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Photo: Jahangir Naina
The nature of today's business has fundamentally changed — it's faster, more demanding, and requires immense agility to constantly respond to new customer and employee requirements. At the core of a highly responsive business is the next-generation data centre, which requires a data centre network that is just as agile, flexible, and scalable as the data centre infrastructure itself.
A transformed data centre network creates a simplified environment and helps to realise significant operational cost savings through automation. It can deliver traffic more efficiently, improve security, and streamline application delivery that provides for a better user experience.
What do organisations need to keep in mind when transforming their data centre networks to achieve such ambitious goals? We discuss five considerations which can ensure the transformation is on track.
- Applications are key. Your business operations don't run on hardware alone. Today's businesses are running more applications than before, and network architecture needs to scale and support all these applications, while providing for their changing needs. With applications becoming more fragmented and running across multiple and separated pieces of hardware or virtualised infrastructure, the network connecting them also needs to become far more flexible.
The evolution of networks means they're becoming more flexible and agile, and able to integrate far more closely into the application layer. Software-defined networking and application-centric infrastructure are just two new developments that have allowed networks to be more connected and configured to support applications in a more robust way.
- Data growth is inevitable. Data growth doesn't apply to data use by applications and data storage only, but also to network traffic, that is driven even more by consolidation and centralisation of IT infrastructures. Presently, data centre networks are experiencing a 60% growth in the amount of traffic flow per year.
The nature of applications, computers, and virtualisation suggests that such growth isn't going to drop off any time soon and will simply exacerbate the implications of large data volumes overtime. It is hence critical for data centre networks to look for ways to manage this data explosion.
- There will always be opportunities to automate. Increasingly, systems and applications running on top of data centre networks are becoming more automated. Virtual machines now have the ability to automatically provision themselves to scale up or down and to move around the environment, while many data centre operational functions, like backups, have been automated. Manual network operations require administrators to configure each device separately, resulting in a significant time lag between when an automated change is executed in the data centre, and when the network is ready to support it.
The operational gap presents a unique opportunity to examine the network and automate as much of it as possible, in order to more closely align the automated ability of its workload and the applications with other data centre infrastructures.
Ways of automating that are now becoming possible include automating a set of basic administration functions, for example setting up a virtual local area network; and enabling a network to provision a network service, like an application-delivery controller or a firewall, on demand as it's needed in a particular environment.
- Network services can help. Turning to a managed services provider that can assist with technology-related services as well as network management services will ensure that you get appropriate support for your existing infrastructure. As the foundation of a data centre, any weakness in the network, if not managed and maintained properly, can result in a total data centre collapse. As such, it's crucial to ensure the network is adequately robust enough to support the rest of your infrastructure.
To avoid any inordinate amount of downtime or outages, a managed network services partner must be able to offer you a complete managed service that covers the management of servers, storage, and the network.
- User experience is critical. Your users don't sit in the data centre — they work from a branch, your head office, or remotely. Because users are somewhere else, access to applications delivered from the data centre, needs to be rapid and secure.
This means it's absolutely critical that application delivery technologies are in place to accelerate the traffic as it leaves the data centre to give users a positive user experience, irrespective of where they are or what device they're connecting from.
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