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Data Center Consolidation On The Cusp

If you thought that packing 14 servers into a 9U space was an example of data center consolidation, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Sure, physical servers and storage units have gotten smaller, but thanks to the widespread adoption of virtual servers and the expanding use of software-based storage, network switching, I/O and even cabling, the data center is looking at perhaps a 100-to-1 or greater future ratio.

"Technology is evolving, and organizations deploying Cisco UCS (Unified Computing System]) or HP (BladeSystem]), for example, are on the bleeding edge of a massively virtualized data center revolution," said Randy George, a senior-level systems analyst and network engineer. "Server virtualization as a technology is mature, stable and well-proven in even the most demanding data centers," he said, adding that it already has led to significant consolidation of the data center footprint. "We are already there and have been for a few years. Where we are going now is toward further consolidation of other data center components."

Hewlett-Packard made strides in that arena with the November launch of its Converged Infrastructure Architecture, a set of tools that virtualize everything in the data center, practically down to the raised floor panels. Duncan Campbell, HP's vice president of converged infrastructure, said the solution integrates and manages what used to be silos of compute, storage, network and other resources into a virtualized, highly automated technology environment. "It creates pools of shared services that can be leveraged on the fly to increase flexibility for businesses," he says.

Central to the solution is FlexFabric, which consolidates Ethernet, storage and other communication protocols into a single, virtualized network to which all enterprise resources can connect and be managed. "It collapses the network to allow up to thousands of servers with multiple protocols into a single virtualized high performance network" with the ability to divide, partition and allocate network bandwidth as needed, said Campbell. "You can virtualize storage arrays from multiple vendors, heterogeneous pieces of arrays and capacity into a single storage pool." Cabling is also virtualized. "This allows you to wire once and do moves, adds and changes behind that without rewiring and without human errors," he said.

Aside from the convenience and flexibility afforded by virtualization, the cost savings are real and easily measurable. "Savings can range from small to incredible," said George. "If you ask commercial construction company Tutor Perini, one of the early adopters of Cisco's UCS, their implementation actually negated the need for a large number of staff. In a large organization, multiple network, server and storage engineers need to coordinate, so provisioning services can be costly and slow," he added. When services are virtual, fewer people are needed, and they can be deployed much more quickly. "So there's both a cost savings and efficiency component to the equation."

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