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Converged Infrastructure & The Branch Office

Converged infrastructure is on people's minds. In fact, David Giambruno, the CIO of the Tribune Co., and I were recently talking about the converged infrastructure that he is implementing in his branch offices. Knowing the model works -- he deployed converged infrastructure previously -- he's applying it at the Tribune Co.

"I have had three major disaster recovery events at my remote sites. You know what happened? Nothing. And that's the value my team provides to the business," he said. "Not having to think about it enables my teams to turn around, face forward, and help the business. Less time is spent keeping the lights on, and more time is spent being innovative."

But getting to this scenario wasn't easy. Status quo branch IT architectures are prone to failure, downtime, and data loss. Giambruno needed a new approach to branch IT architecture. And he will be the first to explain how this approach had to build on the 90% virtualized and highly automated private cloud in his datacenter.

Branch office IT is broken
His experience is not unique. As a former analyst at Forrester, I've spoken to thousands of companies that struggle with their branch office IT architecture. Just how big a challenge is this?

Well, consider this:

  • According to IDC, every datacenter serves, on average, 55 branches.
  • Based on Forrester research, organizations spend more than $4 billion every year on remote office IT.
  • Yet only 8% of these branches follow best practices for IT consolidation.
  • And it can take 168 hours to recover from a disaster, resulting in 24 hours of lost data.

The branch is a unique IT environment. It suffers from all the same challenges as the datacenter -- availability, reliability, scalability, security, complexity, etc. -- but with the additional challenges of limited staff, immature IT operations, and unsophisticated infrastructure. Put simply, branches are challenged by the IT trifecta of inadequate people, process, and technology.

The solution to inefficient branch infrastructure, as Giambruno discovered, can be found in today's modern datacenters: converged infrastructure. It collapses disparate server, storage, and network infrastructure into a single appliance, all with industry-standard virtualization and automation capabilities. The result is a single, standardized, pre-integrated stack optimized to run highly automated cloud workloads.

Applying converged infrastructure to the branch
Branch converged infrastructure builds on the proven techniques pioneered by datacenter providers, but it is optimized for the unique requirements of the branch.

Specifically, branch converged infrastructure:

  • Eliminates the need for separate branch server, storage, and network infrastructure
  • Minimizes the infrastructure footprint needed to run branch apps for users
  • Provides a virtualization platform to run standard branch workloads, such as file, print, DNS, DHCP, and directory services, as well as additional workloads (custom apps, critical to the business processes of that branch)
  • Takes advantage of modern management and orchestration tools in the datacenter to automate branch provisioning, backup, and restore
  • Mitigates the risk of downtime and data loss by centralizing the branch data

To accomplish this, branch converged infrastructures needs three unique components above and beyond what's in the datacenter already.

  • Branch-optimized virtualization: All converged solutions integrate industry-standard virtualization platforms. This allows branch workloads to appear as a standard host in management and orchestration tools. But these hypervisors must be network- and storage-optimized to run remotely on hardened branch appliances.
  • Built-in WAN optimization: WAN optimization streamlines branch infrastructure by accelerating all user and application traffic across the optimal networks at the lowest cost. Services can be accelerated in and out of the virtual machines (VMs) running on the converged appliance.
  • Integrated replication: Replication allows for centralized branch data in the datacenter. It supplements WAN optimization with built-in caching and deduplication technology that reduces the amount of data transferred across the network.

Branch converged infrastructure balances the best of both worlds: centralization of as many IT apps and data as possible, with local execution of the remaining services running on a converged appliance. As Giambruno put it, "Centralize when you can, converge when you can't."

There are three easy steps to transforming branch architecture and bringing the power of virtualized, automated IT to remote sites.

  • Converge: The first step is to converge the islands of remote infrastructure on to a single, purpose-built platform. This brings virtualization to the branch, allowing for local performance while automating IT provisioning and recovery.
  • Centralize: Once converged, the second step is to centralize branch VMs and data back to the datacenter. Centralizing branch data builds on the IT automation to improve recovery point and recovery time objectives.
  • Replicate: Once data is centralized, it's time to replicate it to secondary and disaster recovery sites. This means weathering any branch and datacenter outage without the business ever knowing there was an outage.

That's it -- converge, centralize, replicate. This is the recipe that has helped many CIOs, like Giambruno, apply the economics of converged infrastructure to branch IT.