Follow Us to the Cloud Using Dell Technology: Our Multi-Year Journey Is Mapping the Way (Dell IT Cloud Journey Series)

If you’re looking to find your way through the complexities of moving from a traditional data center infrastructure to a flexible, agile, cloud-based infrastructure to compete in the digital marketplace, we at Dell Digital invite you to follow us.

Not just because our company is a leader in cloud technology but because our IT organization is in the midst of our own groundbreaking data center transformation using our technology first-hand to navigate the path to modernizing our data center.

Dell Digital—Dell’s IT organization—has been working to converge two very large and very different data center infrastructures into a brand-new set of infrastructure platform services to support our business in the wake of one of the biggest mergers in high-tech history. Our ongoing effort is part of Dell’s evolving strategy to provide consistent infrastructure and operations from the private cloud to the public cloud to the edge.

In this blog series, I will share our emerging roadmap as well as insights and lessons learned that can help guide your cloud journey.

Defining a Destination

Our current transformation journey began with the merger of Dell and EMC in 2016 and the challenge of how to converge two very different data center environments and divergent cloud strategies into a modern set of infrastructure services. We had numerous data centers, more than 3,000 applications, varying levels of virtualization, and different network domains, infrastructure standards and policies. Our first step was to understand what our new strategy should look like. What should we invest in? Where should we divest?

Central to these questions was the fact that our company and the industry were undergoing a digital transformation to meet changing business demands for faster, more flexible IT delivery with standard processes, more efficient architecture and seamless access to multi-cloud.

We began by studying our collective footprint and weighing our resources. We decided to move beyond both Dell and EMC legacy approaches by building a brand-new private cloud infrastructure platform across the combined companies. Our goal was to provide common workload standards, one domain and one process to manage infrastructure. Our infrastructure had to respond to both application and process needs with new and modern capabilities.

The next step was to look at how to build our cloud capabilities. Do we build our virtualized platform the way we did in the past by picking and choosing components—independent servers, storage, networking –and bringing them together? Or do we adopt a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) standard that provides well-balanced, ready-configured compute, networking and storage as building blocks for our cloud? With HCI, IT could focus on creating new services for application teams rather than spending time building core infrastructure.

We chose Dell Technologies Cloud Platform based on HCI and our team used a mix of HCI VMware VxRail technology to leverage servers preconfigured with storage, networking and compute as well as more flexible VxRail derivatives vSAN Ready Nodes and VxFlex.

We implemented a VMware Validated Design, a prescriptive architecture and design that defines hardware, HCI platforms, and software components of the modern software-defined data center. A VMware Professional Services team also provided guidance and help in deploying the infrastructure.

Drinking Our Own Champagne

Like your organization, Dell Digital wanted a highly available, robust and elastic architecture that would accommodate mission-critical workloads, provide end-to-end automated lifecycle management, and reduce our cost per workload. In accordance with Dell’s approach of using our own technology (i.e. drinking our own champagne), we are creating our cloud on Dell hardware using VMware and Dell software.

For the past two years, our Cloud Platform Infrastructure Engineering team has been building the Dell Digital Cloud from the data center floor up— from compute and storage to data protection to the virtualization layer. Our cloud currently has some 90 clusters—groups of infrastructure components hosting specific workloads. That is about 30% of the Dell production environment.

As the infrastructure is deployed, platform teams use VMware automation and orchestration capabilities to enable a much-improved infrastructure platform and application provisioning experience. The software components of our VxRail-based environment include vSAN for virtualized storage and NSX for virtual networking riding on an all-Dell Leaf-and-Spine and Network  Architecture, as well as cloud management and automation with the vRealize Suite.

The initial build out in accordance with Dell Digital use cases is expected to extend over the next several years and will continue evolving indefinitely as our needs change. In the months ahead, the team will begin rolling out the next version of its hybrid cloud environment. It  will extend beyond VMware Validated Design Architecture to fully leverage VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF), which provides integrated cloud infrastructure and cloud management services to run applications in both private and public environments.

Bridging Legacy and the New Cloud World

We are basically building a new infrastructure to host our next-generations workloads. However, it is essential to be able to move our legacy workloads into the modern environment too. You can’t just say “I’m only going to run next generation workloads” and not deal with the legacy.

Dell Digital is using an end-of-life approach to review our legacy applications, determining which are ready to be migrated to the cloud environment. While we have some 3,300 apps overall hosted on 78,000 virtual machines, many of those are actually third-party tools that are not part of our modernization.

Some 400 of our more than 1300 custom-built apps have been singled out for modernization. Of those, more than 100 applications have been rewritten in cloud native framework using Pivotal Platform (formerly Pivotal Cloud Foundry–“PCF”), a turnkey platform for cloud native applications, and about 20 applications have been containerized via Pivotal Container Service.

The Platform-as-a-Service team has built a dozen clusters in the cloud environment thus far to host rewritten apps in cloud native. This enables application owners who decide their apps are suitable for the new format to rewrite their applications and migrate them to our Dell Digital cloud.

Infrastructure-as-a-Service is another option for app owners who don’t want to rewrite their legacy apps but want to take advantage of some cloud features in the new data center environment.

We also use a decision tree to determine if workloads are best hosted on-premise (our most used option) or on a public cloud.  I will discuss more about refactoring and determining host locations for apps in a future blog.

Summary: Results Realized in the Cloud

Deploying a cloud environment using Dell and VMware technology has provided us with infrastructure that has lowered our cost to serve, reduced provisioning time and increased agility. We now measure our ability to deliver workload capabilities in minutes rather than in weeks.

With the automation of many of our processes, we have increased the number of capabilities we offer via self-service, including a number of platform, database, compute, storage, and networking services and more.

Stay tuned for more insights in Part 2 of this blog series, An App and Workload Strategy for the Cloud, regarding our ongoing journey to a cloud operating model and how we are providing IT that runs at the speed of the business. In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about deploying a cloud environment using Dell and VMware technology within your organization, I invite you to contact a Dell Technologies representative.

Which methods is your organization employing to bridge legacy systems and the new cloud world?

About the Author: Kevin Herrin

As Vice President of Dell Digital’s (Dell’s IT organization) Infrastructure Platform & Engineering organization, Kevin Herrin is responsible for global data center, platform, database, public and private cloud, network, voice, and call center telephony infrastructures. He is also responsible for the financial management of those infrastructure platforms. Kevin is a strategic, multi-dimensional technology executive, with a proven track record of delivering profitable growth and organizational impact through large-scale, disruptive technology and its business applications. He is an energetic change agent and visionary respected for his skills in structuring and growing complex teams, operating in chaotic environments, and developing relationships with colleagues, clients and executives. Prior to joining Dell, Kevin was founder and CEO of Technology Pathfinders Consulting, a consulting firm offering client organizations DevOps, Cloud Engineering and Transformation, and Operational Optimization. He has also held a variety of engineering and leadership roles at Virtustream, EMC, VMware and AT&T.