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

The Software-Defined Data Centre Explained: Part II of II

Steve Phillips, CIO, Avnet Inc.

In part one of this article, we examined how data centres have evolved, and why current solutions are leaving some businesses searching for what they believe is the next evolution in data centre architecture: the software defined data centre (SDDC).

In this post we’ll examine how soon SDDC’s may become a reality, what obstacles are holding it back, and identity a few of the vendors to watch out for as SDDC becomes a reality.

HOW PROMISING AND HOW SOON?

According to Gartner’s Hype Cycle for 2014, the SDDC—part of what they refer to as “software-defined anything,” or SDA/SDX—is still firmly in the Cycle’s first stage, where the promise of technology has yet to be grounded in the context of real-world application.

That hasn’t stopped Gartner from calling software-defined anything “one of the top IT trends with the greatest possible impact on an enterprise’s infrastructure and operations,” according to Computer Weekly.

EARLY OBSTACLES TO ADOPTION

While the potential for SDDC may be great, embracing it is more of a revolution than an evolution. The migration to a virtualized environment could be embraced by traditional data centres as time, budget and business need allowed, with virtualized racks next to traditional hardware racks.

On the other hand, software-defined data centres require common APIs to operate: the hardware can be pooled and controlled by software or it can’t. As a result, companies with significant legacy infrastructures may find it difficult to adopt SDDC in their own environments.

One way for existing data centres to avoid the “all or nothing” approach of SDDC is by embracing what Gartner began referring to as “bimodal IT” in 2014. Bimodal IT identifies two types of IT needs:

  • Type 1 is traditional IT, which places a premium on stability and efficiency for mission-critical infrastructure needs.
  • Type 2 refers to a more agile environment focused on speed, scalability, time-to-market, close alignment with business needs, and rapid evolution.

A bimodal IT arrangement would allow large legacy IT operations to establish a separate SDDC-driven environment to meet business needs that call for fast, scalable and agile IT resources, while continuing to rely on traditional virtualized environments for applications and business needs that value uptime and consistency above all else.

Over time, more resources could be devoted to the new SDDC architecture as the needs of the business evolve, without requiring the entire data centre to convert to SDDC all at once.

WHAT VENDORS ARE LEADING THE SDDC CHARGE?

Given how different software-defined data centre architectures are from traditional and virtualized environments, it’s a golden opportunity for new and emerging vendors to gain a first-mover advantage on some of the entrenched data centre giants.

APIs: The critical components of SDDC are the APIs that control the pooled resources. OpenStack’s API is the open source market leader at this point, since many vendors currently rely on their own proprietary APIs to control their hardware.

Computing & Storage: Emerging players like Nimble Storage and Nutanix are at the forefront of the SDDC movement, but data centre incumbents like IBM, HP, Dell, NetApp, Cisco and EMC are right there with them.

Networking: While Cisco, Juniper and HP are certainly the focus of the software defined networking space, startups like Big Switch and Cumulus Networks are gaining significant market interest, funding and traction as the SDDC model gains momentum.

Converged Infrastructure: Two additional initiatives worth keeping an eye on are VCE and their VBlock solutions, as well as NetApp’s Flexpods integrated infrastructure solutions. These products are designed to meet the needs of both “clean sheet” and legacy IT environments interested in pursuing the bimodal IT approach.

So while the reality of the SDDC may be a few years away for many IT environments with considerable legacy investments, it’s certainly a new and compelling vision for the data centre.

More importantly, it appears to be the solution IT is looking for in the always on, mission critical, cloud-ready and data-rich environment we operate in today. Expect to hear more on this topic in future Behind the Firewall blog posts.

Posted under Storage, Virtualisation

The channel needs to wake up to converged infrastructure and emerging technologies in the data centre

Dieter Lott, Vice President Business Development, EMEA at Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

Many organisations’ data centres today are made up of complicated legacy models. This has led to a drastic increase in IT complexity overall, creating big challenges when it comes to IT management, security, scalability and cost efficiency within data centres.

On top of this, today’s IT departments have a perplexing choice of technologies as they build and maintain their data centres to meet the demands of the digital economy. To address the needs of the new digitally savvy workforce too, larger organisations have built teams around the technology disciplines of server, storage and networking and the best-of-breed solutions in each area. The luxury of dedicated teams though isn’t available to all organisations.

One increasingly popular approach to this challenge is by implementing converged infrastructure and new emerging technologies in the data centre such as software defined networking (SDN), operational analytics and big data.

Converged infrastructure is now well and truly a growth market and the channel needs to address this now. This technology has the ability to bring together all fundamental hardware components in an intelligently engineered, purpose-built configuration. A key benefit of converged infrastructure is the fact that these systems are pre-configured, integrated, tested and installed as a single, cohesive unit, rather than ‘bolted together’ with a digital version of duct tape.

In a nutshell, by deploying converged infrastructure, organisations can reduce complexity, ease deployment and integration, lower expenses and improve their ability to deploy technology for truly transformative needs, rather than simply to ‘keep systems operating’.

But what else can it do and what should the channel be addressing?

  1. Accommodating new and emerging technologies – complex and rigid legacy systems make it difficult to integrate newer IT such as mobility and cloud computing.
  2. Bridging skills gaps – close integration points between the different technologies within the converged infrastructure stack and upper level management/orchestration software means IT management is greatly simplified and training requirements are often reduced. However, in order for customers to realise these benefits, the channel needs to address skills in delivering solutions and services in tools around management and orchestration.
  3. Businesses operate in silos – to realise the full potential of converged infrastructure, end customer businesses need to have a consolidated approach to managing their infrastructure, and channel organisations need the same joined up approach to delivering it.
  4. Limited resources – converged infrastructure can alleviate this challenge of limited resource by providing technology that is built to work together and can be managed in a simplified cohesive manner.
  5. Legacy infrastructure – standardisation of infrastructure is the key to simplifying infrastructure management. Converged infrastructure needs to be viewed not simply as a typical IT cost, but as a means to reducing complexity and operating costs over time.
  6. Complex regulatory environment – converged infrastructure creates a standardised model to ensure compliance is met as you can define the mould and repeat it, which is much simpler than maintaining compliance in a non-standardised, ad-hoc infrastructure.
  7. Ensuring continuity – the inability to respond to customer demands for even a moment can be massively detrimental to an organisation’s financial health –business continuity is key. This doesn’t mean simply saving data in the event of disaster but maintaining “business as usual” IT. Converged infrastructure simplifies disaster recovery planning as businesses can work with a standard model for infrastructure regardless of location.

On top of these challenges, the pace of change within data centres is spectacular and this is why converged infrastructure, and new emerging technologies like mobility, cloud and software defined networking (SDN), are already key discussion points in the IT industry due to the drive for more scalable IT architectures. The convergence of data centre tech and networking tech is causing this significant market shift.

Data centre infrastructure is becoming increasingly complex as end-users embrace a combination of on- and off-premise cloud solutions, as well as platform and software “as-a-service” models. At the same time, businesses are under pressure to align IT costs more effectively to performance, ensuring high demand times for IT are covered effectively without over-investing. This need is compelling IT organisations to place more emphasis on capacity forecasting and analytics – yet finding the different skill levels required for these new emerging technologies in the data centre is a real challenge. Gartner backed this when it found 80 percent of businesses “will find growth constrained from a lack of new data centre skills by 2016.” This means there’s a question over whether the channel has the IT skills to address market demands.

I believe we now have an opportunity in the channel; this is a chance for resellers to step in and fulfil the IT skills on behalf of their customers. The channel needs to help businesses in EMEA to understand how and why these technologies help to overcome business challenges and requirements for today – and tomorrow. What is more, it answers, to a certain extent, where the value proposition in the future reseller landscape lies. The role distributors play will be affected too. We will be trusted to provide both enablement and the skills and training that are required.

Posted under IT infrastructure

Flexible lifecycle services helps partners accelerate their success

Joost Masseur, Director EMEA, Lifecycle Solutions at Avnet Services

Avnet provides a range of well-established services to help our Channel Partners manage their customers’ IT equipment throughout its lifecycle.

To stay competitive it’s important Business Partners find new ways to make a real difference to their customers by enhancing the value their organisation can deliver. With its portfolio of lifecycle services, Avnet gives Business Partners greater capacity to do just this. They can contract in any of the services as needed. Then profitably resell them to their customers. Even if they have their own services in-house, Avnet can help where they need a little extra capacity to manage peaks in demand.

Avnet will buy back used hardware, or where it has no economic value Avnet can quote to recycle it responsibly. Where their customers need to procure equipment that has gone end of life, Avnet can usually source hardware from a network of contacts around the globe. Often for short-term projects or for proof-of-concepts it can make more sense to use Avnet’s rental programme. Avnet offers a number of data destruction solutions for retired IT assets. When the asset has gone end of life, Business Partners are encouraged to talk to Avnet about maintenance solutions. In addition, Avnet is able to provide installation and integration services around the globe. The short video on this page explains the range of re-sellable lifecycle services available from Avnet.

Avnet’s experts work alongside Business Partners to understand the business and IT challenges. Using lifecycle tools, resources and expertise, they will ensure they get the right solution tailored to meet the specific challenge.

To find out more about how Avnet can act as an extension to our Business Partners existing resources and support them with any short or long-term skills gaps, watch this short video  or contact the EMEA Lifecycle team on:
Tel: + 44 (0)1926 477 600
Email: lifecycle.emea@avnet.com
Website:  http://avnet.me/L4P

Posted under IT infrastructure