How Small and Midsize Data Centers Can Benefit from Unified Infrastructure


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With each server, network, and storage hardware refresh, there is a new layer of operational complexity, leading to a more heterogeneous environment, with many technology islands and proprietary management tools. This complexity, combined with a lack of integration and automation leads to decreased operational agility.

EMA research shows that small and midsize organizations can simplify IT infrastructure, increase operational agility and lower OPEX through centralize operations management.

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How Small and Midsize Data Centers Can Benefit from Unified Infrastructure

  1. 1. IT & DATA MANAGEMENT RESEARCH, INDUSTRY ANALYSIS & CONSULTING How Small and Midsize Data Centers Can Benefit from Unified Infrastructure An ENTERPRISE MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATES® (EMA™) White Paper Prepared for Cisco Systems December 2013
  2. 2. Table of Contents ©2013 Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved. | How Small and Midsize Data Centers Can Benefit from Unified Infrastructure Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 1 Four Popular Misconceptions Regarding Unified Infrastructure........................................................ 1 Key Benefits of a Unified Infrastructure for Small and Midsize Enterprises....................................... 2 Unified Infrastructure within the Context of Today’s IT Trends........................................................ 3 How Cisco UCS Fits the Small and Midsize Enterprise Bill.............................................................. 4 Key UCS Value Proposition......................................................................................................... 4 EMA Perspective................................................................................................................................ 6
  3. 3. Page 1 ©2013 Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved. | www.enterprisemanagement.com1 How Small and Midsize Data Centers Can Benefit from Unified Infrastructure Introduction In small and midsize organizations, IT staff often wears many hats. This means that the same administrator who provisions the servers for a new environmentalsohastoconfiguretherequirednetworkingresources,aswell as carve out storage volumes and configure the hypervisor.1 Furthermore, the same jack-of-all-trades employee might be responsible for compliance, patch management and security of the new environment, while at the same time ensuring application availability and performance. To make matters more challenging, we often find significantly less automation in small and midsize data centers (see Figure 1), making provisioning and management of application environments a manual task. As a result, a lot of time and money is spent on “keeping the lights on,” while IT staff is faced with configuration drift and inconsistent provisioning practices that can lead to security vulnerabilities, SLA violations, and general inefficiency in terms of operational expense (OPEX). With each server, network, and storage hardware refresh, there is a new layer of operational complexity, leading to a more heterogeneous environment, with many technology islands and proprietary management tools. This complexity, combined with a lack of integration and automation leads to decreased operational agility. If the IT department is not able to respond to these challenges, business units are quick to find their own solutions by renting resources from public cloud providers. This rise of “shadow IT” comes with numerous, often serious, side effects in terms of security, compliance, resiliency, cost and performance. To address all of these challenges, small organizations must simplify their IT infrastructure and centralize operations management. Ultimately, IT budgeting is a zero-sum game, where each dollar spent on “keeping the lights on” is no longer available to create capabilities to better compete in the marketplace. Four Popular Misconceptions Regarding Unified Infrastructure The ENTERPRISE MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATES® (EMA™) team has identified a number of misconceptions that combined, led many small enterprises to disregard unified infrastructure solutions as a viable option: 1) Server purchase is all about hardware: When refreshing rack or blade servers, small organizations often focus too much on the specifications and cost of the actual server hardware. While density, power consumption, network consolidation, and performance are important, today’s main points of concern are “management” and 1 This paper targets organizations between 100 and 2000 employees “Our IT organization consists of 7 key operations staff keeping the lights on. Each of these staff members has to wear many hats, managing network, storage and server resources, as well as the county’s VMware virtualization platform and virtual desktop infrastructure. When replacing our servers, we were looking for the ability to manage all of these infrastructure resources through one single pane of glass to take a large burden off of our staff and serve our 30 departments more efficiently.” –Tom Sullivan, CIO of McHenry County 25% 30% 35% 40% 45% 50% 55% 60% 65% Small Enterprise Mid-size Enterprise Large Enterprise Currently adopted - OS provisioning Currently adopted - Change and configuration management Currently adopted - SLA monitoring management Currently adopted - VM lifecycle management Currently adopted - Application lifecycle management Figure 1 - Adoption of data center automation by company size
  4. 4. Page 2 ©2013 Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved. | www.enterprisemanagement.com2 How Small and Midsize Data Centers Can Benefit from Unified Infrastructure “automation.” Unified management of the new servers, together with the required networking components and within the context of the existing hardware infrastructure, can drastically lower OPEX. 2) “Unified” means physical packaging: The term “unified infrastructure” refers to servers that are interconnected through an integrated fabric and centrally managed, with the required storage resources. Blade servers are popular within the context of unified infrastructure, as they offer very high density hosting, while lowering energy cost. However, small to midsize organizations may prefer rack servers for their unified infrastructure, as they offer a lower cost point of entry. 3) Unified infrastructure results in vendor lock-in: Only blades of a specific vendor can be added to the chassis. However, if blade servers offer a comprehensive set of APIs, they can be centrally managed through the same standard toolset – Microsoft System Center,VMware vCenter, IBM Tivoli, BMC BladeLogic, CA ServerAutomation, HP OpenView, etc. – as generic rack servers. 4) Rack servers do not benefit from unified management: Unified infrastructure is all about the central management and automation of servers, network and storage. If power consumption and density are not a major concern or if fewer than 16 servers are required, rack servers can be used instead of blades, as long as they offer similar control capabilities. Key Benefits of a Unified Infrastructure for Small and Midsize Enterprises There are four key business benefits of the unified management of rack or blade servers, networking equipment, and storage that specifically apply to small and midsize organizations. 1) Simplification: Centrally deploying and managing network, storage, compute, as well as virtualization components lets IT organizations rapidly deliver application environments, despite a lack of administrative resources for individual components. Unified infrastructure allows IT staff to consistently and securely provision servers, network, storage and the corresponding virtualization software. The less time spent on manually configuring and troubleshooting data center infrastructure, the more IT can focus on improving services delivered to business units. 2) Agility: Northbound APIs enable developers to provision and configure the desired application environments without direct involvement of IT operations staff. In addition, unified infrastructure offerscentralgraphicalinterfaceandcommandlineaccessforrapidinfrastructureprovisioningwithout involving storage or networking specialists. This open API interface means that adding capacity for new application workloads is accomplished without increasing complexity because it is based on standardized provisioning procedures. The centralized interface of unified infrastructure also enables resource scalability and elasticity; resources that are not needed can be rapidly reconfigured based on process automation templates and added to a different application environment. In addition, new servers can be pre-provisioned through service profiles before the hardware even arrives. “We currently run 96 blade servers and found that the actual hardware cost for our small deployment is comparable to rack servers. However, energy efficiency of blades is much higher, and management is significantly simpler, which is why blades were the way to go for our county”, says Tom Sullivan, CIO of McHenry County.
  5. 5. Page 3 ©2013 Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved. | www.enterprisemanagement.com3 How Small and Midsize Data Centers Can Benefit from Unified Infrastructure 3) Independence: Small and midsize organizations are typically faced with the choice of assembling new infrastructure themselves or pay someone to do it for them. Cost pressure and skill deficiencies can lead to setups that are suboptimal in terms of compliance, efficiency and resiliency. Unified infrastructure takes away this common worry, giving organizations a robust foundation for deploying, operating and managing application environments. 4) Risk reduction: Centrally managing servers, network fabric, storage and the virtualization layer in a standardized and policy-driven manner, significantly reduces IT risk. This risk reduction is specifically important to small and midsize organizations where there are often no administrators available to constantly monitor all infrastructure components. The peace of mind that comes from central monitoring should not be underestimated. Unified Infrastructure within the Context of Today’s IT Trends While server virtualization constitutes one of the more mature arenas in today’s data center, most organizations still have homework left to do. Unified infrastructure can help virtualizing the remaining, often more difficult, application environments by offering the granular control and capabilities required to gradually onboard and virtualize legacy applications. In addition to the virtualization of the remaining physical server resources, there are four key trends dominating today’s enterprise IT conversation, each one of them aimed at directly achieving a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Small and midsize organizations are often challenged, as they may not have the strategic guidance of a CIO and CTO, as well as the subject-matter knowledge to evaluate what is needed to get started on these new project types. However, EMA research shows that it is essential for small and midsize organizations to harness cloud, desktop virtualization, big data analytics and DevOps in order to remain competitive. 1) Cloud: EMA research illustrates that unified infrastructure is a popular foundation for cloud, as cloud is all about rapidly providing scalable and elastic, physical and virtual resources.2 Scalability, agility, and elasticity are built into unified infrastructure, as this type of architecture always follows a modular approach; more network, storage, or compute can be added at any time. Virtual resources can easily be adjusted to workload requirements and moved to a different chassis or rack, and bandwidth can simply be assigned to specific virtual network interface cards and virtual host bus adapters through central management software. These benefits are vital because they simplify the often challenging task of assembling private cloud infrastructure from scratch. 2) Desktop virtualization: Desktop and application virtualization can significantly reduce CAPEX and OPEX through centrally managing and securing end user devices such as laptops, desktops, tablets and phones. Unified infrastructure delivers the scalability, elasticity, resiliency and control required to simplify desktop virtualization. Reducing the risk that comes with virtual desktop implementations is specifically important for organizations with limited resources. 3) Big data analytics: Small and midsize enterprises are seeking to obtain the same real-time business insights as larger organizations with their often already advanced big data analytics capabilities. Unified infrastructure can provide the storage, network, and compute performance required to get big data projects off the ground without advanced knowledge of configuration and performance management. The granular nature of unified infrastructure makes it simple to dynamically allocate the storage IOPS3 as well as the network throughput required for these big data analytics projects. This inherent flexibility is a significant advantage in today’s application-centric data center. 2 One quarter of organizations that have participated in EMA’s Demystifying Cloud Research (from Q1 of 2013) currently consider Cisco UCS as the foundation for their cloud. 3 Input/output Operations per Second (IOPS) is the common storage performance measurement.
  6. 6. Page 4 ©2013 Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved. | www.enterprisemanagement.com4 How Small and Midsize Data Centers Can Benefit from Unified Infrastructure 4) DevOps:UnifiedinfrastructureofferscommonAPIsforstorage,network,compute,andvirtualization componentstocontinuouslymoveapplicationupdatesandupgradesfromdevelopmentenvironments into production (via test and staging instances) and prevents configuration drift through centrally controlled templates. Configuration management software, such as Puppet, SaltStack, or Opscode Chef, can take advantage of these APIs for rapid provisioning of new features and for consistent and efficient systems management. Cloud, desktop virtualization, big data analytics, and DevOps are business critical IT project types for any size of organization. Small and midsize enterprises do not always have the deeply specialized resources necessary to get these projects off the ground. However, unified infrastructure can level the playing field, providing small and midsize organizations and government institutions with the tools necessary to compete. How Cisco UCS Fits the Small and Midsize Enterprise Bill The Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) consists of pre-integrated servers (blade or rack), network fabric, storage access, as well as extensive management capabilities for the virtualization layer (see Figure 2). With its unified control plane and embedded central management software, UCS helps small organizations realize the same simplicity, agility, flexibility, independence and transparency of IT operations as available to much larger enterprises. UCS also lets customers mix and match blade and rack servers, and facilitates the easy movement of application workloads from blade to rack and vice versa. Key UCS Value Proposition Service profiles: Service profiles can be application, server, or chassis-slot specific and contain all the provisioning and configuration parameters for the secure and consistent addition of new servers or repurposing of older servers. Service profile parameters consist of over 120 server attributes including UUID, WWPN, WWN, VLANs, VSANs, vHBAs, vNICs, BIOS, firmware configuration, network and storage settings. Based on these parameters and their encapsulation in service profiles, UCS Manager is able to rapidly provision and manage new servers from one single pool of spares. This capability dramatically simplifies capacity planning, while enhancing security and policy compliance. Figure 2 - Cisco UCS Topology
  7. 7. Page 5 ©2013 Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved. | www.enterprisemanagement.com5 How Small and Midsize Data Centers Can Benefit from Unified Infrastructure Centralized management: Cisco’s UCS Central controls Cisco UCS Manager instances across the same or multiple data centers. UCS Manager offers a centralized console for most of the traditional management tasks, such as hardware fault detection, remote administration, system software updates, inventory tracking, spot deployment of server updates, networking and storage connectivity, logical server abstraction, and power management. This lets IT centrally manage all of these tasks in a simple and policy-driven way. Bare metal and virtualized workloads: EMA research has shown that the hybrid provisioning of physical and virtual servers is critical, especially within a cloud context. UCS Manager enables the provisioning of physical servers alongside virtual machines through one interface. Support of standard systems management tools: UCS Manager offers a comprehensive set of northbound APIs for standard management software and is deeply integrated with Microsoft System Center and VMware vCenter, as well as management tools by HP, BMC, CA Technologies, and IBM. Unified networking: UCS with SingleConnect technology includes a unified fabric –consisting of one cable– for LAN, SAN and management traffic. To achieve failover, the UCS network is typically based on two separate fabrics, supporting an active-active setup, connected to two interconnects. Cisco’s Virtual Interface Cards allow administrators to create and reallocate virtual network interface cards (vNIC) and virtual host bus adapters (vHBA), without additional ports and cables, as well as fewer physical NICs and HBAs. As there is only one central cable, many fewer switches are required, leading to decreased CAPEX and lower network management efforts. Elimination of silos: Cisco UCS Director –formerly Cloupia– is designed to integrate Cisco infrastructure and the heterogeneous rest of the data center in a way that avoids technology silos. UCS Director enables, automates, and orchestrates the policy-driven creation and monitoring of complex application environments, consisting of physical and virtual components, through a central control panel. In addition, UCS Director facilitates the policy based-deployment, operation and management of non-Cisco server hardware, as well as a heterogeneous set of storage platforms and unified infrastructure solutions such as VCE Vblock, EMC VSPEX and NetApp FlexPod. Ultimately, Cisco UCS enables scalability, consistency, repeatability, and flexibility in server provisioning with minimal manual intervention. These capabilities help small and midsize data centers and offer the services required by the business to effectively compete. “After our UCS pilot project, my operations staff convinced me that UCS Manager was the single pane of glass we needed to manage our entire hardware and virtualization infrastructure” -Tom Sullivan, CIO of McHenry County “My network guys told me that UCS networking was less complex and simpler to manage, together with storage and servers through UCS Manager than the HP solution,” says Tom Sullivan, CIO of McHenry County.
  8. 8. Page 6 ©2013 Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved. | www.enterprisemanagement.com6 How Small and Midsize Data Centers Can Benefit from Unified Infrastructure EMA Perspective Enterprise IT today is “all about the app.” Data center complexity is the natural enemy of this application- centric paradigm. Small and midsize organizations often feel locked in by their legacy servers, network, and storage infrastructures that are managed through a multitude of proprietary consoles and scripts. As if provisioning new environments and managing existing ones was not sufficiently taxing on the limited IT staff of small and midsize organizations, workload placement and capacity management are also becoming more challenging. Popular applications often require additional infrastructure resources and therefore, have to be moved to different hardware. This process is typically manual involving significant risk, expense and downtime. Cisco UCS aims at cutting through this complexity by providing greater transparency for server, network, storage, and virtualization/bare-metal management. UCS Service Profiles can be seen as “guardrails” that enforce best practices for optimal security, performance, and cost efficiency. The UCS platform offers the northbound APIs necessary for dynamically provisioning, managing, and resizing infrastructure components based on application requirements. This type of programmable infrastructure enables software to define its own requirements via API, minimizing the requirement for manual input and decreasing the risk of business interruption. EMA research has shown that small and midsize organizations are often taxed with a large percentage of staff time spent on routine maintenance tasks. UCS provides the central management, orchestration, and automation capabilities that help minimize the time spent on keeping the lights on. This empowers IT generalists to optimally respond to business unit requests. EMA’s advice for IT organizations and government institutions considering a server refresh is to take a good look at unified offerings such as Cisco UCS. Cisco has demonstrated that unified computing can deliver improved TCO on deployments as small as five rack servers or 16 blades4 . Today, the main value proposition of a server solution lies in its manageability within the context of the current data center. The fewer proprietary management tools are required to “keep the lights on” and the better these tools integrate with existing systems management solutions, the lower the OPEX will be. Each dollar saved in OPEX can be invested in the big data, DevOps or cloud projects that may dramatically improve competitive positioning in the marketplace. 4 See Cisco’s internal TCO analysis: The fewer proprietary management tools are required to “keep the lights on” and the better these tools integrate with existing systems management solutions, the lower the OPEX will be.
  9. 9. About Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. Founded in 1996, Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) is a leading industry analyst firm that provides deep insight across the full spectrum of IT and data management technologies. EMA analysts leverage a unique combination of practical experience, insight into industry best practices, and in-depth knowledge of current and planned vendor solutions to help its clients achieve their goals. Learn more about EMA research, analysis, and consulting services for enterprise line of business users, IT professionals and IT vendors at or You can also follow EMA on Twitter or Facebook. This report in whole or in part may not be duplicated, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or retransmitted without prior written permission of Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. All opinions and estimates herein constitute our judgement as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Product names mentioned herein may be trademarks and/or registered trademarks of their respective companies. “EMA” and “Enterprise Management Associates” are trademarks of Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. in the United States and other countries. ©2013 Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved. EMA™, ENTERPRISE MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATES® , and the mobius symbol are registered trademarks or common-law trademarks of Enterprise Management Associates, Inc. Corporate Headquarters: 1995 North 57th Court, Suite 120 Boulder, CO 80301 Phone: +1 303.543.9500 Fax: +1 303.543.7687 2789.112013