by Justin Hadler
It used to be that when information technology (IT) professionals thought about network infrastructure and data center costs, “simple” was one of the last words to come to mind. Although with the evolution of open standards equipment, virtualization, and cloud computing, technology leaders are now able to place greater emphasis on simplicity when establishing their network architecture. Through data center consolidation coupled with adopting a multi-vendor or standards-based approach to network infrastructure, IT professionals can achieve significant cost and energy savings while freeing up time for more important, strategic initiatives.
To understand why and how this is happening, it’s important to note two of the key drivers in data center evolution:
According to a survey conducted by the International Data Corporation (IDC), the top IT priority for Chief Information Officers in 2012 is virtualization and server consolidation.1 Originally introduced as a way to achieve higher server density, thereby maximizing an organization’s investment in hardware, server virtualization quickly became a way for companies to achieve significant cost savings while increasing operational efficiency and conserving energy.
Numerous companies, including Hewlett Packard and IBM, have announced plans to cut down their number of physical data centers in favor of virtualized servers. In fact, server and storage virtualization projects conducted by IBM in 2011 resulted in an energy-use reduction of more than 142,000 MW and cost savings of about $16.5 million.2 Along similar lines, a few years ago, Hewlett Packard announced that it cut its global data centers from 85 to six, saving the company an estimated $1 billion annually.3 In addition to reducing power and cooling costs, these organizations and others experience savings by eliminating storage space and reducing the amount of staff needed to run the data centers, including facility engineers, operational specialists, and computer operators.
However, the benefits of virtualization extend beyond cost savings. Organizations that virtualize their servers realize faster network connections, increased data security (because data is stored in fewer places), and increased IT compliance. Further, organizations that reduce their number of data centers free up staff time, so they can focus on other initiatives within the company.
The Multi-Vendor Approach
A second emerging trend in data center evolution consists of building network infrastructures using multiple vendors and standards-based technology. Over the last decade or so, leading technology vendors, such as Cisco, heavily promoted the “single vendor” approach to network architecture as an easier, more cost-effective way to build and maintain data centers. Although good in theory, the practice ultimately led to increased vendor complacency, less competitive pricing, and less flexibility between platforms—driving up data center complexity and costs for customers.
Today, organizations are realizing that they can control costs and reduce network complexity by adopting a multi-vendor approach. According to research from IT advisory firm Gartner, organizations that introduce another vendor to their data centers “reduce total cost of ownership by at least 15 to 25 percent over a five-year time frame.” By introducing competition for existing products, organizations ensure that vendors continuously vie for their business, keeping costs competitive for both short- and long-term budgets.
In addition, for IT leaders worried that adding technology vendors will increase network complexity, research from Gartner shows this simply isn’t true. In the report, “Debunking the Myth of the Single-Vendor Network,” Gartner found that a “surprising benefit from [their] investigation was that for most organizations, the complexity of the network was reduced when they introduced another vendor.” Multi-vendor networks encourage the use of building infrastructures with standards-based technology instead of proprietary solutions, giving customers more options and greater flexibility in case of a product upgrade or technology refresh. Amid today’s rapidly evolving networking industry, avoiding vendor “lock-in” is key to controlling costs and ensuring interoperability.
Back to Basics
Overall, the move towards virtualization and multiple vendors gives organizations an “out” (or at least a break) from today’s often overwhelming IT demands. By significantly reducing the number of physical data centers they operate, organizations can reap significant cost and energy savings while eliminating some of the complexity that comes from managing storage space, staff, and troubleshooting for multiple facilities. Also by keeping their primary vendor’s competing product on the floor and building with standards-based technology instead of proprietary solutions, IT leaders can ensure better, more competitive pricing in the long-term while protecting their investment in hardware equipment.
Justin Hadler is director of engineering at Hardware.com.