Archie Hendryx looks at the benefits and challenges of managing multiple IT components through a single support solution.
Many public sector organisations are not changing their ICT legacy systems. As a result, they face increasing number of inefficiencies and challenges. These issues can nevertheless be overcome, and performance increased, by managing these legacy systems within a converged infrastructural environment. This approach can also reduce the risks associated with legacy systems, such as security, missing functionality, increased complexity and operational expenditure
Converged infrastructure simplifies support as it packages multiple IT components from different vendors into one single, optimised computing solution. So it offers end-to-end support unlike reference architectures, which require organisations to deal with a multitude of disparate vendors to gain support. Converged infrastructure removes the need to manage multiple upgrade cycles, offers pre-tested interoperability and release management resources. It enables organisations to centralize the management of IT resources.
A converged infrastructure has pre-configured and pre-tested configurations while reference architectures follow certain guidelines. Converged infrastructures tend to have defined scalability. Reference architectures are completely flexible but they have no defined performance boundaries, making it less predictable than a converged infrastructure.
The components of a converged infrastructure include servers, data storage devices, networking equipment, software for IT infrastructure management, automation and orchestration. A converged infrastructure can be used as a platform for private, hybrid and public cloud computing services: e.g. infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS).
The journey towards operating converged infrastructure should begin by establishing a business case: both technical and commercial goals and objectives such as the ability to deploy new products and services to market much faster than a traditional IT model all so often permits. Reliability, data security and a reduction in infrastructural complexity will no doubt be at the core of your proposition. There may be a number of other factors in play, and many of these could point you towards developing a converged cloud infrastructure because it delivers efficiency, reduces complexity without reducing security.
Tips to improve performance
- Restructure your complex and disparate IT technology-focused silos to a centralised, streamlined and service-oriented converged infrastructure team that will be able to do a lot more a lot quicker. Traditional designs are based on in house and siloed expertise that inevitably introduce risk as success depends on this expertise being shared and correlated between teams prior to building the infrastructure.
Speed to deployment and agility is a key factor with converged infrastructure where new project rollouts can be reduced from months to days. To enhance this, a model that includes a capacity on demand buffer model should be looked at. This enables the public sector to have additional inventory installed in their converged infrastructure for unplanned growth and projects, where the payment of such inventory is only made once it’s consumed. This consequently reduces project delivery times drastically.
Another key factor is the support model, which should provide a single and seamless model. Instead of a dial in number that ultimately sends you to various departments for all the infrastructure components, the support model should be set up to manage and maintain the single product, namely the converged infrastructure. This will consequently reduce the mean time to resolution for the public sector considerably if and when any issues arise.
- Prepare for simplified operations. Converged infrastructure offers the opportunity to simplify and centrally monitor your workloads and capacity management as well as application performance.
- Look to fully virtualise your environment. Converged infrastructures can enable you to immediately consolidate and virtualise your workloads. This provides the flexibility to seamlessly move resources from one virtual machine to another and also avoid vendor lock in should you decide to move to another platform at a later date. Legacy systems can often cause headaches, but with a converged cloud infrastructure an opportunity arises to gain a highly virtualised, optimised, secure and a highly available but also stable platform that will improve performance while enhancing existing services.
- Plan for data protection. Accidental data loss is perceived as the biggest security threat to public sector organisations so a backup and recovery solution that comes pretested and pre-integrated with your converged infrastructure should be a serious consideration.
- Prepare to streamline your security policies. Converged Infrastructures offer the ability to enhance security controls and increase compliance while still offering the benefits associated with cloud. For example instead of complex and costly deployments of physical security infrastructure, virtualised appliances and enterprise software security suites offer the same features but with the added agility of being virtualised.
- Implement a disaster recovery solution. Converged infrastructures offer the ability to quickly standardise the platform specifications between two sites as well as shift away from complex, convoluted and manual failover methods. With pretested and pre-integrated disaster recovery and avoidance solutions, failover and failback processes can be automated tasks that mitigate risk and reduce OPEX costs being introduced when protecting against a disaster.
- Initiate a private cloud strategy. A converged infrastructure removes a lot of the infrastructure challenges associated with deploying a private cloud and offers a standardised and optimised platform that can allow you to focus on designing service catalogues, blueprints, chargeback, billing, approval processes etc. By implementing an integrated self-service provisioning model, the converged infrastructure enables a Private Cloud to be quickly deployed allowing workloads and resources to be provisioned and allocated in minutes.
- Include a strategy to accommodate a software defined data centre (SDDC) approach. Converged infrastructure offerings are already incorporating solutions that enable a SDDC that consequently help free up even more administration time and resources. SDDC extends the benefits of virtualisation by incorporating orchestration, automation and management to core components enabling IT admin to become proactive and subsequently innovative.
Additionally the load sharing and balancing of resources within converged infrastructures and SDDC models allows for higher efficiency and utilisation as well as streamlined infrastructure scalability enabling the business to meet future and unplanned demands in a seamless manner.
The higher availability and testable disaster recovery solutions also allow the business to safeguard against the unnecessary costs and fines associated with unplanned downtime. Ultimately the streamlining of manual and complex processes into functions that are automated and orchestrated allows the business to focus on new initiatives and application delivery and consequently forget about the infrastructure that supports them.
- Establish new internal architectural and compliance standards that cater for converged infrastructure. Instead of having to design, document and adhere to standards for every single component within a traditional infrastructure, converged infrastructures are a comprehensive product. This simplifies internal processes considerably as the standardisation, design, integration, security, availability, support and maintenance of converged infrastructures are already catered for by the vendor.
A converged infrastructure should incorporate a release certification matrix that validates all of the patches, maintenance and upgrades of all of the product’s components throughout its lifecycle. To ensure this compliance an API that can scan, validate, present and monitor the infrastructure as a whole is a necessity. Unless a converged infrastructure includes this it ultimately remains a well-marketed collection of components that will offer little if any advantage over a traditional infrastructure.
Furthermore the converged infrastructure offering should include quality assurance that fully tests and validates all software updates for security and availability vulnerabilities consequently reducing ongoing risks. This will allow public sector organisations to extend their capabilities by integrating additional security and compliance controls to meet their objectives. The key here is that security and high availability is built in at the outset rather than added as an afterthought, ensuring the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the business infrastructure.
- Simplify process management. Change management, incident management, asset management etc. are all processes that can be significantly simplified with a converged infrastructure offering and in most cases automated. For example asset management becomes simplified in that the configuration management database input now replaces thousands of complex components with a single entity that has all of its components supported by a single vendor as a single product. Additionally monitoring, alerting, logging, maintenance, patching and upgrading procedures can all be automated with converged infrastructure, mitigating the risk associated with manual tasks.
With traditional deployments you need to keep patches and firmware up to date with multiple vendors, components and devices which requires internal IT to assess the criticality of each patch and relevance to each platform as well as validate firmware compatibility with other components. This requires costly mirrored Production Test Labs and then also having rollback mechanisms if there are any issues.
Coupled with these risks, the multiple vendors needed to support a traditional infrastructure lead to prolonged resolution times when issues occur. Logging a support call for a traditional infrastructure first needs the identification of who is responsible: this might be the storage vendor, the networking company, the hypervisor or the server manufacturer.
Archie Hendryx is principal vArchitect at converged infrastructure supplier VCE