Channeling: A New Data Center Paradigm

The Integrated Data Center represents a culmination of trends that have been evolving in business automation technology for more than a decade.

Integrated Data Center. As the Millennium dawns, it’s the new buzzword heard around corporate IT organizations. Simply stated, the term refers to the implementation of centralized management strategies across distributed client-server computing environments to create a "virtual data center" environment.

This new paradigm leverages new technologies β€” embedded in new chipsets and server host hardware, designed into next generation operating systems and application software, manifested in evolving storage architectures, implemented on current network switches and routers, and facilitated by modern application, system, storage and network management tools β€” to provide the high-availability and high-integrity characteristics required by mission-critical business applications hosted on distributed platforms.

The concept of an Integrated Data Center picked up steam in the closing years of the 1990s, when by design or by default, companies began building ERP solutions and data warehouses with client-server technology or migrating legacy applications to distributed platforms to support mission-critical business functions. This, in turn, underscored the need for a reliable, highly-available distributed computing environment.

A major hurdle to establishing an integrated data center is the lack of time and corporate IT resources. That is, as IT goals are being realigned with overall business goals, most managers are focusing their staff's efforts on ongoing systems analysis and engineering. Few resources and little time are available for building enhanced capabilities for infrastructure support and maintenance. In response, some IT organizations have sought out the support of their technology vendors.

Most are finding, however, that service and maintenance agreements do not fill the gap. In a modern heterogeneous computing environment, using IT product vendors to provide support services generally entails the management of multiple maintenance agreements, a difficult and costly proposition.

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Moreover, given the complex interrelationships between heterogeneous hosts, networks, and application software, companies using the vendor support option typically discover that, when a problem arises, no one vendor is willing to claim "ownership" of any problem at all.

What is needed is a support services partner -- a service provider that stands between the vendors and the company to deliver the benefits of a well-managed computing platform. Such an organization serves as an extension of the corporate IT department, typically providing both on- and off-site personnel to manage and operate the corporate computing platform as an integrated data center.

Given the increasing popularity of the integrated data center paradigm, IT managers can expect a sharp increase in the number of vendors offering to provide this service.

The following considerations are useful in guiding an evaluation of competitive service offerings:

Does the candidate possess demonstrated expertise in supporting multi-vendor, multi-platform client/server technologies? The service provider must be capable of understanding the heterogeneous platform and the mission-critical services it supports in order to provide a single-point-of-contact in the resolution of any issues that arise.

Does the candidate have a core competency in the logistics involved in parts distribution and repair? Managing multiple vendors and their maintenance contracts requires expertise that few newcomers to the field possess.

Does the candidate possess a technical support organization that is capable of responding to the needs of the company's present and future IT environment? The support service provider will need to be a partner, involved in future planning as well as current operations. The successful candidate should have experience in the systems development life cycle and should be prepared to aid customers in managing new systems rollouts for expeditious inclusion in the existing support infrastructure.

Does the candidate offer training and education services to provide users with the skill to maintain their own systems and software (current and future)?

Does the candidate offer consulting services to facilitate the smooth deployment of new platforms and applications into the integrated data center environment? The partner should have a track record in performing needs assessment, design, implementation, migration, and operation of all existing and new platform components.

Can the candidate provide help desk operations, for internal end users and corporate end-customers, at acceptable and measurable service levels? The bottom line is that the support services partner chosen by a company must be willing and capable to co-source the availability component of the corporate computing environment. The partner must be able to take a call or monitor an event, diagnose a problem, maintain effective working relationships with vendors to manage their response in accordance with acceptable service levels, and close out trouble tickets before they impact critical business operations.

Very few service providers possess all of the characteristics cited above. Moreover, there is neither a single strategy that will realize a virtual/integrated data center nor a set of defined procedures for operating one once established. Given these constraints, IT managers cannot expect to be able to outsource operations along traditional lines.

Only a partnership with a qualified support service provider will deliver the desired results.

β€” Pat Kearney is the Vice President of Sales for Polaris Service Inc.

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