by Eduard du Plessis, MD at EOH Network Solutions
Business imperatives are demanding changes in IT. There is a realisation that legacy architectures can no longer accommodate today’s demands, such as new cloud delivery models, dramatic growth in data and the need to roll out new services in a matter of days.
In response to these business requirements, many IT organisations have launched server virtualisation and cloud computing projects to achieve improved service delivery and increased IT agility.
However, in this new world it is no longer an option to simply continue maintaining the network status quo.
The problem of the three-layer infrastructure
The fundamental character of IT infrastructure has remained the same for over 30 years. This is a three-layer model, comprising the computing layer, the networking layer and the storage layer. Each layer has evolved in its own way at its own pace, but the layers themselves have remained intact.
The problem is that this legacy network structure with its siloed infrastructure is simply not designed to deliver on today’s enterprise demands, which are focused more and more on delivering applications that support business processes. The amount of data has continued to grow exponentially and the type of data has changed from almost pure text to text, audio and video in a variety of formats.
The standard approach to solving the problem has been to throw more and more hardware at it, in the form of more servers, with more cores and higher speeds; networks with bigger switches and more bandwidth; and more storage with more HDDs and more powerful controllers. However the basic infrastructure has remained the same. And this is where the problem continues to reside.
Attempts are continually made to prop up this infrastructure, albeit in a shaky state. Technologies that have made the largest positive impact and allowed the current three layer infrastructure to remain include server and storage virtualisation, data reduplication, compression, WAN optimisation and Flash – in a variety of implementations, including hybrid arrays and disk-based backup appliances. These have worked to a degree, but remain more or less a panacea.
Management was simplified by adding software that viewed the unit as a whole. However, if a layer was not performing adequately, regular tools that came with that layer were used to diagnose and change configurations.
The difficulty with traditional networks lies in their limited awareness of the applications that are generating traffic and, conversely, the new virtual application control systems are unaware of the conditions prevailing within the network.
The need for convergence
Business necessity needs to be the driving force behind the implementation of enterprise networks. But delivering enterprise-grade applications to a mobilised workforce requires a network that understands devices as well as applications. There needs to be convergence of the layers.
This is because the contextual understanding of conversations between devices and applications makes it possible for the network to optimise the user experience and network performance.
To try and simplify the IT infrastructure a number of vendors, especially legacy players began bundling specific configurations of compute, networking, storage and server virtualisation and pre-testing them for interoperability and performance for targeted workloads. This was a move towards a more converged infrastructure.
Converged networks and automated management functions promise the high-quality experience that businesses demand, with better performance and simpler network administration. Not all solutions are equal, however.
Thankfully converged networking won’t necessarily need a rip-and-replace approach – the transition can be gradual. Nonetheless the need for convergence is starkly clear, and in order to meet the demands of the modern enterprise the three layer infrastructure must take on a more converged character.
Eduard du Plessis Eduard du Plessis is an entrepreneur and telecommunications specialist. After graduating as a Mechanical Engineer in 1989, he spent some time in computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) which led him to IT and ultimately telecoms. Since 1997 he has been passionately involved in telecoms and has experience across all aspects of the business including business development, finance, product development, operations and product marketing. Eduard was the co-founder of InfoSat, the first broadband satellite Internet service provider in SA. He is also the founder of Ensync Network Solutions, a corporate network service provider and later also founded AfricaINX, a carrier wholesale telecoms service provider. After merging these two companies into the JSE listed IT company, EOH in 2010 he is now the MD of EOH Networks Solutions who is one of the leading telecoms companies in SA.