|Data Center Design|
Data Center Gamble
Technology investments in the area of Data Centers are at an all time high in the region as businesses and IT managers alike spend effort, time in building and consolidating new age Data Centers.
The first part of this series looked at some of the major areas of spend during the initial stages of designing and building a Data Center.
However, much of this desire to buy and implement only the best dwindles as one moves up from the physical infrastructure layer of the Data Center to some of the more sophisticated products, solutions and management areas.
ï¿½The Middle East does adopt a conservative outlook towards aspects of higher technology in the Data Center, especially when it comes to management investments. In many ways, they reflect the trends that were seen in more mature markets about ten years ago,ï¿½ says Rakesh Kumar, research VP for server I&O at Gartner.
There are two parts to this slightly immature attitude towards Data Center technologies, as one goes beyond the basic infrastructure layer. The first is the lowkey interest - and consequently spend - in certain technologies that are seen to be not of immediate relevance. This often includes physical security and storage. The other covers a restrictive mindset that continues to look at the running and maintaining of Data Centers as single points of technology rather than as the several parts of a whole.
Rakesh Kumar, research VP for server I&O at Gartner.
Middle East enterprises are acutely aware of securing their data. There is not a single enterprise that would operate any part of its network without the necessary firewall, IPS and antivirus solutions installed and fully functional. Not often though do they pay equal attention to aspects of physical security.
ï¿½There is a general lack of interest in elements of physical security in the enterprise. Most of the big organisations here are clued into the aspects of digital security, but only around 10% of them realise that protecting the room in which your data resides is as crucial as protecting the data itself,ï¿½ says Gilles Ortega, MENA country manager for Axis Communications.
ï¿½The technology and the ability to deploy appropriate physical security solutions have not been widely available until recently within the region. The regionï¿½s integrators generally have not had the product and deployment knowledge required to assist Data Center managers and designers to understand and solve physical security technology solutions,ï¿½ points out Gary Highton, MD for Mayflex in the Middle East. Another crucial factor is that since the Middle East boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the world, enterprises do not think instinctively of physical security in the Data Centers. The good news though is that the prevailing attitudes are changing and part of this is due to the advancements in physical security technology itself, which is increasingly being tied to backend networks, software and digital security.
ï¿½There are innumerable options for physical security these days. There are access control technologies, which include biometrics and there are networked cameras which help in monitoring and control,ï¿½ adds Ortega.
ï¿½Physical monitoring is now becoming more involved in IP monitoring systems and this can include visual, environmental and equipment condition monitoring ï¿½ covering air-conditioning, UPS, gas systems and flow rates ï¿½ along with access control and power control. Systems can also be tuned to track changes conducted even by approved personnel within the Data Center across the various systems,ï¿½ says Mayflexï¿½s Highton.
Vendors also point out that there is an increase in manufacturers and distributors who can provide appropriate solutions, technical support and necessary training in the areas of physical security in the region. This in turn is expected to help Data Center managers become more aware of the potential issues and lead to a higher investment in the are of physical security.
Gilles Ortega, MENA country manager for Axis Communications.
Store Them Up
Mention storage in the region and almost always you will hear SAN. It is no exaggeration to say that most enterprises look to SAN as the answer to their storage requirements in and out of the Data Center. Though there are a few NAS and DAS structures in the region these are, more often than not, used as complementary elements to a base SAN de-ployment.
Industry vendors point out though that many of the SAN solutions being put in place are being brought in as individual solutions to fill a particular storage need as and when it arises. Moreover, a large part of existing SAN deployments in the region are being grossly mis-managed with regards to capacity, according to vendors.
ï¿½Most enterprises lack proper visibility into their storage environments. One of the rea-sons is that many buy storage from various vendors at different points in time and this makes it difficult to manage all of them as a comprehensive whole. In such a situation, when companies believe they are using close to 80% of storage capacity, in reality they might only be using around 40%,ï¿½ says Omar Dajani, systems engineering manager for Symantec MENA.
A comprehensive and open management platform that is vendor agnostic and goes across various storage solutions, can help enterprises in addressing this perceived overutilisation of storage. Such a console can provide the correct state of storage utilities and help get more out of existing solutions instead of the regular practice of buying more storage to fill the gaps.
Industry vendors point out that this lack of comprehensive management is not restricted to storage solutions alone but extends across the many solutions of the Data Center; a lack, they say, that could endanger the longterm plans and data reliability of Middle East enterprises.
Omar Dajani, systems engineering manager for Symantec MENA.
Talk to any of the big industry vendors on the general topic of Data Center management and you are likely to hear about virtualisation, the crucial necessity of energy management and the importance of keeping data lifecycle in mind while managing a Data Center. Prod them a bit more about regional details and they are likely to tell you a different story.
ï¿½We are still witnessing poor management in Data Centers. Datacentre management evolution has been sluggish in the Middle East,ï¿½ says Michael Caracache, technical support manager and product specialist at AMP NetConnect.
ï¿½The most important part of running a Data Center is end-to-end lifecycle management that would cover availability and performance, change and configuration as well as service. With complex solutions it would be useless to manage per system. In general, most regional Data Centers lag behind in this trend of consolidation and end-to-end management,ï¿½ says Faisal Fouad Aljundi, senior solution architect for telecoms at HP.
Enterprise efforts or absence of the same, in high end information management is tied into another interesting market dynamic ï¿½ the tendency to buy and implement solutions in the Data Center as silo structures.
Cherief Sleiman, chief technologist for the MEA at Cisco Systems says: ï¿½Enterprises here fail to look at the Data Center and its solutions as a business-integrated and overall process. They do not take a comprehensive and well-rounded view of the IT architecture and tend to invest in solutions to address specific needs at specific points.ï¿½
ï¿½Conversely, they should work at understanding the underlying concept of their business, their strategy, the goals they want to achieve over time and build a Data Center which is capable to encompassing and aiding operational efforts towards reaching those targets.
ï¿½When you build with the long term strategic picture in mind, enterprises will get Data Centers that are more manageable, work more effectively and are infinitely more scaleable while getting more investment returns from their IT purchases,ï¿½ he adds.
Kumar from Gartner agrees with Sleiman: ï¿½I have noticed that Middle East enterprises still tend to make a lot of their Data Center buying decisions on the basis of apparent cost. They have a very short term view of IT functions and spend, and buy based on a need as it arises. This affects long term planning and cuts out the ability to look beyond and make decisions.ï¿½
Apart from a mindset that approaches Data Center functioning as a constant evaluation of cost, enterprises also tend to ignore the need for a comprehensive management platform that is device and vendor neutral and provides them a consistent and clear picture of all that is happening across the systems.
Vendors warn that such a constrained view of Data Centers can adversely affect not only management, but also the performance of the enterprise over the years. Moreover, enterprises in the region place a lot of faith in the mechanical and technical survival rate of their investments ï¿½ so much so that they fail to hire the right personnel to man the Data Center facilities.
ï¿½IT investments inside the Data Center are like having a car. You need to give it good service at the right points in time to assure yourself of continued performance levels from the vehicle,ï¿½ says Kumar.
ï¿½Even when the right technical people are hired as part of the IT team to man the Data Center there is no proper linking between facilities management and the IT team. They remain split and there is a clear demarcation between the two groups. This is tied into the fact that energy consumption and management is not given much importance in the region,ï¿½ says Herbert Radlinger, channel manager MEA for Schnabel AG, a global consulting firm for Data Center design.
Add to this a lack of best practice implementation in overall management, and its easy to believe that enterprises might well be waiting for a disaster to happen.
Enterprises in the region only need to look around for some help though. Consultants like Schnabel and most other big vendors, do often render assistance to organisations in setting up the basics of Data Center management and establishing a structure and proc-ess with which enterprises can plan long term without any undue surprises.
ï¿½It is essential for enterprises to consider best practice guidelines such as those set down by the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) and take into consideration more international standards in the running of their Data Centers. More important maybe, they have to address basic issues early such as what kind of a company they are and what they want to be eventually,ï¿½ says Jul Johansen, solutions manager for Dell in the region.
He points out that not only is it necessary for enterprises to get certified on the right standards but that they should put in efforts to continue and follow up on these practices in order to achieve the most benefits. Dell itself is working on a system, called Project Hybrid, to address challenges across IT infrastructures and how enterprises can rethink technology to gain the most advantage for their business.
The Nay Sayers
Vendors predict that continuing mis-management of Data Centers and enterprise igno-rance of best practices could soon lead to a state of ineffective use of technology within the enterprise at best and the eventual collapse of the entire IT infrastructure and loss of data at the worst.
But amidst all the doomsday predictions, there are those who believe that the tide is turning and more of the larger enterprises and projects in the region are beginning to shine the light in the right direction.
ï¿½It is true that until about 2004 most Data Center considerations in the region were around point solutions and putting them together one at a time. But over the last 12 to 18 months I have seen many projects that indicate the trend is changing. People are beginning to plan and implement on Data Center solutions in the right manner across the GCC,ï¿½ believes Dajani from Symantec.
However, he does agree, there are still a lot of holes to fill and a considerably long way to go before Middle East enterprises can reach the maturity level of markets like Europe and the US.
ï¿½When building a Data Center, organisations not only have to implement an effective management system but also take care to put in place common platforms across systems. Not having six operating systems, six applications for the same functions and six different management interfaces will certainly help in management. Common frameworks, architecture and platforms, which are built on open standards are the best way ahead for enterprises,ï¿½ continues Dajani.
ï¿½There are Data Centers in the region that will be breaking out at the seams due to increasing complexity in the next 18 months. CIOs and Data Center managers need to pick up the word and march on the level of urgency required in implementing international standards in Data Center operations. They really should not be waiting for a time when the Data Centers run out of space or till their various applications come to a complete halt. That would be my advice,ï¿½ he concludes.