Datacentre gamble

Even as enterprises spend money on datacentre technology, management of the same tends to be left by the wayside, which could lead to an eventual crisis for organisations in the region. In the concluding part of the datacentre series, NME analyses how dire the situation truly is.

  • E-Mail
By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  June 6, 2007

|~|rakesh200.gif|~|Rakesh Kumar, research VP for server I&O at Gartner.|~|Technology investments in the area of datacentres are at an all time high in the region as businesses and IT managers alike spend effort and time in building and consolidating new age datacentres. The first part of this series looked at some of the major areas of spend during the initial stages of designing and building a datacentre. However, much of this desire to buy and implement only the best dwindles as one moves up from the physical infrastructure layer of the datacentre to some of the more sophisticated products, solutions and management areas. “The Middle East does adopt a conservative outlook towards aspects of higher technology in the datacentre, 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,” says Rakesh Kumar, research VP for server I&O at Gartner. There are two parts to this slightly immature attitude towards datacentre technologies, as one goes beyond the basic infrastructure layer. The first is the low-key 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 datacentres as single points of technology rather than as the several parts of a whole. Locking down 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. “There 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,” says Gilles Ortega, MENA country manager for Axis Communications. “The technology and the ability to deploy appropriate physical security solutions have not been widely available until recently within the region. The region’s integrators generally have not had the product and deployment knowledge required to assist datacentre managers and designers to understand and solve physical security technology solutions,” 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 datacentres. 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. “There 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,” adds Ortega. “Physical monitoring is now becoming more involved in IP monitoring systems and this can include visual, environmental and equipment condition monitoring – covering airconditioning, UPS, gas systems and flow rates – along with access control and power control. Systems can also be tuned to track changes conducted even by approved personnel within the datacentre across the various systems,” says Mayflex’s 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 datacentre managers become more aware of the potential issues and lead to a higher investment in the are of physical security. ||**|||~|gilles200.gif|~|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 datacentre. 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 deployment. 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. “Most enterprises lack proper visibility into their storage environments. One of the reasons 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%,” 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 over-utilisation 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 datacentre; a lack, they say, that could endanger the long-term plans and data reliability of Middle East enterprises. ||**|||~|omar200.gif|~|Omar Dajani, systems engineering manager for Symantec MENA. |~|Management basics Talk to any of the big industry vendors on the general topic of datacentre management and you are likely to hear about virtualisation, the crucial necessity of energy management and the importance of keeping data life-cycle in mind while managing a datacentre. Prod them a bit more about regional details and they are likely to tell you a different story. “We are still witnessing poor management in datacentres. Datacentre management evolution has been sluggish in the Middle East,” says Michael Caracache, technical support manager and product specialist at AMP NetConnect. “The most important part of running a datacentre is end-to-end life-cycle 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 datacentres lag behind in this trend of consolidation and end-to-end management,” 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 – the tendency to buy and implement solutions in the datacentre as silo structures. Cherief Sleiman, chief technologist for the MEA at Cisco Systems says: “Enterprises here fail to look at the datacentre 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.” “Conversely, they should work at understanding the underlying concept of their business, their strategy, the goals they want to achieve over time and build a datacentre which is capable to encompassing and aiding operational efforts towards reaching those targets. “When you build with the long term strategic picture in mind, enterprises will get datacentres that are more manageable, work more effectively and are infinitely more scaleable while getting more investment returns from their IT purchases,” he adds. Kumar from Gartner agrees with Sleiman: “I have noticed that Middle East enterprises still tend to make a lot of their datacentre 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.” Apart from a mindset that approaches datacentre 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 datacentres 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 – so much so that they fail to hire the right personnel to man the datacentre facilities. “IT investments inside the datacentre 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,” says Kumar. “Even when the right technical people are hired as part of the IT team to man the datacentre 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,” says Herbert Radlinger, channel manager MEA for Schnabel AG, a global consulting firm for datacentre 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 datacentre management and establishing a structure and process with which enterprises can plan long term without any undue surprises. “It 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 datacentres. 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,” 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 datacentres and enterprise ignorance 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. “It is true that until about 2004 most datacentre 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 datacentre solutions in the right manner across the GCC,” 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. “When building a datacentre, 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,” continues Dajani. “There are datacentres in the region that will be breaking out at the seams due to increasing complexity in the next 18 months. CIOs and datacentre managers need to pick up the word and march on the level of urgency required in implementing international standards in datacentre operations. They really should not be waiting for a time when the datacentres run out of space or till their various applications come to a complete halt. That would be my advice,” he concludes. ||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code