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Progress report: Building, and managing, the 21st century data center

Multi-hypervisor management, hybrid cloud connectivity, and converged infrastructure implementation ... Data center managers have a lot of deal with nowadays.

By , Network World
March 25, 2013 06:10 AM ET

Network World - Even if you've never heard of Flextronics you have probably used or benefited from one of the products this global digital equipment manufacturer has helped assemble -- a Microsoft Xbox 360, for example, or components that show up in everything from Cisco and Motorola devices to aerospace and automotive equipment.

With 250,000 employees in 30 countries, Flextronics has more than 10,000 servers, about half of which are virtualized in two major data centers - one in the U.S. and the other in Hong Kong - while the rest are scattered across 130 locations around the world. CIO David Smoley - who will soon become CIO of AstraZenca - says his overarching goal is to migrate as much hardware as possible from these individual sites to the data center hubs: "The opportunity to push virtualization to its limits in an effort to improve our ability to supply resources to our users is super important to us."

The opportunity to push virtualization to its limits in an effort to improve our ability to supply resources to our users is super important to us

Smoley and other executives envision a virtual data center nirvana where behind-the-firewall IT resources handle mission critical workloads and a connected secure public cloud provides additional capacity.

Getting there is a challenge, but what's making it feasible is the convergence of multiple technologies. Virtualization has rewritten the rules for compute and is now making waves in storage and networking, and cloud computing and converged infrastructure options are coming on strong. Yet speed bumps abound. IT shops are wrestling with everything from heterogeneous hypervisor environments to concerns about security, reliability, availability, performance and even staffing and expertise. So where are we in getting to that nirvana vision? "It's not a reality yet," Smoley says, "but we're getting close."

[RELATED: 10 network virtualization, SDN and data center companies to watch]

Virtualization and its vices

Forrester virtualization analyst David Bartoletti says 59% of compute workloads are virtualized in enterprise data centers today, up from 45% just two years ago, and climbing to an expected cap of about 80% of workloads in the coming years. "Most of the easy workloads have been virtualized," he says. There will always be some apps that just run better on dedicated hardware, Bartoletti says, but the majority will be virtualized given the cost, efficiencies and agility that abstracting the compute layer from hardware provides.

The virtualization market has undergone dramatic shifts in the past 12 to 18 months. VMware, an EMC company, still dominates the industry, but other hypervisor platforms are making inroads - most notably, Microsoft Hyper-V. Independent analyst Zeus Kerravala found that 20% of VMware customers he surveyed last year were already implementing Hyper-V. This increasingly multi-hypervisor world brings with it new challenges.

For example, VMware's vMotion allows for the transfer of virtual machines and applications from one cluster of virtualized servers to another, but only if they're both running VMware. Transferring active virtual machines across disparate hypervisors requires still more tools. Smoley, for example, is piloting software from HotLink, a 2010-startup by former VMware executives, to manage heterogeneous hypervisor environments across the company's sites around the globe.

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