It is the dream of every CIO to have a completely automated data centre – or, better still, no data centre at all.
But for most organisations, the computer room – or the server room, or the data centre – is a necessary evil. All that computing power needs to go somewhere, and it has to be managed and maintained.
The physical job of running the data centre has long been one of the most onerous tasks in IT management. ‘Keeping the lights on’ has previously drawn an enormous amount of an organisation’s IT resources.
That has slowly changed as the data centre, and indeed the nature of IT itself, has evolved. The retinue of white-coated computer operators that attended the data centres of old is long gone as the need for the physical management of data has disappeared. But organisations still need to ensure all computing resources are working to peak efficiency.
Enterprise computing, even in comparatively small organisations, has become extremely diverse. Developments include distributed resources, cloud computing, widespread mobility, tactical departmental or line-of-business computing, virtualisation and software-defined computing and networking. Nobody said IT management was easy.
The evolution of data centre management
Old-style data centre automation was all about the need to reduce physical intervention. That battle has been fought and won. Now, the term ‘data centre automation’ has come to mean the automated management of the totality of an organisation’s enterprise computing resources.
The newer term ‘data centre infrastructure management’ (DCIM) has been popularised in recent years to describe the many aspects of the discipline. In its broadest sense, this can include things such as asset management, power optimisation, cabling management, capacity planning and a range of other tasks. But the most important of them remains the management of hardware and applications to ensure optimal systems performance.
DCIM, in its broadest sense, is still mostly employed in large traditional data centres that organisations use for enterprise-scale computing. But the tools and techniques are increasingly finding their way into smaller computing environments – today, many small-to-medium enterprises have computing environments of a scale and sophistication that can benefit from a solid management foundation.
That is because the vastly greater sophistication and complexity of modern information systems has complicated the management process. Data centre automation today means employing the right tools to manage the organisation’s changing demands. The problem is that there are many such tools available, and choosing the right mix, as well as the right overarching management architecture, can be a challenge.
There is no shortage of point solutions. Most vendors offer management tools specific to their products – many of which are also very useful in multi-vendor environments. Some of these tools are designed to work with particular architectures, such as Lenovo XClarity, a resource management tool optimised to make it easier and faster for administrators to deploy virtualised infrastructure.
The data centre and the cloud
The popularity of cloud computing, in its many guises, has further complicated matters. The rise of cloud is inexorable for many reasons, but because it moves computing resources beyond the immediate control of the enterprise, it has the potential to further complicate systems management.
How do you monitor your data centre when it is halfway across the world and owned by someone else? You don’t, of course – the provider does – but it is still your responsibility to ensure your overall computing infrastructure is working as it’s meant to.
Again, there are different solutions for different architectures. Lenovo uses hardware and software from business partners such as Microsoft, VMware, Juniper Networks and IBM to integrate cloud and server management tools into a coherent whole. Lenovo also supports the OpenStack cloud environment, which means businesses can integrate its servers into most virtualised and cloud-based management environments.
The term ‘data centre’ may be out of date. An organisation’s computing hardware is now rarely contained in a single room, but rather distributed over many internal and external locations. Effective management is the key to control, as it always has been.