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Build an IT infrastructure plan from the ground up

IT infrastructure improvements require careful planning that includes evaluating new technologies, such as converged and hyper-converged, and building for future flexibility.

A careful IT infrastructure plan is necessary to build or replace virtualized infrastructure. Incorporate a ground-up perspective to see which technologies fit data center needs and whether the infrastructure requires a total overhaul or minor improvements.

IT administrators often walk into new jobs and take control of the systems and infrastructure that has already been set up. Sometimes, however, a new position can coincide with managerial approval of new virtualization technology. Even if infrastructure is already present, admins might need to replace this technology upon their hiring.

This is intimidating, but it's also exciting, because it offers the rare opportunity to start from scratch. This perspective is useful even with existing infrastructure. Starting over and doing things right is often better than trying to extend a bad situation.

Designing a virtual IT infrastructure plan from the ground up requires evaluating compute, networking and storage. Traditionally, these three silos needed to be chosen and configured to work together to create a solid virtual infrastructure. Today, however, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) enable admins to bypass these efforts.

The management software on top of converged infrastructure differentiates the two, and that management aspect is becoming more important. Previously, admins chose between servers or blades. In the context of servers, external storage frames and high-speed networking were necessary to support them -- and none of this was cheap.

Blades were possible, too, but blade chassis design resulted in major shortcomings. The limited storage and memory density concerns with blades didn't fit the needs of virtualization. The large number of blades per chassis also risked frame failure, which could result in the loss of an entire environment.

Converged systems inform IT infrastructure planning

Converged infrastructure and HCI have found an ideal place between blade density in a rack and stand-alone rack servers. HCI services offer everything in a streamlined package that, on the surface, seems perfect for someone looking to kick-start a virtualization project. The other side to the story, however, is the impact HCI has on the data center.

Any reduction in large-scale infrastructure purchases should always be welcome.

These systems can be 2 rack units in height, but can pack two to four distinct server nodes, with shared storage across the nodes. The density of this small package can come with significant power demands. These systems often require 240 volts and additional cooling. This can be a problem for older data centers. Existing server racks might only be able to power up one or two of these units in an entire rack. In addition, these still need uninterruptible power supply protection. HCI services might be the ideal technology for virtualization because of the density and integrated storage options, such as solid-state drives, but they might not fit a data center's physical needs.

Where does this leave an admin building an IT infrastructure plan? HCI is the future of virtualization platforms, but if it's impossible today, admins can still do some converged technology with VMware's vSAN. This product uses local storage and high-speed networking to create shared storage pools across multiple virtualization hosts. This enables the removal of larger storage frames in favor of a more distributed approach. That doesn't mean large storage frames don't have a place, but it points to their decline, which is due mostly to cost.

Any reduction in large-scale infrastructure purchases should always be welcome. Embracing the distributed approach helps admins set up an IT infrastructure plan that points to an HCI future. Networking is a constant need, however, and HCI, vSAN and stand-alone hosts can't provide it. High-speed networking gear is necessary to connect it all.

The traditional domain of Fibre Channel is giving way to less expensive options, such as Fibre Channel over Ethernet and iSCSI, that have similar performance characteristics. With new gear, these differences almost vanish and enable prioritization of price and flexibility. Besides storage traffic, the base Ethernet speeds of 1 Gb networking have given way to 10/40 Gigabit Ethernet. This extra bandwidth is necessary between hosts, as VM density continues to increase.

Starting from scratch isn't a bad thing. It offers the opportunity to design a thorough IT infrastructure plan that enables new technologies to stay in service longer and incorporates flexibility for expansion years beyond installation. Besides the technical installation, the primary challenges will be fitting new technology into an established data center and balancing cost. Admins will need to abandon traditional data center thinking and establish a fresh perspective on what's possible today. A ground-up IT infrastructure plan doesn't require a hasty embrace of the cutting edge, but it does require stepping out of the comfort zone.

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