Reference Architecture: The Make Or Break Point For Today's Data Centers

Louis Martinez, CIO, OmniSYS, LLC
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Louis Martinez, CIO, OmniSYS, LLC

A skilled open heart surgeon has likely seen so many variants of the ailments she is attempting to remediate that a mental playbook is ingrained for quick decision making. How many variations of a full scale core network upgrade or IDS/IPS/UTM implementation have you participated in designing and delivering? If the number is more than 5, you are either a technology powerhouse who has reinvented many data centers, or you enjoy spending time smashing your hand with a hammer in between upgrades. The greatest planning for any significant data center upgrade where today’s expectation is zero downtime is downright scary. Today’s senior technologists may not have someone’s life in their hands, or maybe you do, but having a significant tool chest of previous experiences that allow you to make the best decisions quickly will not only help you succeed, but will also no doubt inspire your team to build up their mental playbook for their future successes.

Today’s data center technology may seem as if an unimaginable number of permutations of architectures exist, and they do if you decide to build something better than anyone has ever imagined. If it’s not based on a reference architecture, then you are highly likely to revisit your project. I’ve been lucky enough to be responsible for a good number of data centers along with visiting a significant number of data centers, some belonging to the biggest names in global cloud computing, and thanks to the hard work by many brilliant forward thinking engineers, my bet is that if you consider your data center fairly modern, then our architectures are pretty close. We’ve been working towards data centers that can be upgraded with a greater sense of confidence in firstpass success and zero downtime. Two of the biggest projects in my 2015 data center roadmap are centered on a full core network swap out and security feature upgrades.

Simple and Secure Networks

After 20+ years in the technology industry, the hardest and scariest component of data center management for me has always been the network. Core switches, distribution switches, access switches, VLANs for proper segmentation, firewalls, fiber channel over Ethernet, role based access control andleast privilege. It’s not simple. Although by asking the right questions and having the right partners, you can build out for the future and keep it simple, which we all know is a relative term in our chosen craft. After my first network facelift, which was a complete core network uplift and a floor by floor upgrade for 3 buildings, I truly recognized how much it means to team members to be part of the work and to complement their efforts with a strategic partner’s professional service for knowledge transfer. The CFO may wonder why your team can’t do it alone, but the ROI in knowledge transfer is very hard to calculate on a spreadsheet for a CFO to realize the true value of experts helping experts. I’ve overseen and participated in many network designs and picked the ones that would prepare each enterprise for the future because no technology appliance lasts forever. Yet, I have trusted my teams to present solutions that would last for 5+ years in case of another economic downturn. The business must survive no matter what the circumstance be. Our current network upgrade is designed to be as simple as possible while also preparing us for the future of software defined networks and business scale. When it’s time, I want the management of our network(s) to be software based while making sure each appliance controlling some layer of the network is kept tuned by a demand for a small team due to tight budgets and the pressures to do ‘more with less’.

Security Upgrades

One of the beauties of our current design to be implemented is that it increases our security features across the board. There are many emerging players with exceptional tools that help create the most secure environment possible; however costs and ROI always come into play no matter how big your budget be. The concept of a unified threat manage­ment approach to our security posture is proving to be an excellent choice in terms of the upgrade time itself(a very few weeks) as well as the additional features that do not require add-on tools typically associated with an insight into network bottlenecks, network abuse, reporting, trending, utilization, threats, anomalies, and the list goes on. Thankfully, intro­ducing MDM solutions has become seamless to the point that we can have our senior executives, who are positioned around the country, can easily secure within minutes with little more than a few lines of instruction(s) and intitatethe occasional quick fix over the phone.

"The hardest and scariest component of data center management for me has always been the network"

Vendors are listening to their customers more than ever. They are building solutions that will last a long time and can be upgraded inline to the latest and greatest features. Only making the biggest technical advancements require full scale uplift. They are building with the notion that large IT departments are a thing of the past whilemanaged services are a thing of the future. They are building in such a way that the future of computing, storage, and network management won’t exist in your data center at all. Find the right vendor for your long term strategy and work with them in an advisory role. They do listen.

Simply put, find a great technology partner, or two, or three! They will all work hard to earn your business. They all provide an army of talent with vast experience, expertise and perspective. As a senior technologist you can weed through the noise with the help of your team. There is no reason to go at a large scale project alone. Exercise the fact that there is a f lourishing business built on technology partnerships.

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