How physical infrastructure can impact data center virtualization

Sanjay Motwani, Regional Director, APAC, Raritan Asia Pacific, Raritan International | Friday, 26 May 2017, 09:10 IST

Our increasingly digital lives have caused data to grow exponentially in terms of scale, complexity and functionality and this has put more pressure on data centers to be more responsive, intuitive and easily accessible. IT managers are under pressure to do a lot more with their budgets and hence are looking to virtualize the workloads. Originally used as a way to improve utilization of physical servers, virtualization has brought with it many benefits such as savings on floor space, power, cooling costs, as well as utilization of existing assets across network, storage devices, and servers.

However, even as businesses around the world become digital, the servers and storage virtual and networks software-defined, the reality is that IT technology will continue to depend on physical infrastructure. Hence, it is important for businesses not to lose sight of their technology’s physical realities. It would be unwise for the data center to ignore those physical underpinnings as it would lead to both higher operational costs and higher operational risks.

Business leaders have historically thought of physical data center management as a tactical challenge for IT. However, as companies become more software- and data-centric, the physical IT infrastructure directly impacts the business in many critical ways. Let’s take a look at some of the physical factors that can directly affect businesses:

Technology Economics: Physical infrastructure drives costs in three main ways: Electricity, labour and floorspace. Electricity costs, which are driven by equipment cooling and UPS devices that ensure business continuity, rise as businesses increase digital engagement with customers. Since the engagement has become 24/7, companies will need IT staff round-the-clock to monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot physical data center infrastructure. Floorspace is a significant cost overhead for data centers, especially outside urban centers. Plus, there is always some percentage of floorspace that is non-productive.

Business Risk: Every business’s financial well-being is contingent on the physical well-being of its data center infrastructure. A major risk to every business is the loss of/or insufficient power to the data center. Besides erratic supply of power, physical disruption of a single networking device can cut a business from all its external IT resources. Another often overlooked aspect is the lack of visibility the IT staff has over all the physical infrastructure components. Every business must take appropriate steps to mitigate these risks based on both their probability and their financial impact on the business.

Operation Scale: As business growth increasingly requires companies to grow their IT operations, data center managers must increasingly be prepared to scale infrastructure capacity. Operational scalability is closely tied to physical factors such as floor/rack density, power distribution and monitoring and intensified cooling requirements. Since the amount of space in any data center is finite, data center managers must make optimum use of existing rack footage. IT managers also need to maintain an accurate documentation of data center assets and cabling as changes occur over time. Critical IT services can be threatened by an inability to deliver sufficient power to devices and hence businesses must have a proper power capacity plan. As power needs grow, it becomes more economically worthwhile to monitor and optimize data center efficiency metrics.

Agility and Innovation: Technology change nowadays entails more than just mere expansion of scale. As new technologies evolve, the IT staff needs to be nimble and agile to accommodate the accelerating flow of such technologies in and out of the data center. Business agility also includes scaling up and scaling down operations. So when periods of lower infrastructure utilization occur, IT staff have to be able to detect and act on opportunities to consolidate VMs, power down devices, etc. in order to save on operating costs.

Security and Compliance: Cybersecurity is a central concern for every organization today. Unfortunately, while IT leaders focus on cybersecurity measures such as authentication and encryption, they often fail to properly address basic physical security in the data center. This leaves businesses vulnerable to data theft via server USB drives, equipment theft, sabotage and other threats. Historical monitoring of physical data center access is also often necessary for regulatory compliance, since auditors may require such documentation as proof that sensitive data was not exposed to unauthorized individuals—and/or that the business has exercised due diligence in preventing same.

Virtualizing a data center’s IT resources can also have certain consequences related to the physical infrastructure. For example, the reduced need for power and cooling capacity as a result of virtualization is well-known. A more overlooked aspect of this consolidation is the possible need for less physical redundancy. Thus, for efficient functioning, good upkeep of the DC infrastructure will keep a highly virtualized data center running with greater reliability, efficiency, and expanded flexibility to meet highly dynamic compute power demand.

These physical aspects of technology management should not be minimized or overlooked. Done right, they enhance the performance of IT and, by extension, the business as a whole. Done wrong, they undermine that performance—with potentially serious adverse consequences to both the top and bottom line. The success of every business is ultimately built on the physical foundation of data center infrastructure—whether that infrastructure is on premise, off-premise, or hybrid.

Data center managers need to keep in mind that changing business requirements should lead to a corresponding re-evaluation of the current physical state of the data center and its inventory. Also, business leaders have to ensure that the physical infrastructure strategy and its KPIs are owned by the right people at the right level of the organization.

Businesses take their physical infrastructure for granted.They spend more, achieve less, and expose themselves to greater risk than those that exercise more diligence in the management of power, cooling, operational efficiency, and security. Hence, every business leader should come to terms with the physical realities of their increasingly technology-centric world—and take the time to ensure that those realities are working in their organization’s favor. In a world of increasing convergence, data center infrastructure is the building block for tomorrow’s virtual world.