Tuesday Nov 20, 2012

Data Center at the Era of Complexity

Data Centers are currently experiencing what could be seen in a few years as a quite radical change in the way IT solutions are designed, implemented and managed. This change is driven by necessity and is the answer to the biggest challenge IT has been facing in years: complexity. Whether we like it or not, all the phases in an IT project have become more complex during the past years:

  • The business problems that must be solved are more acute than ever in a world where the necessity for competitive advantages has infiltrated all the layers of the Enterprise. This has triggered more complex interactions between users and IT departments, resulting in error-prone IT solution approaches. Big Data is a typical example of the IT solution design challenges that must be addressed by more and more businesses; if they don’t do it, they simply take the risk to be left behind by more agile competitors. But going into the Big Data field poses serious IT challenges…
  • There is a profusion of technology offerings that result in non standardized IT solutions, one-off approaches and ad-hoc answers to problems which are quite similar by nature. This applies to all the layers of the IT stack, from hardware to middleware and software.
  • Management and operation of these ever changing solutions becomes a real challenge at a time were budget constraints keep growing and resources become scarcer.

As a result, we often see situations where the top 10 applications in a data center may involve 8 or 10 different software vendors, with the sum adding up to 40 or more different products. And, because these systems are not developed and tested together, customers end up with multiple levels of integration: storage to system integration, solution integration which brings in the middleware, database and applications, and data center integration which attempts to make all of these heterogeneous components play nicely together.

If you’re an integration consultant, this definitely looks like employment for life, but if you’re a CIO it looks like a bottomless money pit.

One of the major objectives pursued by Oracle with its IT strategy is to provide its customers with an integrated stack where all the components, from the application down to storage, are integrated and optimized. The advantages of this approach are two-fold:

  • Customers do not have to worry about designing, integrating and testing an IT stack made of heterogeneous pieces that need to be managed and supported separately;
  • The resulting IT solution is highly optimized and includes engineering innovations that will not be met in an assembly made from off-the-shelf components.

Integrated Stack /
 Engineered Systems

Of course, this approach does not prevent Oracle from developing open and standard-based components in the integrated stack so that maximum flexibility and interoperability can be achieved within the IT Center. As a result, the integrated IT solutions proposed by Oracle provide the best performance at a fraction of the cost of an equivalent solution that would be “manually” integrated. The TCO of such solutions is also best in class because of shorter deployment times, easier management and facilitated support and upgrades.

Best of Breed Components

However, Oracle's goal is not just to provide fully integrated IT solutions to its customers. It is also to make available best of breed technology at every layer of the IT stack with the objective to integrate them into heterogeneous environments. After all, this approach will continue to be valid for many situations in the Data Center, right? This is especially true for Oracle’s storage portfolio at the bottom of the stack with disk and tape products that have unmatched capabilities on the market.

These are namely:

  • The Sun ZFS Storage Appliance which is a leading product in terms of performance with several benchmark records in its category;
  • The Pillar Axiom storage system which has unique and recognized capabilities in terms of QoS and efficiency;
  • The StorageTek tape product line which is recognized as a clear leader on the market.

Oracle pays of course a special attention to qualify these individual products with third-party software and hardware products in order to allow its customers building their own customized IT solutions.

So the net result is quite simple: we will see more and more data center managers looking for IT simplification through the adoption of an IT integrated stack that will extend down to the storage layer. At the end of the day, this will be all about fast deployment, ease of management and best in class performance and effectiveness.

This opens new opportunities for optimizations since specific dedicated functions can then be delegated to storage devices, typically in circumstances where data access intensive tasks have to be executed such as the scan of a database table. Such things can be done only if the vendor masters all the layers of the stack, otherwise it would take too much effort and time to achieve an effective interoperability between heterogeneous components vendors. This is the road that Oracle is taking, and several Engineered Systems are already available such as Exadata, Exalogic and Exalytics. Storage will continue to play a key role in the innovation process of such systems, and this is why Oracle continues to heavily invest in best of breed storage products: not only they will be very competitive on the general storage market, but they will also prove invaluable when it comes to add value to integrated solutions.