Pursuing the Modern Data Center: A Buy-Not-Build Approach

In today’s fast-moving, software-driven technology world, even die hard techies don’t find it compelling to build their own computer systems out of their favorite components like they did a decade ago. Today, it makes more sense to buy a laptop or desktop ready-made to run the latest software without customization. The same can be said for companies pursuing the modern data center.

That’s why Dell Technologies is taking a buy-not-build approach to transitioning our data centers to the cloud as legacy Dell and EMC converge in a single modern data center effort.

Historically, both Dell and EMC have been working to virtualize and optimize their data centers, with a current combined virtualization level of about 77 percent.  We are continuing those efforts with a plan of reaching 100 percent virtualization near-term. But our overall goal is to transition beyond virtualization to the cloud, where we can leverage the agility, elasticity, resiliency and dynamic characteristics of a truly modern, software-defined data center.

To unlock those cloud capabilities, we are pursuing an infrastructure strategy that takes advantage of hyper-converged and converged infrastructure on top of which we will adopt Dell EMC Enterprise Hybrid Cloud (EHC) as our cloud platform to provide software-defined capabilities. This will allow us to give our users the flexibility to use self-service capabilities to consume infrastructure and guide their choices with monitoring, metering and reporting capabilities—Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

Converged and hyper-converged technology

At the heart of our infrastructure strategy is the ongoing deployment of converged infrastructure (CI)—pre-engineered and integrated blocks of compute, storage and network that maximize efficiency with a predefined combination of hardware and software—and hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI)—an even more tightly integrated infrastructure designed for smaller workloads.

Legacy EMC has already deployed some of these technologies in its data centers, using VMware infrastructure. Dell has launched a Proof of Concept to bring those capabilities to its data centers as well.

For HCI, we are using VxRack System technology, which is a hyper-converged rack scale engineered system purposely designed to enable quick deployment of IaaS and private cloud architectures. For CI, we are using VxBlock,  an enterprise-class, pre-engineered system integrating compute, network, storage and virtualization technologies. And we are also using VxRail, a fully integrated, preconfigured and pretested VMware hyper-converged appliance.

Prior to this strategy, Dell had been using piece parts of data center infrastructure to build a more modern data center, spending time and resources to engineer our solutions. We are now looking to take advantage of all of the engineering efforts our cloud team has put into developing these pre-packaged cloud solutions to move forward to a software-defined data center.

While putting these new technologies into the legacy Dell data centers will require some realignment of technologies, we expect to begin deploying VxBlock, VxRail and VxRack in the next several quarters. We will also expand deployment of these technologies in legacy EMC data centers.

Expanding this new technology in our data centers across the company will be a natural process as older infrastructure reaches its end-of-service lifespan. We will not build anything legacy going forward but will only use software-defined infrastructure to keep expanding our cloud capabilities.

At the same time, we are shifting our processes to consume more software-defined infrastructure, leveraging automation through management software.

Our EHC is an end-to-end management framework that is fully packaged, tested and validated by EMC to ensure that the various software components of our evolving data center will work together.  That means when upgrades occur, we won’t have to wonder if a version of software A works with software B. We already have pre-created templates for EHC for those kinds of deployments which we’ll just have to go and customize for our needs.

Modern Data Center Architecture

What will we gain?

The benefits of moving to software-defined infrastructure are substantial. Let’s look at one example.

Let’s say I wanted to create an application that requires a load balancer in front of it. The typical process is that I would submit an infrastructure request for five virtual machines with servers on them, storage associated with them, IP addresses and also a load balancer configuration that has all those five servers together. An IT technician would process that request and manually create the VMs.  At the same time, a ticket would be generated to the load balancer team to create the load balancer for those five servers.

This process currently takes ten days, two weeks, or even three weeks, depending on the complexity of the solution. But if we had a truly software-defined infrastructure, we could automate the rules that govern fulfilling such a request and then implement those changes at the software level instead of at the physical level itself.

The process of creating five VMs with a load balancer would be a matter of a few second versus those many days.

Dell and EMC have about 2,600 to 2,700 apps total, most of which could be moved to the cloud platform to gain these kinds of efficiencies.

Besides gaining such speed and agility, the transformation would cut operational costs due to the ease of introducing new components into a pre-configured system.

Some lessons learned

As we continue to pursue our journey to the hybrid cloud, there are a few lessons I can pass along that your may find helpful:

  1. You need to understand what your workloads are before you make a decision on what kind of infrastructure to purchase. Different cloud technologies work for different workload demands. Typically, VxRack is not suitable for the very large enterprise workload such as SAP.
  2. Plans to modernize your applications are crucial before moving to the cloud. When we talk about IaaS, or cloud capabilities or software-defined, if you applications themselves are not ready to be modernized, just having modern infrastructure doesn’t make sense and will not provide the value you are seeking. It is like having a Ferrari on a country dirt road. You are never going to be able to realize the full potential of that car because the road itself is not ready for it. You have to look at new ways of deploying your apps, including DevOps models.
  3. You can’t force data center modernization. You can’t say ‘my data center is old. I’m going to deploy all new infrastructure and migrate everything.’ The approach should be as the old infrastructure comes to an end, you migrate that capability over to the new infrastructure.

Overall, building a modern data center is a must for large enterprises striving to provide their users with the services they have come to expect in today’s competitive IT service environment. By adopting IaaS and private cloud capabilities, we can compete with the likes of Microsoft Azure and Amazon, who are now setting the bar for such services.

Take a look at Paul DiVittorio, Distinguished Engineer, Sr. Director, Cloud Infrastructure, Dell IT, discuss how Dell IT is modernizing its infrastructure and overcoming the unavoidable challenges of merging two mammoth IT companies.

About the Author: Ujjwal Rajbhandari