Building the data centre of the future

Sufian Dweik, Regional Director, MEMA, Brocade Communications
Sufian Dweik, Regional Director, MEMA, Brocade Communications

According to IDC, Middle East IT spending in 2013 is projected to cross the $32 billion mark which is double the global average. No doubt a significant portion of this will be spent on technologies that will build the data centres of the future.

The connected world of today cares very little for the back-end technology and infrastructure that makes it run, and yet demands so very much of it. At the heart of the communications, applications and service delivery ecosystem is the network that has over the past two decades grown exponentially, both in size and complexity. The modern data centre is no longer just the silent backbone, endlessly toiling away to keep operations up and running. Businesses now see it as an essential platform for innovation.

The data centre that Middle East organisations should deploy will require a new approach that includes a high degree of virtualisation, the combination of physical and virtual infrastructure elements and an open standards based approach which will provide the flexibility to evolve as new technologies come into play. One such technology will no doubt be software-defined networking (SDN). Middle East organisations are already expressing interest in how this new approach can radically improve their networks.

Brocade believes that scalability and elasticity are among the top criteria for evaluating the success of data centre deployments. Below are the key ingredients of a future-proof data centre network:

Fabric for the future
At the heart of any data centre is the physical networking infrastructure, one that provides the connectivity between applications, servers and storage.  However, not all networking infrastructures are equal, and for businesses that want to embrace a highly flexible and agile on-demand model, a fabric-based networking topology is required. One that delivers a blueprint that unifies vital areas of the data centre, from fabrics to storage to physical and virtual infrastructure. A fabric-based network, both at the IP and storage layers, will simplify network design and management to address the growing complexity in IT and data centres today and deliver key features like logical chassis, distributed intelligence and automated port profile migration. Fabric-based networks are more attuned to operate in a highly virtualised data centres to support techniques such as VM mobility within a fabric and across data centres, thereby providing the ideal hardware foundation for the on-demand data centre.

Virtual infrastructure
On top of the physical infrastructure will be a virtual or logical layer.  This is well-established in the server domain with hypervisor technology.  The same concepts are now being applied to both storage and IP networks with technologies such as overlay networks enabled through a variety of tunnelling techniques.  Next we will see network services virtualised, thanks to the introduction of virtual switches and routers. “NFV”, or Network Function Virtualisation, represents an industry movement towards software or VM-based form factors for common data centre services. Customers want to realise the cost and flexibility advantages of software rather than continuing to deploy specialised, purpose-built devices for services such as application delivery controllers. This is especially the case in cloud architectures where these services want to be commissioned and decommissioned with mouse clicks rather than physical hardware installations and moves.

In addition to the physical and virtual/logical layer will be controllers (for the network, servers and data storage). One such example is the network controller, which is implemented in software and tracks the status of the network and provides well-defined KPIs. The complete architecture is built around applications that directly affect the underlying infrastructure and guarantees the best possible application uptime, performance and security.

Orchestration frameworks
Finally, the entire data centre environment must be managed by orchestration frameworks that allow for the rapid and end-to-end provisioning of virtual data centres. There are many approaches in the market, such as VMware vCloud Director and the OpenStack community. OpenStack, for example, allows customers to deploy network capacity and services in their cloud-based data centres far quicker than with legacy network architectures and provisioning tools.

The data centre of the future will therefore be a combination of the most valuable aspects of the physical and virtual layers. Such a data centre will give organisations the ability to flexibly deploy data centre capacity – compute, networking, storage and services – in real-time, whenever and wherever they need it. Additionally, the simplified management and elastic nature of such a data centre design will also deliver much improved ROI (due to scaling, scale multi-tenancy and time and money savings). So, for an organisation wanting to make the journey to the On-Demand Data Centre, they must look for technology partners that are focused on delivering a network infrastructure than enables this vision.

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