When we first mooted the idea of consolidating our entire IT estate to a single vendor’s solution, my team reacted with understandable trepidation.
A single point of failure, a single source of innovation, a unified point of vulnerability, and a feeling that we may be tied down to one supplier for future maintenance and upgrades. What was the upside?
We had to work that through as a team. We had a clear set of drivers that led us to evaluate converged infrastructure in the first place – the need for increased agility, reduced complexity and improved scale, performance and availability from our IT.
For example, being the organisation that distributes the Barclays Premier League
across the world in HD while also providing the encoding, encryption and satellite capacity to support the delivery of the world’s most watched football league takes some serious computing power. As we worked through our evaluation, we were able to quickly discount some of the objections made.
The benefits of unifying the infrastructure and management planes for IT cannot be overstated. The impact is transformative: simply put, deploying a converged infrastructure has allowed us to move from thinking about maintenance to thinking about innovation, and how technology can support our broader business objectives like working more collaboratively, improving customer satisfaction and making Arqiva a great place to work.
Our legacy infrastructure, as is the case in many businesses, grew organically to meet business needs. Whether it was a new application that called for new server technology or a successful customer service launch that meant we had to reassess our network requirements, we had to look at the impact different cycles will have on our existing infrastructure, and more importantly the impact it would have on a team that increasingly became stretched too thin.
While still in the infancy of our relationship with VCE, a company formed by Cisco and EMC (with investments from Intel and VMware), we are already starting to see many of the benefits of converged infrastructure stem.
By working with an integrated platform rather than multiple technology stacks, we have the scale needed for our most demanding applications whilst we’re still able to “spin out” small-scale computing environments for business applications such as IPTV and MiView.
The entire process of deploying infrastructure is simpler and easier: planning, purchasing, installation, upgrades, troubleshooting, performance management, and vendor management.
So too are the business-critical processes around security and continuity. And we gain a highly governed and controlled IT estate with low per-unit commodity costs – giving us tremendous efficiency and scale.
Myth 1: Converged infrastructure constrains innovation
This myth centres on the idea that with a best-of-breed approach, you end up with the multiple and varied innovation programmes of individual vendors. In theory this approach might hold water, but in the debate around converged infrastructure it falls short.
We actually anticipate far greater technological innovation than we would expect to see if we had to deal with multiple vendors. Cisco, EMC and VMware are technology companies that are ahead of the game individually and seem to be funding constant innovation focussed at keeping VCE’s platforms ahead of the industry.
These innovations are pre-tested to work seamlessly, delivered via VCE that guarantees us reliability and compatibility – a significant challenge when rolling out best of breed innovations in a heterogeneous IT environment, where one wrong upgrade could throw your entire infrastructure into disarray.
Just as importantly, the simplicity in the management plane of converged infrastructure makes it easier for business to innovate for themselves in a number of powerful ways.
For example, if our software developers have computing environments on demand they can experiment more, prototype more, and discover other solutions. This all takes time; when IT isn’t purely focused on maintaining a platform it has more room to experiment with other innovations.
For example, we are now running a smart-metering environment on Vblock systems – a totally new solution which we were able to stand-up quickly and which requires the high scalability VCE’s converged infrastructure provides.
This wouldn’t have been possible without the technological innovation and superiority a converged infrastructure can bring.
Myth 2: Converged infrastructure requires an ‘all or nothing’ approach
As briefly mentioned, one of the myths that we’ve had to work towards dispelling was that any move towards convergence meant operating in an homogenous environment, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Converged infrastructure does not require the immediate replacement of all existing infrastructure resources. On the contrary, in its initial stages, convergence can focus exclusively on using existing resources through consolidated management and automation.
Every organisation starts its move to next-generation infrastructure at a different point, driven by different workloads, yet facing similar pressures to establish efficiency, agility and control.
We see convergence as a journey, rather than a specific destination – you don’t have to move everything in one fell swoop. We’ve begun our own journey by making sure we had an IPTV-ready infrastructure that was available in the coming months.
The IT estate we have has to be exploited to spin up the server technology in double-quick time – hence why we’ve worked with VCE to build a new data centre.
Myth 3: Legacy applications don’t play well with converged infrastructure
We also had to dispel the idea that converged infrastructure doesn’t interoperate with legacy applications – if there’s a need to tactically deploy other systems to complement the stack for any reason, it’s obviously possible.
But crucially, the platform is inherently built for scale in a virtual compute context – allowing us to spin up capacity effortlessly to respond to pressures from across the business that support departments initiatives, running whatever legacy operating systems we need to support older applications.
Our IT infrastructure has been built from a massive portfolio of legacy applications that deliver the same – or similar – functionality. We’ve built an IT strategy that gives special consideration to these systems and also their value to the business.
Having a converged infrastructure in place has meant that we at least have a roadmap for phasing applications to the new technology platform.
The move to convergence comes from well-understood business drivers – efficiency, scale, availability, etc. In a context where businesses are gearing up for growth once again, we cannot have a case in which “computer says no”.
IT has to deliver innovation rather than maintenance and I believe, based on our experience, that converged infrastructure is the only option available to a strategic CIO.