Views from the Marketplace are paid for by advertisers and select partners of MIT Technology Review.
Scalable Cloud Infrastructure Transforms the Data Center
There’s no question about it: information technology is changing faster than ever before, and organizations of all types and sizes are scrambling to keep up. Today, businesses spend about 70 to 80 percent of their annual IT budgets on items that just keep their systems running, according to research firm IDC.
Nowhere is that strain felt more than in enterprise data centers, which need to store, process, and manage the high volumes of data that organizations create. Whether they’re exploring how to leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) or managing the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, companies that cling to the traditional three-tier data center architecture are likely to find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, because that architecture can’t keep up with the amount of data created or the associated need for flexible, agile storage.
Every minute, end users create 200 million e-mails, download 50,000 apps, and upload hundreds of hours of video, notes Don Frame, Data Center Group brand director, Lenovo North America. Meanwhile, end users increasingly are circumventing IT to meet their own needs—a practice known as the dreaded “shadow IT,” which can result in security breaches and regulatory noncompliance.
For example, if a company’s IT department can’t provide a secure yet convenient file-sharing platform, employees may turn to consumer-grade sharing services that can jeopardize the security of organizational data. Such IT consumerization puts even more pressure on IT staff; consequently, IT departments need to transform how they design and deploy infrastructure.
The Case for Cloud Deployment
A scalable cloud infrastructure changes the way IT services are delivered to end users. The cloud deployment model provides an infrastructure that grows or recedes based on demand, opening the door for data center automation to automatically shift workloads from overburdened clusters to underutilized assets.
Among the biggest benefits of cloud-based infrastructure is its ability to rapidly deploy infrastructure and accelerate time to value, Frame says. In the traditional hardware-defined model, a new data-center project can take up to a year to design, because it requires pulling together unique, discrete hardware entities. However, that doesn’t fly with burgeoning data volumes. “Traditional infrastructure is often so complex that most of the IT budget is spent maintaining the status quo, not innovating or creating new products,” Frame says.
Still, IT can be a business enabler. Think of the ride-sourcing service Uber, whose entire business is, essentially, based on IT. The company has no fleet of cars, just the supply-and-demand technology needed to provide a service to connect drivers and passengers. “Uber is a specific example of how IT can be a business growth engine, not just the back end no one wants to talk about,” Frame points out.
In Frame’s view, IT either holds companies back or enables them to compete. Companies in the Fortune 100 once occupied spots on that list for decades, but now they’re lucky if they stay at the top for 15 years. That volatility reflects the pace of change in the industry, Frame says: “The companies that can transform and reinvent themselves, quickly change, and become more flexible and agile can survive and thrive.” That means IT decisions should now be made only two to three years out, rather than taking the long-term, 10-year view as was common in the past.
In 2014, 80 percent of CEOs surveyed ranked growth initiatives among their top five strategic priorities—but only 40 percent included IT-related initiatives among their top priorities, according to Gartner. Because IT is a huge business enabler, the next logical step for the department is to make the business case for the cloud. A scalable cloud data center will help support those growth initiatives, laying a flexible foundation.
Today, IT teams need to break down the old ideologies of hardware and seize the opportunities offered by cloud deployment. Storage, server, and networking teams will need to come together to learn new ways of deploying and managing infrastructure. “We’re going to need innovative thinking for the people that maintain and operate the data centers,” Frame says. That means viewing IT as a single unit, rather than as individual teams, and looking for ways to deploy services to end users quickly. Instead of ordering racks of servers, separate networking equipment, and different boxes for storage, it’s time to think about deploying all three via the same machine using software—hence, the software-defined data center.
The software-defined data center is the foundation for building a scalable cloud infrastructure. Software itself is the biggest, most important innovation in the data center, taking disparate systems and turning them into a single, powerful component. This innovation, known as software-defined convergence, eliminates the need for discrete hardware resources used only for storage, as servers, or for networking, and clusters them together. It removes complicated networking from the equation, pools hard drives together, and looks like an enterprise storage-area network (SAN). Ultimately, it simplifies the process of purchasing, deploying, and maintaining IT resources.
Software-defined convergence is analogous to the smartphone. “Back in the day, we used to wear utility belts at work with a phone, PDA, pager, and calculator,” Frame says. Now all those devices are software defined and reside on one device, much like software-defined convergence has transformed the data center.
Providing Choices to Customers
Eventually, in a Lenovo data center, every device could be built on one type of server. Everything might look identical, but software would enable the devices to handle storage, servers, and networking, as well as high-end computing tasks.
When it comes to cloud infrastructure, Lenovo offers its customers choices. The company isn’t burdened with legacy systems, which allows Lenovo to innovate and partner with software vendors to deliver flexible and scalable cloud infrastructures to its customers. This also means that customers aren’t locked into a proprietary solution. Lenovo has partnered with Red Hat for open-source cloud infrastructure, Nutanix for hyperconvergence, and Juniper Networks for software-defined networking.
Being legacy free enables these partnerships, leading to cloud-optimized systems with large memory capacities, superior performance, and flexible storage from solid state to high-capacity disks. Building on top of this innovative foundation, Lenovo is providing turnkey infrastructure for private and hybrid clouds that set up, scale, and become operational quickly.
“We give our end customers a lot more choice so they can transform their data centers as they see fit,” Frame says. For example, Lenovo has partnered with Red Hat to provide customers with an open source platform to avoid being locked into an expensive solution that doesn’t fit. “We’re focused on what we do best, and we partner with software companies that know what they do best. This accelerates the pace of innovation for our customers.”
To learn more about how Lenovo is transforming the data center—and how it plans, implements, and supports every deployment—visit Lenovo’s data-center innovation website.
Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.Subscribe today