Why the future of the data center is web-scale IT?

Data Center

Sunil Mahale Nutanix


By Sunil Mahale, MD & Vice President, Nutanix Technologies India

Global research company Gartner reckons that by 2017 web-scale IT will be an architectural approach found operating in 50 percent of global enterprises. But a leap from less than 10 percent in 2013 is a significant jump, so what is it all about, this mysterious “architectural approach”? What exactly is web-scale IT and how does it make enterprise cloud computing possible?

Web-scale defined

Most companies will, by now, have realized the benefits of sever virtualization, despite which data centers everywhere continue to rely on complex, inflexible and expensive server and storage platforms to support business-critical applications. On the one hand, this approach is tried and tested and known to work on the other it limits scalability, discourages change and handicaps companies seeking to exploit new IT developments and ways of working.

Unsurprisingly, the big names in cloud computing including Amazon, Facebook and Google have long abandoned these proprietary platforms in favour of their own, infinitely more scalable, software-defined infrastructures hosted on cheap, easy to deploy commodity hardware. In the process, they have also revamped their IT processes and operations to achieve the agility their business models demand and it’s this new architectural approach to buying, deploying and managing IT that we refer to as web-scale.

The benefits have been enormous, but not all businesses are able to build massively scalable IT platforms able to deliver on-demand computing and storage to millions of users worldwide. Some are, but smaller companies typically lack the financial and technical resources of the big cloud companies. Either that or they are unwilling to take the risk of disrupting their IT environments. For them alternative approaches based around proven web-scale technologies are what’s required, delivering benefits that fit not just their needs, but their technical resources and budgets, eliminating the need for a complete overhaul.

So what are your options?

One way for companies to bring web-scale into their data centers is to handcraft a custom IT environment from the ground up using web-scale products and technologies now readily available from all leading server and storage vendors. Built this way, however, companies must change not only infrastructure architectures and technologies, but also operational processes and organisational structure and skill sets.

Done right, this approach offers the full potential of web-scale IT but also entails the highest level of change and risk. Enterprises that use technology at the core of their business or as a source of competitive advantage can use this model, but others should approach with caution.

A less risky way is to use hardened, enterprise-packaged solutions based on open-source web-scale tools to build agile, scalable environments for a just section of the IT environment. A popular example here is the emergence of Big Data departments within large companies employing tools like Hadoop and NoSQL dedicates to the capture, processing and analysis of large volumes of data to generate actionable insights.

This, more conservative, approach allows companies to use web-scale selectively where it makes sense, while still keeping systems of record on traditional infrastructure. However, while this makes web-scale more accessible and acceptable to the more mainstream enterprise, it does still require the acquisition of specialised skillsets to handle these radically different environments. And that, in turn, calls for investment in learning and managing web-scale technologies that are very different from existing norms, and that may prove prohibitive to smaller enterprises.

Fortunately there is yet another approach that allows enterprises to embrace web-scale principles without revamping their IT environments or learning new skills. An approach facilitated by specialist vendors packaging the essence of web-scale principles and architectures into more easily assimilated turnkey solutions.

Vendors here, typically, offer hyper converged solutions based on commodity compute, storage and networking hardware delivered together in a low cost appliance-like format. Delivered pre-configured with the necessary software-defined storage layer and able to work with multiple hypervisor platforms, these web-scale appliances reflect the approach taken by the large cloud companies in that they don’t rely on the use of legacy technologies. Neither do they require specialist management tools or expertise, employing a simple graphical interface to manage all the available physical and, in some instances, virtual resources in one place. Moreover, by distributing compute, storage and networking resources across a multi-node network they make it possible to bring web-scale into the data center and deliver the proven benefits of this approach to companies of any size, for any workload.

And Enterprise Cloud?

Web-scale infrastructure has been systematically proven and has rapidly become the model architecture for public cloud services operated by all the large web companies including Netflix and others mentioned above. The big advance now, alluded to by Gartner in its report, is for the enterprise-owned private cloud to benefit from the same on-demand scalability, flexibility, and linear high performance as the aforementioned proven cloud pioneers. To enable companies to build an Enterprise Cloud in the data centre no matter how big, or small, the enterprise in question.