Sunday, May 9, 2010

Evolution in the Data Center

Ok, this post does not have much to do with security (except for one of the points below). I've been catching up on happenings in the data center these days and it appears a gradual evolution is underway. The following is what I understand and I wrote it down so that
- you might avoid having to do the research
- more selfishly, you might point out mistakes in my understanding

1) What is virtualization -- First of all, the hypervisor has very little to do with what is happening in virtualization now. Until I figured that out (I thought virtualization and hypervisor are one nad the same; and although it is cool to be able to run multiple OS's on a CPU, one can achieve 80-90% of what a hypervisor provides without virtualization) I did not think virtualization was of much use and that is was hyped unnecessarily by the tech media. Now I realize that virtualization is not about the hypervisor (yes, it is now an important element but almost commoditized) but about tools that help IT admins to dynamically respond to changing IT needs such as:
- Provisioning new applications quickly
- Scaling them up or down to meet changing loads
- Migrating them to different servers in the same or a different data center for performance or power optimization or for disaster recovery etc.

2) Components of a virtualized data center -- To achieve the above goals the following components are needed:
- Servers -- Of course, where else would the applications run :)
- IP switches/routers -- For users to access the applications and for applications to talk to each other. If NAS is used these also provide access to storage
- Optional storage switches -- Although theoretically possible to use storage attached to servers directly, it is more efficient to use specialized storage like SAN or NAS. If SAN is used, FC and/or FCoE switches are needed.
The above components are not new. They have been used in data centers for ages. But virtualization does impose new requirements on them.
- Virtualization magic software -- This is a new and hence arguably the most important component. It is the software that allows the IT admin to orchestrate the changes needed to achieve the three goals mentioned in (1) above. This is what made VMWare successful (for a long time I thought it was the hypervisor!). Scalent makes another nice one...I am sure there are others

3) Market Dynamics -- This evolution of the data center provides an opportunity for vendors of the above components(incumbent and upstarts) to innovate within those product categories(to address the changing requirements). That will surely happen and within a year or two , I believe, all vendors within those categories will have 90% matching features with remaining 10% in a diminishing returns but unavoidable arms race. On the other hand, this evolution also provides large incumbent vendors an opportunity to innovate across categories providing vertically integrated solutions (like Cisco, VMWare, EMC). Of course, this creates an opportunity for exactly the opposite innovation: enabling standard, interoperable, multi-vendor solutions. Scalent is a good example of this. I think in the end the latter will win but it might still make sense for companies like Cisco to delay this for their products and pursue vertical integration to gain market share.

It will be fun to watch this happen!

1 comment:

Mohit said...

Another acquisition in the "orchestration magic" category: