Avnet on the ground at NetApp Insight, Berlin

Evan Unrue, EMEA Converged Infrastructure Technical Lead, Avnet Technology Solutions

WHAT PROBLEMS IS FLEXPOD™ SOLVING?

Avnet ships pre-engineered Flexpod systems all over the world for NetApp; call it Trade Show Flexpod as a Service. Our primary purpose in this endeavour is to maintain, ship and deploy these Flexpod units into the various trade shows NetApp attends for demonstration  and display purposes, and then to educate whoever wants to understand the nuances, architecture, features and benefits of Flexpod. This year, however, was slightly different.

That’s because a solid proportion of people approaching the Flexpod were customers who had deployed Flexpod recently – or not so recently in some cases. This gave me the opportunity to ask a few questions:

  1. Why did they buy Flexpod?
  2. Did it deliver what they expected?
  3. What were they expecting it to deliver?
  4. How does Flexpod factor into their technology roadmap?
  5. What pain did it ease, if any?

One recurring theme was that many were so inwardly focused on what they were looking for when they bought the Flexpod, that this fixed reference point shaped how they leveraged the platform. As a result, they hadn’t fully explored the possibilities of what they can now do, with Flexpod on the ground.

What problems does Avnet solve?

Many of these reference points were re-enforced simply by “how they had always done it”. When I walked through the full extent of what they had invested in with Flexpod – things it can do, ways it can be deployed, managed, automated and the strong complimentary technologies from Cisco and NetApp that tie into Flexpod – some really interesting conversations developed around what customers could do next.

For context, the types of organisations I was speaking with were as follows:

  • A large media and publishing group with multiple divisions
  • A global mining company
  • A few service providers
  • A company that provides vertically-aligned managed IT to pharma and a few other verticals.
  • A number of typical commercial SME outfits (averaging a few hundred to a few thousand users).

CHALLENGES WHICH DROVE THESE COMPANIES TO LOOK AT FLEXPOD™

Why did these organisations buy Flexpod in the first place?  The reasons ranged from being fed up of managing failing infrastructure and easing management pain to delivering on a more strategic IT roadmap.

Below are some of the reasons Flexpod customers I spoke with came to explore Flexpod™ as a solution:

Managing an “Accidental Architecture”

Dealing with increasingly unmanageable infrastructure born through sweating assets for too long, tactically replacing failing kit, plugging resource gaps, and in some cases through acquisition of other businesses where they have new infrastructure which has to be stitched into an existing platform.

This cocktail of diversely-branded old and new kit in many cases results in a seemingly endless struggle to keep critical applications up in the face of failing hardware or a constant flow of troubleshooting tasks, as the thin veneer of interoperability grows ever thinner. For the customers I spoke to, the resulting “accidental architecture” consumed so much time to maintain, innovation seemed to be off the table.

Supporting/deploying platforms and applications in the field

One thing was clear. A lack of standardisation was causing real issues around time-to-resolution of support issues, and time-to-deployment of applications and infrastructure. These customers had many platforms out in the field which weren’t necessarily poorly constructed, but the lack of standardisation in configuration, vendor technology and even the way the infrastructure was racked, patched and managed made it hard to apply a procedural approach to conducting a root cause analysis of issues and resolving them in good time.

A few of the companies I spoke with likened deployment of any significant applications to playing Jenga, in that stacking new workloads on creaking and overly-agnostic infrastructure was compounding the “accidental architecture” issue. They had to stitch resources together in increasingly creative ways and tactically deploy infrastructure on the fly. This process is not a quick one and the time it takes to prep everything for these new applications often takes weeks or months.

The IT vs Business Expanse

As NetApp Insight is primarily a technical conference, it was of course mainly attended by engineers, IT Managers, IT Directors and CTOs rather than customer CEOs and CFOs, so admittedly I only heard one side of the story here. However, this side made for an interesting story. A lot of these guys had become accustomed to feeling like “the help”: they were rarely invited to discuss the topics which influenced the demands being pushed onto the IT business; they weren’t asked what IT could do for the business; and the topic of making IT a profit centre rather than a cost centre was completely alien. The business attitude around old and hard to maintain kit is often to let to sweat because “it works, it’s fine and nothing has broken yet” – this divide forces IT into reactive mode.

The Battle with Shadow IT

The group IT Director of one company was faced with a situation where there were three distinct parts of the business, and each had aligned themselves to deploying applications with a different cloud provider for dev and non-critical/non-core applications. This was a struggle for IT as they were losing visibility of the business’ application landscape, competing with external IT providers and at real risk of breaching certain regulations if data was being dealt with on cloud platforms outside their sphere of control.

Flexpod Services by Avnet

DID FLEXPOD™ FIX THESE ISSUES?

Flexpod isn’t a magic box with the answer to all companies’ IT struggles, but it does give customers a platform they can leverage to address their issues. There has to be an appetite for business to address the people and process aspects around IT, and most importantly the business attitude towards IT, before any technology is going to offer a long-lasting solution. To put it bluntly, you can buy a new car, but if you’re a bad driver, a new car isn’t going to stop you having car crashes. Much like the relationship between driver and automobile, the driver needs to know where he or she is going, have full control of the vehicle and listen to the engine to know when it’s going wrong. These same rules apply for the relationship between the business and IT.

Starting from the bottom and working up, one thing Flexpod gives many of these organisations is control. Standardisation of hardware and software makes lifecycle management of IT simpler and less painful. Less diversity in the infrastructure means they can manage firmware levels across platforms with decreased risk, hardware interoperability is a non-issue as the components are all certified to work together, no questions asked. Adding new resource aligns to the set standardisation around Flexpod, meaning infrastructure deployments and application roll outs are massively accelerated.

Flexpod converged infrastructure

Another by-product of Flexpod’s standardisation is that with everything being a known commodity within the datacentre or across sites, companies can start to apply more efficient root cause analysis procedures with less guesswork around how they troubleshoot issues within their infrastructure.  This benefit is compounded further when you consider Flexpod is supported as a single platform, meaning you’re not spending half the day trying to get one vendor to take ownership of the issue as they point fingers amongst themselves.

Ultimately gaining control over your infrastructure means less downtime, less time troubleshooting alerts, and less of your time wasted. This allows more time to deploy people on tasks that actually improve, and don’t just “fix” things.

When the IT organisation moves out of a purely reactive state and has time to be pro-active, they can start to look at how to align closer to the business. In reality, this works both ways – they have to be met in the middle. But without the need to be purely reactive, there is at least time and breathing space to have the important conversations and start to make changes.

Something that one of the organisations I spoke with was looking to deal with was their shadow IT issue. Their roadmap involved leveraging Flexpod to regain some control around their core IT, and over time implement automation elements, such as UCS Director, prime service catalogue and a few others, to start developing a service-oriented and policy-driven approach to how they deliver internal services. Then over time, they could standardise on a set of cloud providers and leverage these same policy-driven approaches to manage how and where things go into the cloud. This would allow the business to consume from their own IT in much the same way they had in the cloud, but IT regains control of the application landscape and ensures they remain compliant where needed.

In summary, Flexpod offers a mechanism to help IT get control of a business’ infrastructure and free up time and money to do things better. Getting to the hub of it, doing things better means delivering services more quickly and seeing faster returns, or rationalising how you do things today and easing operating expenses both in time and man hours. The business is certainly responsible for implementing fundamental changes, but Flexpod is helping many customers execute faster, with less risk and with less pain.

 

If you’re a partner looking for more information on our Flexpod solution, visit our website: http://avnet.me/fsa

Posted under Converged infrastructure, IT infrastructure, Storage

Ditch the Digital Duck Tape – Consider All Options with Hyper-Converged

Tom Corrigan, sales director, Avnet Technology Solutions, UK, explains why the channel is perfectly positioned to take advantage of new modular hyper-converged systems and why there is no time to lose.

The channel is buzzing with terms such as the software-defined data centre, converged systems, hybrid cloud and more recently, hyper-converged infrastructure.  But what does it all mean and what is the difference between converged and hyper-converged systems?  Most importantly, how can the UK channel develop strategies that drive profitable growth from this technology sector?

Analyst predictions are suggesting >150% market growth over 2015 and beyond and this dramatic growth has seen a large number of technology start-ups delivering very capable solutions focussed in this area. Equally as exciting is the breadth of emerging technologies being launched from the established vendors who have strategic relationships with Avnet both in the UK and across the region.

Alongside this vendor push we are seeing significant volumes of requests from business partners and their end-user communities around the delivery of integrated platforms to manage new application deployments rather than the provision of disparate compute, network and storage systems in legacy fashion. In line with this change in demand, reference architectures and converged systems have emerged as pre-defined combinations of server, storage and network solutions to help simplify platform design for what are often fairly complex workload requirements.

Hyper-converged infrastructure takes this to the next level and offers a fully integrated platform across compute, network, storage and hypervisors that are designed, configured and delivered as a single appliance. This modular design means they are quick to design, simpler to deploy and can be scaled out by adding more appliances as required.

So what does all this mean to business partners looking to broaden their capabilities beyond selling compute systems, storage arrays and perhaps introducing a hypervisor for virtualisaton? With potentially simplified technology for end-users, in terms of design and deployment, now is the time for partners to expand their skills to include the application stack and delivery of margin-rich services to support a hyper-converged infrastructure. By taking this approach, opportunities will open up around private cloud and application consulting in addition to application deployment, which is where the best margin opportunities reside for the channel community.

However, the first step to hyper-converged is to carefully choose which vendors to partner with.  Which eco-systems offer the most benefits? While hyper-converged is an emerging technology it has already been validated by many established vendors. The building blocks of most hyper-converged platforms may not yet be one size fits all, but certainly one size fits many.

Within our global markets Avnet is are seeing this change and we feel that now is the time to look beyond the digital duct tape that holds disparate hardware and software stacks together and consider a more consolidated approach to delivering applications and related services.

How can Avnet help? Well for starters, the strategic partnerships we hold globally, regionally and locally are with the leading technology providers and this gives us a huge head start as we can access the technology stack that best fits the customer requirements. To supplement this we have a dedicated in-house technical and sales team focused only on converged platforms. We also have immense capability to build these systems to order and at a scale across EMEA from our Tongeren facility, which is certified to the highest levels as required by our supplier partners.

Bringing new technologies to market and enabling the channel to capitalise on this clear market opportunity is hugely important as Avnet continues on its journey to transform technology into business solutions for customers around the world.

Posted under IT infrastructure

Converged infrastructure: how to address business challenges rather than talking tech

Technical Architect

Evan Unrue, EMEA Technical Architect Team Leader (VCE)

The IT infrastructure landscape has been changing for some time. Organisations are starting to explore the concept of delivering IT as a service either internally or externally to customers. One of the first steps down this path is setting up an infrastructure that is repeatable, where defining true utilisation and the cost of delivering resource can be measured.

By using the converged infrastructure approach, organisations are able to massively reduce the risk around infrastructure architecture, reduce time to service delivery and man hours involved in maintaining their infrastructure.

Key Benefits

A transformative approach to data centres leveraging converged infrastructure allows organisations to reduce complexity and risk in architecting solutions, also mitigating interoperability challenges in the planning phase. When organisations can buy their infrastructure in an appliance fashion, where the vendor has taken ownership of the complex plumbing, this allows businesses to focus on better aligning IT resources to business demands.

Typically when taking the à la carte approach to building and maintaining a data centre using silo technology stacks, larger organisations can churn 70% of IT spending simply by keeping the lights on and systems running. When IT budgets are under pressure, the challenge is in finding available budget for investing in new software and services which can really differentiate a company from its competition.

Mid Market Organisations

Converged infrastructure still plays a role in the mid market; its value is in allowing customers to promptly meet service and application requirements, while ensuring reduced design complexity and swift deployment. When the bespoke approach to infrastructure delivery is undertaken, the requirement to manage skills and interoperability across all technology stacks drives complexity. Converged infrastructure, on the other hand, enables mid market organisations to leverage an appliance approach focusing on sizing for the appropriate resource and scale, not on the nuts and bolts of how it’s held together.

When dealing with larger corporations, CXOs look to ensure rapid deployment of applications and services. This could be the difference between gaining a competitive edge or not. If a competitor gets to market first but your organisation drags its heels for six months due to the required IT rollout taking too long, your organisation is at a disadvantage. Quick delivery is key in staying ahead of the game. The mid market is slightly different in that although these companies still need to remain competitive, they often have far less robust IT teams, so simplicity of design, management and support become more of a driving factor.

Challenges

Looking at why people buy IT, private companies purchase technology to make money. In the public sector, it is to deliver services. When looking at repeatable architecture, with reduced risk and time to deployment, organisations can reduce the air gap between business and technology and stay better aligned to these objectives.

When it comes to the channel, the challenge is lining up the right skills at the right time to ensure the procurement cycle is not lengthened where it need not be.

Many partners understand how to deliver data centre solutions today and do it well. There are also many customers with a good grasp of the various technology stacks involved in IT infrastructure. However, opting for the bespoke approach to building a data centre can leave an infrastructure exposed to organic growth and hardware sprawl driving unnecessary complexity.

When leveraging converged infrastructure, you can define a building block of infrastructure design to support “X” number of users and you can understand that the power, cooling and management costs in maintaining and managing that building block are “Y”. This allows you to gain real control over the cost of delivering services, be it internally or externally.

The mid market is seemingly further along in terms of what percentage of their IT estate is virtualised, as typically there is less to virtualise. However, often this degree of virtualisation is underpinned by unbalanced infrastructure where they have remediated their existing physical estate to accommodate virtualisation. Most converged platforms are designed and taken to market specifically with virtualisation in mind, meaning that as their estate grows, they will be well equipped to deploy new servers without worrying about the infrastructure ‘falling over’.

Most mid market organisations started small; however, technology needs are constant and evolving. This growth, when driven across an unbalanced and organically grown infrastructure, culminates in infrastructure bottlenecks. Ultimately, whether on physical or virtual infrastructure, the application requirements remain the same, so when we drive the same number of applications on less hardware, we again expose ourselves to risk. Converged infrastructure allows these companies to manage the disruption that this growth creates, whilst providing balanced architecture and simple design practice to meet business demands.

Summary

The nirvana for any organisation is for IT to be an enabler, not a constraint. Taking a converged infrastructure approach can remove a lot of pain, as it’s designed with architectural simplicity in mind. In my opinion, the ability for an organisation to progress in the volatile markets of today will depend on organisations defocusing on data centre plumbing and better spending time exploring how they can differentiate themselves by rapidly bringing new services to market, giving them the edge they need.

Posted under IT infrastructure

Channel Opportunity: Converged Systems

Converged Systems IT storage specialist

Wayne Gratton, EMEA SolutionsPath business development director

Today’s businesses are constantly changing and developing at a rapid pace that’s pushing IT departments and data centres to deliver applications that are fast, scalable and interoperable in a shorter time scale. Because of this, customers are now contemplating how to deliver improved OPEX in their data centres and are increasingly searching for ways to move towards the ‘private cloud.’ This could be driven by what customers are seeing in the public cloud – with instant provisioning of IT services – and expecting the same in their own dedicated data centres.

Changing workloads, such as Desktop Virtualisation, Business Analytics, ERP systems or even new application services, mean that companies are considering ways of centralising and consolidating their IT systems to meet demand, streamline company information and improve cost efficiency.

The question is: how can companies organise these pools of resources quickly enough to be able to implement repeatable, secure, manageable and cohesive applications? The answer… Converged systems.

It seems to me that converged systems are becoming more and more appealing to vendors to address this challenge. We’re certainly seeing an increase in interest from customers and partners who want to find out more about these solution opportunities and what they can offer the channel.

IDC’s 2012 European Storage Survey highlights the rapid rate at which converged systems are being adopted in European organisations. This year alone, more than a third of the surveyed organisations reported deploying some type of converged infrastructure. According to IDC, this interest in converged systems is the result of the rise in private cloud deployments – 20 percent cited they have implemented private clouds in 2012, compared with only six percent in the previous European storage survey, conducted in 2011.

Because of the increasing demand for this type of IT management process, many vendors, like HP, Cisco, Oracle and IBM, are now offering these solutions. However, it is also true that some vendors and resellers are still unaware of the market opportunity.

In this case, it’s essential to understand what converged systems are, what this technology can do and what exactly the benefits are.

So, with that being said, what is a converged system?

  • A converged system can be defined as a ‘pre-integrated, vendor-certified system’
  • The combination of storage and computing into a single entity is known as converged storage
  • It can contain: servers, data storage devices, networking equipment, middleware and application software in addition to software for IT infrastructure management, automation and orchestration
  • An operating system and virtualisation can also be part of a converged solution
  • It’s also worth noting IT vendors and industry analysts use various terms to describe the concept of a converged infrastructure. These include: ‘converged system,’ ‘unified computing,’ ‘fabric-based computing,’ and ‘dynamic infrastructure’

Why use converged systems?

  • Converged systems are a step up compared to reference architectures, as they are typically sold as pre-integrated solutions, even a SKU – a number or code used to identify each unique product to enable inventory to be tracked
  • They create a group of virtualised servers, storage and networking capacity that is shared by multiple applications and lines of business, making it more streamlined and more manageable
  • Converged infrastructure provides technical and business efficiencies, stemming from the pre-integration of technology components, the pooling of IT resources and the automation of IT processes

Converged systems address the key challenges of managing evolving workloads and copious amounts of data. I would highlight the key customer benefits as:

  • Ease and speed of deployment
  • Lower operating expenses
  • Improved security
  • Higher utilisation
  • Ease of management
  • Improved application performance and application availability

One thing’s for sure, these systems simplify the use and optimisation of application environments by integrating hardware, software and services into turnkey solutions. It can be noted that this converged approach allows resellers’ and partners’ customers to quickly get to grips with the full potential of virtualisation, cloud and next-generation applications, such as real-time analytics. In addition, it also helps to speed up the consolidation of legacy applications, data and infrastructure – quite simply to drive business growth and promote cost efficiency.

Posted under Cloud Computing, Virtualisation