The Role of Abstraction in Data Center Transformation

Most data centers have a very long history with the enterprises they provide services for. Data centers grew up around the users they provide services to and are generally located within a close proximity to the user base. As LAN capabilities improved, performance of local applications became less of an issue for enterprises but new capabilities were generally landed in existing facilities. As the enterprise grew through mergers and acquisitions, additional data center capacity was generally co-located with the new users.

When availability was the key metric for measuring performance of applications, it became customary for each new application that the enterprise was rolling out (whether developed or purchased) to have its own dedicated hardware, to protect the integrity of the application and improve stability. Over time this has led to data centers around the world that are full of hardware that operates at a fraction of what it's capable of! Application owners were loathe to consider the idea of ‘stacking' applications on the same server, looking to avoid potential conflicts that arise in a shared resource environment.

We now have multiple vectors for driving efficiency into our data centers: energy efficiency, sustainability and cost are some that are moving organizations toward initiatives that will transform the way we provide services from the data center and how we support those services going forward. Driving efficiency is a painful but necessary step in the overall transformation.

Transformation can mean many things to the enterprise but part of a data center transformation generally involves consolidation of data center facilities and compute resources that provide services to the enterprise. This can cause some amount of nervousness on the part of the end users, application developers and administrators who have grown accustomed to unfettered access to resources over time.

Why is this abstraction of resources from users, developers and administrators necessary? A primary driver is to standardize facilities, network, compute and storage resources so the operations staff is sustaining a small number of standard offerings, which provides them with a very predictable environment that they can become expert is sustaining. By centralizing to fewer facilities and driving toward higher utilization of existing resources (i.e. network, servers and storage) the enterprise can obtain more work out of their data centers for less energy and therefore less cost.

Removing the users, developers and administrators from the data center is a process and mindset change that will take resolve and ultimately executive support. So many IT pros feel they need to ‘touch' their environment but this leads to custom configurations, unknown/undocumented changes and instability in an environment that we're trying to standardize. Building the competency within the operations group will facilitate a change in the way excursions and outages are dealt with and will form the basis of a much more predictable environment that the operations team will feel proud to own. This is one piece of the transformation that cannot be overlooked when considering the evolution of the enterprise data center.