Implementation of CI requires commitment and some new thinking, but the rewards are enormous
BANGALORE, INDIA: Organizations across Asia Pacific and Japan are looking to capitalize on opportunities for revenue growth and competitive advantage. To do this they must speed-up innovation, enhance agility and improve financial management. The only way to accomplish these goals is through the use of technology.
However, a December 2011 Forrester Consulting study commissioned by HP and Intel showed that despite recovering from the lows of the 2007 to 2009 global recession, IT organizations are still challenged by budgetary pressures. IT teams are also grappling with the escalating complexity of their operations driven by increased business demand for new systems, as well as rising transaction volumes.
The Forrester study found that IT organizations are primed for solutions that overcome these challenges and help divert resources from maintenance of IT systems to new initiatives that add tangible business value.
Converged infrastructure (CI) addresses these pressures by helping organizations streamline IT management and provide new IT services quickly without stressing their budgets.
Implementation of CI requires commitment and some new thinking, but the rewards are enormous. And the experiences of those who have already made the transition provide a useful blueprint for others who want to do so efficiently and effectively – whatever their business size be.
Action Plan for CI Implementation
Before we get to the “how”, let us be clear about the 'what', 'why' and 'when' of the fastest growing segment of enterprise infrastructure.
Forrester defines CI as a pooled and virtualized combination of servers, edge networking and storage, with built-in virtualization for the physical layer of infrastructure (not to be confused with hypervisor-type virtual machines) and integrated management.
It has proven to offer significant advantages in manageability, energy efficiency, and density – all of which contribute to operating expense savings over conventional infrastructure – and it is just as suitable for a new investment as a major infrastructure refresh.
By integrating formerly disparate elements of network, server and storage management, CI offers relief from two of the big IT challenges: IT sprawl and the need to provide new capacity. In the recent Forrester survey of 200 global enterprise IT decision-makers, it was revealed that around 70 per cent of IT spend goes to just 'keeping the lights on', at the expense of supporting business innovation and growth.
Most importantly, CI offers hard benefits such as cost reduction and business performance, which are front-of-mind for every CIO today. In the same survey, 'budget constraints or cuts' were the number one response when asked what IT challenges had driven their interest in CI.
Significantly – and this gets to the heart of the 'when' question – 27 per cent of the respondents have begun implementing CI and more than half of the rest say they are planning to do so (many within 12 months). To underline CI’s broad application, the companies are involved in everything from manufacturing to banking, education and life sciences and range in size from less than 5,000 employees (41 per cent) to more than 35,000 (12 per cent).
On the strength of the survey responses, Forrester Consulting stated that 'CI capabilities will become increasingly important for many enterprises and that failure to adopt them can impede competitiveness'.
This brings us to the 'how', and some simple steps companies can take as they start the CI journey.
A regular comment from those who have already made a CI investment is that, although they are happy that the promised benefits have been delivered, selecting the right product and vendor was rather daunting. The reason, quite simply, is that the market is still developing and vendor offerings, while often overlapping in terms of basic architecture, are difficult to compare because of differences in capabilities and implementations.
With that in mind, there are four key points to keep in mind. The first is that you have to understand your own requirements. Which features are optional and which are deal breakers? Detailed numerical ratings are less important than stating very clearly what you want your system to do. And the required integration with your current environment must be clearly defined for every potential vendor.
The job of a good vendor is to provide different combinations of desired functions to suit varying needs, but they can not get it right for you if you have not set the framework.
Linked to this is the importance of buying from the primary CI vendor, regardless of what other offers might look appealing in the short term. Installation, configuration and integration services have to be A-class for CI to deliver the best results, and in the case of more comprehensive CI solutions only the primary vendor can deliver. You need a vendor who understands your game as well as theirs.
When you have found the right vendor, do not be afraid to ask about pre-packaged CI solutions. While there might be a strong pull towards taking a step-by-step approach towards infrastructure convergence by standardizing, virtualizing and automating your existing IT environment, do not ignore the cost savings and business value associated with being able to get a pre-packaged solution operational quickly.
And whatever path you choose, allocate ample time and resources for integration and testing. The complexity of CI projects demands timelines that allow you to deal with any surprises that may arise.
The final tip is to prepare for process change. Organizations that make the most efficient transition to CI are the ones that are willing to adjust internal processes to get maximum benefits from their investments.
The groups that are most affected by the implementation of CI are the server, storage, and networking administration groups, which must now redefine their relationships and responsibilities to allow a single set of administrators to assign such things as Media Access Control addresses and World Wide Name mappings to servers. Any major change in process requires careful planning to avoid unnecessary internal friction, which in this case may arise due to the volume of user identifications and assignment responsibilities.
Another affected role is first-line support, which now has to understand the relationship between the centralized management capabilities and the specialized domain expertise of the server, storage, and network groups, and may need additional training in the CI solution.
So some planning is needed, and attention to detail, but the potential – and in the cases of many companies, proven – rewards of CI are there for all to see and experience. Now is the time to be part of the future.
The author is country head, Converged Infrastructure Solutions, HP India.