Zen and the art of the new data center

* The new data center: The journey is as important as the destination

It is relatively easy to sell the vision of the next-generation data center: Service-oriented applications running over a virtualized, service-oriented infrastructure. The benefits of agility, lower operational costs, better utilization and rapid application deployment represent motherhood and apple-pie - all good. Unless you're allergic to apples, that is. 

Translating this vision into a series of discreet, incremental steps - a roadmap - is not so easy. Furthermore, selling the roadmap to upper management is a lot harder than selling the end-vision. So, instead of focusing solely on the end-goal, we suggest that each step of the journey can be just as valuable. The next-generation data center is self-fulfilling; each incremental step brings benefits that make it worthwhile long before you reach the final destination.

When "selling" the next-generation data center to upper management, don't try to sell it as a grand vision. The line between visionary and "head in the clouds" is thin. Instead, try to find the incremental return on investment that makes each step worthwhile:

* Storage consolidation and virtualization - This is a great first step, because it pays for itself while bringing you closer to a service-oriented infrastructure. A major network equipment vendor has increased utilization and reduced costs, saving $11 million while managing 4-petabytes of storage with the same team that managed 1-petabyte a few years ago. Meanwhile, it has cut application provisioning from weeks to minutes.

* "Greenfield" first - Don't expect a management mandate to do a "forklift" upgrade of your data center or your critical applications. Start by looking for opportunities to put your mark on data-center expansion or on new data centers. Look for new enterprise applications to introduce service-oriented architecture principles.  The greenfield approach has been very effective for VoIP deployment where "forklift" is also not an option.

* N-tier applications - You don't need to re-engineer all your applications to make them "SOA" compatible. An n-tier Web application - one composed of a front-end presentation layer, an application server and a database, for example - can be migrated to a data center with virtualized computing and storage. The benefits will justify the service-oriented infrastructure without the need to migrate to a fully implemented service-oriented architecture.

You can use self-funding steps in moving your data center towards the next-generation vision. You can gain benefits from running your existing applications on a more flexible computing and storage infrastructure. For example, by using VMWare, a computing-virtualization tool, and VSAN, a storage-virtualization tool, you can take existing applications and make them more reliable, flexible and less expensive to manage. The virtualized infrastructure provides an abstraction layer that converts infrastructure "constraints" (the size and reliability of a storage system) into tweakable attributes (pick a size, pick a reliability level).

Undoubtedly, service-oriented applications can derive even more benefits from such an infrastructure, but you don't have to wait until you have those. As any motorcycle fan will tell you - the journey is as enjoyable as the destination.


Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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