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Virtualisation: is your business really ready?

By Simon Pamplin – Brocade SE Director, UK and Ireland.


Date: 4 Jun 2012

An organisation’s ability to enhance agility, reduce costs, and improve efficiencies hinges on building a powerful yet flexible IT infrastructure that gives employees the tools and information they need to react quickly to changing market conditions.

Many are turning to virtualisation technologies (creating a virtualised data centre) in an effort to build pools of flexible server and storage resources that can not only meet dynamic business requirements, but also help them consolidate resources, save on capital expenditure, reduce operational costs – e.g. stats like “for every pound spent on hardware, three are spent to support it”, and “virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) can cut the cost of ownership by as much as 50 per cent, make this a highly compelling proposition – and improve management for their server and storage infrastructure.

This sounds great; the virtualised data centre delivers a plethora of benefits, but how can you successfully achieve this? There is a lot more to it than simply phoning a software vendor and asking for help.

The foundation layer – the network – plays a vital role in the virtual data centre. Ignore this at your peril. The network infrastructure provides the performance, availability and mobility required in a virtual environment, but there are a myriad of challenges to overcome before conquering virtualisation.

The first is performance: if organisations look at the data centre as a supply chain (each layer working in tandem to produce and deliver a product), they can start to understand that making the compute environment faster and more efficient doesn’t necessarily make the entire process of delivering information to end users faster and more efficient.

Secondly, organisations are also finding it expensive to deploy new infrastructure that is flexible enough to deliver the benefits of virtualisation, having invested heavily in building existing data centres. Added to which, interoperability issues make it hard to deploy a flexible infrastructure that is capable of supporting multiple platforms and protocols.

Then there is the complexity. Virtualised environments are inherently complicated, relying on the constant movement of resources to meet changing traffic levels. While virtualisation certainly reduces the physical number of hardware devices, the connections between servers, networking components, and storage become much more complex.

Having said all this, the most pressing issue facing data centre managers when considering the deployment of virtualisation technologies is that of the network. Why? Let’s take, for example, the various forms of VDI – such as server-based, client-based, terminal services, and application streaming – which all pose different requirements of the network.

The weightiest and most common factors are typically those of latency, resilience, and availability. Most companies will go for server-based VDI, where the application data and operating system (OS) reside on a remote server in a data centre, providing high levels of data security. However, this also requires a network that is “always on”, along with levels of high bandwidth and low latency. A network that doesn’t deliver this essentially kills any virtualisation strategy at birth….

Evolution is the key
It’s clear that the network must evolve to support virtualisation. It must be simple, scalable and resilient, and ready for the cloud (or ‘cloud-optimised’). Classical Ethernet topologies don’t offer this, so to achieve the virtual data centre organisations need to look to the future – look to Ethernet Fabric technology.

Over the decades, Ethernet has evolved as user demands have changes. With the rapid expansion of the IT industry into new areas, such as virtual machines and Cloud Computing, traditional Ethernet’s limitations (such as its loss-y nature) proved problematic. In time, like the evolution of the Walkman to the iPod and VCR to Blu-Ray, Ethernet has evolved into Ethernet Fabric, after more than three decades. Ethernet Fabrics, which represent the next step in the evolution of Ethernet solutions, are purpose-built for the new virtualised, cloud-optimised data centres.

Ethernet Fabric technology can deliver flatter networks, eliminating manual configuration while providing non-disruptive, scalable bandwidth within the fabric. In essence, they provide higher levels of performance, utilisation, availability, and simplicity, while reducing operational cost. With the increased mobility that Ethernet Fabrics provide, companies can adequately prepare for a highly virtualised, cloud environment, continuing to power better efficiency in the data centre while driving down costs and maximising revenue. Ultimately allowing virtualisation to extend out of the data centre and expand functionality all the way to the desktop.

Ethernet Fabrics represent the next step in the evolution of Ethernet solutions – they are purpose-built for the new virtualised, cloud-optimised data centres and need to be at the forefront of any strategy to introduce virtualisation on a large scale if it is to deliver on its full IT and business potential.




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Tags: Server Virtualization, Storage Virtualization, I/O Virtualization, Network Virtualization, Desktop Virtualization, VMware, Hyper-V, Citrix, RedHat

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