Real benefits from: Virtual architectures

Date:   Thursday , October 06, 2011

Businesses today face a growing, and increasingly complex set of challenges in the datacenter. This includes system availability, resource utilization, energy efficiency, regulatory compliance, and expectations of the empowered user. Globalization is leading to increased dependence on IT and requires the consolidation of assets. Therefore, previous business continuance (compute and storage) models are neither adequate nor economical in today's heterogeneous business environment.

Organizations need to adopt more advanced and cost-effective approaches to accommodate growing data within the confines of shrinking budgets, while increasing the utilization of existing datacenter assets. In order to ensure business continuity organizations must embrace new age technologies like virtualization which increase datacenter efficiency by aggregating hundreds/thousands of highly-distributed servers into relatively few, more easily-managed, centralized servers. Fewer physical servers means reduced power and cooling costs, savings on server hardware and related maintenance over time and better IT responsiveness.

Deployed in servers, storage, and networks, virtualization of datacenter resources helps organizations to turn non-performing assets (with the exception of a disaster) into an ongoing available asset that will function in a distributed scenario and achieve maximum reliability/performance regardless of location. With virtualization, organizations can do data replication and upgrades on a more-frequent basis; increase overall uptime and time-to-market for services. Slowly virtualization is becoming the standard for how organizations design their IT resources for the future.

Challenges enroute

Like every ‘big’ technology, virtualization comes with a fair share of challenges. This includes complexity, lack of technical expertise within organizations, capacity planning, and usage of virtualization features. Virtualization often requires a significant investment in new hardware and software and involves a lot of behind-the-scenes details/ processes for managing virtual servers. If done in pockets, virtualization can have unintended consequences that limit its effectiveness, create complicated and potentially costly, security and regulatory compliance concerns.

In order to ensure better use of infrastructure, increase availability, simplify management and improve operational efficiency, organizations must undertake an infrastructure audit to ascertain the extent of virtualization that would benefit them the most. Understanding and implementing virtualization in tandem with business goals, setting needs and expectations right, calculating Return on Investment (RoI) are the other things that organizations must do before embarking on the virtualization journey.

Unifying compute, storage and networks

Organizations that want to ramp business, seek solutions that help unify compute, network and storage access into a cohesive system. This reduces architecture complexity, provides unparalleled flexibility, visibility, and enables policy enforcement within virtualized datacenters. Whether the organization has one server or 320 servers with thousands of virtual machines, such solutions help all resources to participate in a unified manner and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) at the platform, site, and organizational levels. They also increase IT staff productivity and improve business agility because all datacenter resources are streamlined for better service delivery. A unified system helps deliver end-to-end optimization for virtualized environments while retaining the ability to support traditional OS and application stacks in physical environments.

As organizations shift towards virtualization-enabled datacenters, the importance of the network also increases. In order to benefit from virtualization, organizations must work to align datacenter operations to their network operations. The network(s) must be positioned to efficiently connect to the applications running in the datacenter. Deployment of an architecture that allows server, storage and network resources to be standardized and consolidated enables their greater utilization. Such an approach also enhances resilience, ensures application availability and extends the lifecycle of capital assets.

Organizations must define a strategy that spans their unique tech¬nical, business, and financial requirements and then analyze ROI. They need to evaluate the current datacenter infrastructure, understand and identify opportunities to reduce CAPEX and OPEX before investing in virtualization. Developing new models that support the virtualized environment helps to bring a highly productive datacenter to reality.

Service Providers and Virtualization

The use of common compute, storage, and networking components enables service providers to deliver new, enhanced services in a more timely fashion and facilitates integration of service offerings. It helps to shift workloads based on user demand and helps the infrastructure to scale appropriately. Providing an end-to end-architecture that extends from the datacenter to the customer helps to leverage benefits across service portfolios.

A migration away from service ‘silos’ facilitates compute, storage, and bandwidth to scale independently, while at the same time safeguarding customer data in transit and in the datacenter. In addition to increasing the utilization rates of existing assets, a common unified infrastructure helps service providers reduce energy and consumption costs, leading to a "greener" environment.


Transitioning to a virtualized environment requires change on many levels, often compounded by process, policy, and people issues. Organizations that move away from a piece-meal approach to an integrated one and manage the datacenter as a whole rather than as individual technology stand to benefit in the long term. Taking a big picture approach to address various datacenter infrastructure challenges is the mantra for success.

The author is Sr. Vice President – Data Center, Virtualization & Cloud business, India & SAARC, Cisco