Adopting branch-converged IT

Middle East organisations have begun expanding their global footprints and are now establishing their presence overseas

Tags: Riverbed Technology Incorporated
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Adopting branch-converged IT Taj El-Khayat, regional managing director at Riverbed Technology.
By  Taj Elkhayat Published  December 23, 2014

A report by Deloitte states that “rising world trade flows, increased gross domestic product (GDP), a growing middle class and new technologies are expected to help banks based in emerging markets (such as the Middle East) expand into developed markets in the coming year.” Major players in other key sectors too have similar ambitions and today, regional businesses have begun opening branch offices aboard.

The ability to have remote offices in several locations delivers a range of benefits, including access to a wide network of professional talent and potential customers. A global presence is key in today’s international marketplace, with customers ordering goods from around the world and at the same time, expecting a seamless user experience.

To make branch offices as effective as possible, workers need to have quick access to all the business information they need to perform their job. Traditionally this has been achieved by providing and maintaining technology locally. However costs can start to add up and spiral out of control when you look at the price of servers and storage, backups and the IT staff managing hardware and software. Worse, when disaster strikes, recovery of branch data and applications can take days, putting the branch at risk. With the average enterprise operating 55 branch offices, it’s no wonder organisations spend more than $4 billion annually on remote IT.

Changing the approach to remote IT

With so much at stake, it no longer makes sense for today’s organisations to rely on traditional methods of technology deployment and management. When each branch operates and maintains its own equipment and data storage, the result is islands of technology that are rarely updated and patched at the same rate. The outcome is constant management churn and increased risk that a disaster at any one of these locations can significantly impact the business.

To overcome data centre sprawl that can lead to operational inefficiency which in turn leaves critical data and applications vulnerable, businesses are turning to convergence technologies that allow them to consolidate servers, storage and network infrastructure into a single appliance. This approach greatly simplifies the maintenance and delivery of critical resources, and — importantly — maintains the application performance level, so user experience is not compromised.

What works in a single data centre can also be scaled to a global organisation, simplifying and consolidating resources, even when multiple locations are involved. This is known as branch-converged infrastructure. With branch-converged infrastructure, compute no longer needs to be tied to the underlying storage. As a result, applications run locally in a stateless mode, reducing the infrastructure that is needed in the branch office and keeping data in a safer, more closely monitored location.

Branch convergence in action

An organisation can overcome typical cost and management difficulties by implementing a branch converged infrastructure to store remote office data in hub data centres, managing and protecting it on highly reliable storage area network (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS) devices. Instances of block-level data — including virtual machines — are then projected out to the remote offices. With the use of integrated storage delivery and WAN optimisation technology, the performance is equal to previous local data storage. The users see no difference, and the information is safer.

As a result, an organisation will no longer need to maintain its smaller, more vulnerable remote data centres. Users know that their data is more secure should anything happen at the local level, and employees in branch offices can focus on their own work without having to help IT maintain their technology.

The benefits of branch convergence

A converged branch infrastructure offers several benefits. It provides businesses with a virtualisation platform that runs necessary local workloads such as file and domain controllers, as well as any business application or custom workload needed at a given site – without using racks of dedicated infrastructure for applications, storage, and backup. The result is a smaller branch footprint that still provides users with the resources they need locally. Previously distributed critical tasks like server and application patching, and data protection operations can be performed with skilled personnel in the data centre, improving an organisation’s ability to recover from a disaster. If a disaster incident does occur in one of the branch locations, all data and virtualised branch servers are safe and recoverable from the data centre.

Adopting an effective solution

While businesses operate in a wide variety of industries, central to any organisation today is the need for fast, effective recovery to ensure business uptime. With seemingly more frequent reports of disasters — natural or man-made — what should today’s enterprises consider to protect their branch data?

The initiative should allow the business to eliminate backup and recovery solutions at the remote site. Manual tape backups done on a local-level are costly, and frequently result in less effective disaster recovery capability as they can be prone to errors. Enterprises should also ensure that they can quickly provision remote IT services from the central data centre. This reduces IT man hours. Once the solution is deployed, the central data centre must have full control over the data being used at the branch level.

What’s more, without the ability to perform rapid recovery, every minute of downtime means more lost revenue. The enterprise should ensure that the branch infrastructure delivers the fastest recovery possible in the aftermath of a disaster. Even with the best technology, the WAN may still suffer from downtime. Businesses should have access to applications and centralised data when the connection is inoperative. And to minimise security risks, organisations should ensure that sensitive data is properly encrypted, both at rest and in transition, and that data kept in the branch is limited to active data sets.

Working to simplify branch IT with centralised data storage and recovery operations can ensure consistent uptime. With this confidence, businesses will no longer be bound by IT challenges as they expand across boundaries.

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