Gravitational pull

The exponential growth in computing infrastructure over the last decade has turned the home for most of that processing power – the data centre – into a strategic corporate asset. From finance and telecoms to manufacturing and government, the mission-critical business processes of organisations are directly linked to the smooth running of data centres – even as the management of that infrastructure has become evermore complex.

There are some clear drivers behind that complexity, as the latest survey of leading IT decision-makers by  Information Age highlights: in an effort to cut costs, businesses have been centralising their computing assets; the physical infrastructure of many data centres has been pushed to the limits as densely packed racks have been crammed into spaces never designed for their power and cooling requirements; and the number of applications housed in the data centre has continued to expand – often without IT management having much control over their deployment.

Much of the thought leadership on how best to gain a measure of control over such unruly estates has focused on best-practice frameworks such ITIL (the IT Infrastructure Library) and Cobit (the Control Objectives for Information and related Technology framework). But while many European organisations have enthusiastically embraced some of the concepts of ITIL, adoption has tended to be piecemeal, and done on a tactical basis. As the Information Age research demonstrated, such frameworks have tended to be used selectively, rather than as an over-arching enterprise-wide strategy.

However, the ability to provide such an enterprise-wide strategy – whether in whole or just in part – requires the implementation of some fundamental building blocks, including tools for: capacity management, which helps align purchasing and provisioning with historical demand; availability management, which provides a fast response to any degradation of IT performance, as well as the ability to investigate the causes; configuration management, for improving a business’s ability to dynamically react to changes; asset management for tracking both software and hardware assets; and remote access and management to provide offsite control over the IT estate.

As IT advisory group IDC notes, the ultimate goal may be to automate much of that system management using intelligent, rules-based tools. And the Information Age research shows that already some managers are taking tentative steps to introduce automation. However, many of these technologies that support that are still evolving.

Historically, such tools have been implemented to handle the management of specific areas – storage, systems configuration, backup and so on, with limited interoperability between toolsets. Indeed, though it has been talked about for decades, the idea of a unified management console for the data centre is still relatively rare in practice.

The decision to standardise on a single management platform may be daunting one. This is not helped by the extent to which alternative, semi-related products overlap, says Galen Schreck, an analyst at Forrester, “particularly in configuration management”. However, he predicts that integrated suites are likely to become more sophisticated and popular.

While this ‘single pane of glass’ management approach has its benefits, end users need to beware of additional strains on the infrastructure. There can be a ‘performance tax’ on the networking infrastructure needed to support branch offices; as voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony gains acceptance in the enterprise, the risk of network performance degradation increases. The survey shows that skills in VoIP and networking will be at a premium in coming years.

Ultimately, there may be a natural limit to data centre consolidation. Business continuity demands dictate that a single data centre strategy is unlikely to gain acceptance. Moreover, the growth of some data centres may be capped by the availability of local power or become too unwieldy to manage.

For most organisations, though, the data centre will continue to exert its gravitational pull.

Further reading

  • View from the centre
    Data centre consolidation is reshaping the challenges of managing the modern IT infrastructure, Information Age’s latest survey shows.
  • Centrist thoughts
    There is enormous pressure on organisations to centralise their IT, but the resulting concentration of computing power in data centres is proving complex to manage.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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