Before diving into the ‘HOW’ of the modern data centre, let’s take a moment to consider the rise, and accompanying demands, of these technologies.

In recent years, many organisations have adopted a cloud-first strategy. However, as IT teams realise the trade-offs with cloud many businesses are now moving towards a hybrid approach. Central to this is the data centre, whether on-premises or co-located, the modern data centre needs to provide a platform that is secure, agile to change and able to integrate with multi-cloud environments.

Over the last few years, blockchain has developed quickly as businesses look for ways to take advantage of this powerful yet still largely immature technology. In fact, it’s been estimated that blockchain will create $3.1T in business value by 20301.

AI and machine learning have also created an explosion of major breakthroughs in the enterprise. Today, no modern technology is complete without an AI (or an AI plan), with IDC reporting global spending on cognitive and AI systems is expected to reach $77.6 billion in 20222, in order to better leverage the tsunami of data being created.

As more and more of these applications become mainstream and the volume of data expands, the data centre becomes business critical infrastructure in the fight to stay relevant.

The challenges of data centre management

The number of technologies now used to manage physical, virtual, on-premises, and cloud has ballooned increasing in complexity and operational costs. But there’s more: numerous vendors, multiple security policies, minimal data visibility, and limited performance monitoring are preventable barriers which are consistently placed in the path of creating a coherent data centre strategy.

It’s worth saying again, legacy infrastructure simply can’t handle the growing demands of digital transformation, and the problem is only getting worse.

What is data centre modernisation?

Infrastructure has shifted from traditional on-premises physical servers, to virtual workloads and serverless apps that spread across infrastructure pools in a multi-cloud environment. This has changed the way data centres operate – because our data has no centre! Today, data is created, processed and used in a distributed way, meaning your architecture also has to extend across multiple public and private clouds, and all the way to the edge of the network.

And at the heart of this new approach? The application. Application requirements must be understood and defined as policies. These application policies define how the app should work, the services required, how clouds and on-premises infrastructure need to operate to support and secure the app – irrespective of wherever it’s located.

When you consider the average enterprise uses 1,516 cloud apps (40 times what they typically think)3, not having a scalable approach to application management can have dire consequences.

5 core functions of a modern data centre:

  • Workloads must be able to be moved from on-premises to cloud, or from cloud-to-cloud without support teams needing to learn another cloud platform or undertake the task of manually rebuilding a new cloud tenancy (think networks, routers, load balancers, compute, storage, etc.)
  • Security must move with the app. No more monolithic access lists, firewall rules, or having to worry about the risk of unintended policy interactions. Delaying business projects because you’re waiting for the security change approval board to review the complex security policies should be a thing of the past.
  • Private cloud needs to act like public clouds, with servers, switches, storage, and local services configured to meet the application requirements based on policies, and without error-prone, manual configuration by the support team.
  • Issue management should be proactive. Cloud-driven analysis should identify potential application and infrastructure issues throughout your multi-cloud environment and make proactive suggestions based on lessons-learned from customers around the globe.
  • Lastly, it should go without mention that app deployments need to be fast and ensure businesses maintain a competitive edge with the ability to rapidly take new offerings to market.

The role of the software-defined network

It’s a term that’s been around for years, often entangled with a perception of cost and complexity. Today however, the software-defined network (SDN) has become an increasingly attractive proposition, thanks in part to its critical role in data centre modernisation. Where traditional networks are built around the network infrastructure, including switches and routers, being statically configured to support all the applications, a software-defined network allows the user to provision, manage, and configure virtual networks based on per-application policies, rather than interacting with physical infrastructure. The provisioning of your on-premises network becomes much like a cloud environment.

Why is it only now starting to gain real traction?

  1. Organisations are finding that it is no longer practical to individually manage multiple production environments across cloud and on-premises. SDN provides the ability to programmatically automate network configurations; not only does this dramatically improve reliability, but it also offers organisations the ability to grow and scale when needed.
  2. Whilst it was once deemed a considerable effort to implement SDN as part of a wider data centre modernisation strategy, today leading vendors like Cisco have simplified implementation making it a much more attractive deployment proposition.
  3. Automated provisioning and policy-based management of network resources allows IT operations to deliver consistent security policies across on-premises and cloud environments. In a total reversal of traditional network management, SDN isn’t an infrastructure-up approach, it’s an application-down approach. Policies aren’t linked to the network or its location, they are linked to the business intent, business applications, and the business data.
  4. Centralised visibility of the network topology, network elements and their operation provides enterprises with the tools required to enable an application, or address a task, with flexibility and agility – now in minutes, rather than days and weeks. In addition, this increased visibility allows IT to avoid over or under-provisioning resources; both of which can have a significant impact on the bottom line.

With these compelling features in mind, it’s not hard to see why descriptors like intent-based data centre are beginning to challenge the traditional software-defined networking tag. You can read more about legacy WAN, SD-WAN and the big software-defined difference, in this blog.

Starting the modernisation journey

For any enterprise looking to maintain the all-important competitive edge, data centre modernisation offers a valuable and viable path to revitalising legacy systems. Most important, its reinvention opens new doors in the continual pursuit of digital innovation.

Data#3 is the safe pair of hands your organisation needs when considering a data centre modernisation project. As a proud Cisco Master Partner and the current Partner of the Year for Cisco ANZ, our experienced team is in the best position to help you achieve your unique business objectives.

Whether you’re looking to start with a Shadow Data Audit to quickly identify your risky data and cloud applications, or want to complete a free digital network readiness assessment to understand how digital-ready your organisation is, reach out to our expert team today to take the first steps on your modernisation journey.

1. Gartner (2019). Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2019. [Online] Available at: https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/gartner-top-10-strategic-technology-trends-for-2019/
2. Businesswire (2018). Worldwide Spending on Cognitive and Artificial Intelligence Systems Forecast to Reach $77.6 Billion in 2022. [Online] Available at: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180919005045/en/Worldwide-Spending-Cognitive-Artificial-Intelligence-Systems-Forecast
3. Symantec (2018). 2018 Symantec Shadow Data Report. [Online] Available at https://resource.elq.symantec.com/LP=4717

Tags: Cloud, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Cisco, Networking, Data Centre, Enterprise Networks, Data Centre Infrastructure, Software-defined Networks (SDN), Digital Transformation, Project Services, Software-defined Networking (SD-WAN), Network Infrastructure

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