Avoiding Fragmented Infrastructure in the Data Center

As a growing number of IT shops grow more comfortable with implementing their first cloud environments, they are recognizing the costs, benefits and operational efficiencies of this strategy. However, they are also discovering the rippling effects that cloud implementations may have on their existing virtualized infrastructures: fragmented infrastructures, a management nightmare. Arsalan Farooq, CEO and founder of Convirture, has experience dealing with IT shops that face this problem. Below, he offers insight.

Q. Some shops complain about dealing with fragmented infrastructures because of different approaches they have taken in implementing multiple clouds. What advice can you offer to fix that?

Arsalan Farooq: First, I would say don’t panic and start ripping everything out. And don’t run back to the virtualized or physical model you came from, because you have tried that and it didn’t work. The problem isn’t that your cloud model isn’t working. The problem is it’s fragmented, and the complexity of it is out of control. I recommend taking a top-down approach from the management perspective. You need to invest in management tools that allow you to manage the fragmented parts of your infrastructure and workloads from a single location. Now, this doesn’t solve the fragmentation problem completely because you are dealing with not only fragmented infrastructure, but also fragmented management and fragmented workloads. But once you can see all your workloads and infrastructures in one place and can operate them in one place, you can make more intelligent decisions about the workload fragmentation problem.

Q. Cloud management software is not technically keeping up with managing both physical and virtual environments. Does your solution here help out with that?

A.F.: Once you are in this fragmented infrastructure silo, the vendor tries to sell you their proprietary management too. At the end of the day, you have a management tool that just manages your vertical cloud, and another management tool that just manages your virtualized infrastructure and so on. My advice is to divest the management risk from the platform risk. If you don’t do this, you’re asking for it. As data centers become multi-infrastructure, multi-cloud and multi-operational, you have to divest the risk of the new platform from the risk of your management practices. I’m not a big fan of buying a new platform that forces you to buy new infrastructures and new management tools.

Q. What is the most important element IT shops overlook in putting together their first cloud implementation?

A.F.: Typically, there is a misunderstanding of what the scope of the transformation will be. A lot of people end up with misgivings because they have been sold on this idea that a cloud implementation will 100 percent transform the way they can build their IT data center. Second (and this is more sinister), they believe the cloud can bring efficiencies and cost benefits, but that in itself comes at a cost. You are buying efficiency and cost benefits, but you are paying the complexity price for it. This is something remarkably absent as people go into a cloud implementation. Only after they implement their cloud do they realize the architectural topology is much more complex than it was before.

Q. There is this disconnect between what IT shops already have in their virtualized data centers and what the vendors are offering as solutions to layer on top of that. Why is that?

A.F.: That is the crux of the problem we are dealing with right now. Most cloud vendors talk about how their cloud deployment works and what it brings in terms of efficiencies and cost benefits. But what that discussion leaves out is how the transformation from a cloudless data center to one that has a cloud actually works. Specifically, what are the new metrics, properties and cost benefits surrounding all that? And then, once the transformation is made, what are the attributes of a multi-infrastructure data center? Conversations about this are completely absent.

Q. But explaining something like the metrics of a new cloud conversation to an IT shop seems like such a basic part of the conversation.

A.F.: Right, but the problem is many vendors take a more tactical view of things. They are focused on selling their wares, which are cloud infrastructures. But addressing the bigger-picture ramifications is something many don’t seem to have the capacity to answer, and so they don’t talk about it. So the solution then falls either to the CIOs or other vendors who are trying to attack that problem directly.

Q. Some IT executives with virtualized data centers wonder if they even need a cloud. What do you say to those people?

A.F.: This may sound a bit flippant, but if you feel you don’t need a cloud, then you probably don’t. You have to remember what the cloud is bringing. The cloud is not a technology; it is a model. It comes down to what the CIO is looking for. If they are satisfied with the level of efficiency in their virtualized data centers, then there is no compelling reason for them to move to the cloud. However, I don’t think there are too many CIOs who, when given the prospect of incrementally improving the efficiencies of part of their operations, would not go for it.

Q. Are companies getting more confident about deploying public clouds, without having to first do a private one?

A.F.: The largest data centers still can’t find a compelling reason to move to the public cloud. The smaller shops and startups (most of which don’t have the expertise or have any infrastructure) are more confident in moving to a public cloud. The bigger question here is whether the larger corporate data centers ever move their entire operation to the public cloud as opposed to just using it in a niche role for things like backup or excess capacity.

Q. I assumed large data centers would move their entire operations to a public cloud once the relevant technologies became faster and more reliable and secure. What will it take for large data centers to gain more confidence about public clouds?

A.F.: One thing missing is a compelling cost-complexity-to-benefits ratio. My favorite example from a few months ago was when we were going to do workloads that automatically load balance between local and public cloud scenarios with cloud bursting. That all sounds good, but do you know how much Amazon costs for network transfers? It’s an arm and a leg. It is ridiculously expensive. Do an analysis of what it costs to take a medium-load website and run it constantly on Amazon, and then compare that to a co-lo or renting a server from your local provider, and your mind would be boggled. The overall economics of public clouds -- despite all the hype -- are not well-aligned given the high network usage, bandwidth usage and CPU usage scenarios. Until that changes, it’s hard to find compelling arguments to do all these fancy things that everyone talks about doing with public clouds, including ourselves. We have cloud bursting we are working on in the labs, but we are also pretty sober about what that means as to whether or not it’s here as a practical solution.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/halbergman