As our businesses become increasingly digital, we tend to think about technology in non-physical terms. Our IT infrastructure becomes “the cloud.” Our servers and storage become “virtual.” Our networks become “software-defined.”
The reality, however, is that information technology (IT) always depends on physical infrastructure. Without hardware, there is no software. So to lose sight of technology’s physical realities is to jeopardize the wisdom with which we manage its physical underpinnings. And unwise management of those physical underpinnings leads to both higher operational costs and higher operational risks.
In fact, the great irony of virtualization is that it makes the physical realities of IT infrastructure even more important by dramatically increasing the density and scale of workloads in the data center and by dramatically increasing the consequences of physical infrastructure failures.
This white paper addresses five key aspects of IT that are inextricably tied to computing’s physical realities, even as that computing becomes more virtualized, software-defined, and cloud-based:
By diligently addressing these physical realities, data center managers can better enable the organizations they serve to succeed in an increasingly tech-centric world while they continue to pursue the evolving opportunities offered by virtualization, the cloud, and software-defined IT infrastructure.
Whether you’re managing massive amounts of capital or making it easy for people to flag a ride downtown, your business depends on software and data. That’s why companies are making massive investments in Agile development, Big Data, and other disciplines that help them get the upper hand when it comes to digital customer engagement and analytic insight.
However, every organization’s ability to successfully use software and data in any form including databases, transaction processing systems, mobile apps, and IoT networks depends on healthy, efficient underlying physical infrastructure. In fact, the more your business depends on software and data, the more it depends on the uninterrupted physical flow of electrons across silicon chips, spinning disks, solid-state media, and network cables made of copper or optical fiber.
The physical realities of computing thus absolutely constrain business performance in several specific ways, including:
You can’t compute without power. So it’s essential to deliver the right power to every device all the time. This has become a non-trivial engineering challenge as virtualization intensifies power demands and as next-generation infrastructure including high-density OCP servers, converged systems, and DC-powered drives—introduce greater variability into power requirements across the data center.
Computing equipment generates a lot of heat, especially as data centers get denser. It is thus essential to always apply sufficient cooling everywhere across your data center infrastructure to avoid the overheating that can cause equipment failure while also avoiding wasteful overcooling. It is also essential to protect your equipment from other threats such as excessive humidity, vibration, and airborne particulates.
Disks crash, fans short out, and power supplies fail. So physical equipment requires physical service. These tasks must be performed quickly and reliably by authorized technical staff so as not to excessively consume their limited time. Again, this is a non-trivial challenge given the increasing density of equipment in the data center as well as the way the relationship between that equipment and the critical IT services it supports keep becoming more dynamic and complex.
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.
SOUND PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE FOR DIGITAL BUSINESS SUCCESS
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.
Business leaders have historically thought of physical data center management as a tactical challenge for IT. But as the business itself becomes more pervasively software- and data-centric, this is no longer the case. The underlying physical infrastructure of every business now directly impacts the business in five critical ways.
Technology costs money to acquire and operate. At one time, these costs were a relatively small percentage of overall business spending. As the work of building, marketing, selling, and supporting products and services is increasingly done with software and data, however, technology costs have become more significant.
And those costs can’t be measured by IT budgets alone. Many groups outside IT now engage in their own initiatives around applications and analytics. These groups bear the “above the line” costs for their initiatives. But “below the line,” such initiatives continue to drive physical infrastructure costs through workloads that drive consumption of server, storage, and network capacity.
Physical infrastructure drives costs in three main ways:
Data center infrastructure management best practices significantly reduce these costs by ensuring that power, people, and floor space are used with maximum efficiency. At large enterprises, these savings can be substantial. Improved data center economics is important to small-to-midsize enterprises as well since their costs are proportionally greater due to lesser economies of scale. And for service providers, these savings translate directly into increased profitability (see Service Provider Challenge section).
As businesses become increasingly dependent on technology, the risks associated with physically-based failure of their technology infrastructure become more problematic. Data center downtime no longer just costs companies a bit of employee productivity. It halts revenue, jeopardizes long-term customer relationships, and can badly undermine brand value.
Every business’s financial well-being is contingent on the physical well-being of its data center infrastructure. But here are just a few key threats to consider:
Businesses are more likely than ever to suffer loss of power to the data center due to an extreme weather event.
Business activity is threatened by many other risks as well: HVAC failure, flooding due to extreme weather or broken pipes, tremors and earthquakes, etc. So every business must take appropriate steps to mitigate these risks based on both their probability and their financial impact on the business.
Growth is an almost universal business goal. But, as any experienced business leader can tell you, growth presents its own set of challenges—especially if it happens quickly. And as business growth increasingly requires companies to grow their IT operations, data center managers must increasingly be prepared to scale infrastructure capacity.
This operational scalability is closely tied to physical factors, including:
HOW DO DATA CENTER SAVINGS IMPACT THE BUSINESS?
Data center savings appear insignificant when viewed only as a percentage of total corporate spending. [e.g. 3% reduction of an IT budget that represents 6% of total corporate spending = .0018%]
The significance of data center savings is better reflected in how it frees IT budget for innovation. [e.g. shifting 3% of IT spending from the 85% currently allocated for “keeping the lights on” (KTLO) to the 15% currently allocated for innovation represents an increase of 20%]
Many businesses and IT decision-makers are attempting to insulate themselves from these scalability issues by using the cloud which promises elastic, adaptable IT capacity. The cloud alone, however, is an insufficient scalability solution for most organizations. That’s in part because most organizations for a variety of reasons cannot run all their systems in the cloud and in part because the economics of the cloud are often not very favorable when it comes to extended growth.
CLOUD MAKES DATA CENTER INTEGRITY EVEN MORE CRITICAL
As enterprises embrace cloud, data center integrity remains critical and may become even more so because uninterrupted access to external resources depends on healthy network infrastructure.
Technology change nowadays entails more than just mere expansion of scale. Businesses also have to nimbly adopt new technologies as they become available and as they become relevant to the business. These technologies can include solid-state storage systems that dramatically improve performance over traditional spinning disks, specialized security appliances, and converged systems that provide tight integration between purpose-configured compute, storage, and network components.
IT staff must be able to accommodate the accelerating flow of these infrastructure technologies in and out of the data center. This flow puts pressure on all aspects of data center infrastructure management already mentioned above—including power, cooling, and monitoring. Converged infrastructure in particular can add to data center density since it packs more components, power supplies, etc. into a smaller form factor.
It is also important to note that business agility can include scaling down as well as scaling up. So when periods of lower infrastructure utilization occur, IT staffs have to be able to detect and act on opportunities to consolidate VMs, power down devices, etc. in order to save on operating costs.
Cybersecurity is a central concern for every organization today. Security breaches cannot only halt operations, interrupt sales, and cause irreplaceable data loss. They can also do permanent harm to customer relationships and brand reputation.
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.
IT service providers come in all shapes and sizes: traditional colo/hosting facilities, cloud-based infrastructure and platform solutions (IaaS and PaaS), pure-play SaaS, and a growing ecosystem of vendors providing databases, analytics, security, and more on an on-demand basis.
From a purely physical perspective, these service providers face the same challenges as enterprises. They have to optimize power efficiency, keep equipment cooled, mitigate risks, and adapt to constantly changing requirements.
There are, however, three reasons why service providers need to be especially diligent when it comes to optimizing the physical management of their data center facilities:
For these reasons and others, service providers need to be even more diligent about optimizing physical management of their facilities.
Given the impact of physical infrastructure on business success, what steps should business leaders take? How can data center owners best act to optimize the physical fitness of their enterprise infrastructure?
While a complete inventory of data center best practices is beyond the scope of this paper, here are three actions every company can take immediately to address the physical realities of business in an increasingly tech-centric world:
Simply put, businesses that take their physical infrastructure for granted 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. That’s why 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.
Raritan, a brand of Legrand, is a trusted provider of rack power distribution units, branch circuit monitors, transfer switches, environmental sensors, KVM-over-IP switches, serial console servers, and A/V solutions for data centers and IT professionals. Established in 1985 and based in Somerset, N.J., Raritan has offices worldwide serving customers in 76 countries. In more than 50,000 locations, Raritan’s award-winning hardware solutions help small, midsize, enterprise, and colocation data centers to increase efficiency, improve reliability, and raise productivity. And provide IT departments with secure, reliable remote access tools needed to manage mission-critical environments. For more information, visit us at Raritan.com.