By Riccardo Fiorentino, CTO, EOH Technology Solutions

What is the modern data centre by today’s standards? The acceleration of new technologies and new concepts coming through from the ICT world makes this a challenging but extremely interesting arena to navigate.

 

A modern data centre is fully software defined. It is neither on premises or hosted or on public cloud – it could be one or all of the above. It is software defined down to the level where the switching infrastructure is just another hardware platform to house virtual machines running switching functions (true NFV).

In a modern data centre, the lifecycle of data lives in policies, creating, classifying, protecting (both backup and data sovereignty) and deleting, while providing clean representable information into  analytics platforms. The business can move and spin up workloads wherever it needs it and it is secured the same way in one environment as it is in another.

The modernised data centre has a software watchdog making sure no one is trying to maliciously effect the network, driven by AI. It is always the right size, and has instant access to any new platforms that come out. Finally, the business doesn’t own any of it, but is running the latest generations and versions, and it can pay how it wants to. It sounds amazing, and it is. It is also all very feasible with the right partner – currently we can bake our cake and eat it.

Doing business on a global scale

Owners or custodians of the data centre are feeling the pressure from many lines of business to discover and transform the data centre into a business enabler. Customer expectations and business are placing pressure on data centres to transform, but while all the new technologies are enablers, they also cause confusion.

Conversations with clients made it clear to me that owners of data centres were struggling to just take the first step onto the transformation road. Here are some re-occurring reasons why this is the case.

Let’s start with something I call the digital flood. The digital flood is the plethora of buzzwords the industry is inventing and slinging around at the moment, all under the banner of digitisation. Off the top of my head, these are the ones that make it into most articles, conferences and discussions: Blockchain, IOT, IIOT, Edge Computing, DevOps, DevSecOPs, AIOps, AI, Dark Data, XaaS, Multicloud, Big Data, Data Analytics, HCI, and many others.

The struggle here for CIOs and CTOs is trying to keep up with what all of these are, developing an understanding, strategising the implementation, and hoping they haven’t missed anything that their competitors are doing that will render the organisation uncompetitive. Then during this bombardment of new thoughts, ideas and “must haves”, there’s the constant barrage of alarms and alerts around the ever-present threat of cyber security attacks.

Mix this all together, and the landscape is daunting and confusing. How do you decipher which one of these will truly bring about real business value or reduce the company’s risk profile?

My advice here is to put the onus on your ICT partner to digest and bring the relevant concepts for your business to you. We’ve all heard about a trusted partner, but in this current environment a trusted advisor to assist in developing the best roadmap to support your business strategy is a must. You need to find someone you can navigate the road with.

Take a step back away from the digital flood. As an example, if you don’t develop anything in house (You don’t employ a developer of any kind), weed out the concepts of DevOps and DevSecops, and put that on your development partner should you even require one. Let them pick the correct framework to meet your demands.

The idea here is to have some sort of process against which you can run a new “buzzword” through a system of gates that will determine its relevance to you. If it is irrelevant, dismiss it and remove the clutter and noise around it that is created. Focus is the key outcome of this.

With all the options available, a clear starting point doesn’t always identify itself. The industry uses the phrase “business outcomes” a lot, and there is no denying the truth that having a clear business outcome will find you support for initiatives. Alignment with what the business wants to achieve will also help pick your starting point. If business wants to run a campaign that requires resources for a set but short term, then you’ll know you need to get into the hybrid data centre model so you can erect and tear down capability as requested and track costs. It seems a simple enough example, but questions on how the service will be consumed will quickly expose where your data centre needs to be modernised to make use of the new technologies out there.

Security

As far as security is concerned, the industry says a breach is inevitable, the attack surface is ever-expanding and the methods increasingly devious. So much so, there’s talk of critical systems going completely dark, meaning taking them off the grid, and running operations on premises and manually to some extent.

There’s a wave of security software out now that looks at the behaviour of your users, the interactions of applications with each other and baselines what a normal day on the network looks like. These intuitive, analytics or AI driven systems have the aim to alert you early and as they mature will start locking down your data centre and network for you.

Pull in your security partner to assess your current posture against a framework, preferably multiple frameworks, and start mapping out which of the framework components apply to you. Tick off the fundamentals – these will protect you from 90% of the types of attacks in existence, and cover the last 10% based on your audit and governance requirements. It’s the last 10% that costs and arm and a leg, so you don’t have to break the bank to start resting easier at night.

There is a lot going on at different levels. Pick partners that grasp the situation you face and have your success in mind.

Financials

Another challenge  raised in my discussions with customers is the financial pressures they are faced with. This isn’t any less complicated: balancing budgets, new initiatives and figuring out the correct operating model is no easier than picking the correct modernisation strategy. There is also a push to try and turn IT services from a cost centre to a profit centre, or at least to recoup costs from the lines of business they support.

In the world of finance and procurement it is easy to ask whether the datacentre should be an Opex or a Capex expense. We now live in an age where a decision either way is not set in stone – we’re at a stage now that a blend is probably optimal. Explore all the options with your partners, as there will be something that will fit finance and procurement wishes, as well as your needs.