Real Data Center Modernization Requires Best-of-breed IT

Introduction

According to ESG's annual IT spending research, two of the most common areas of investment for data center modernization involve increasing the use of server virtualization and improving backup and recovery.

Top Five Plans for Data Center Modernization. We would like to learn more about your specific spending plans for data center modernization. In which of the following areas will your organization make the most significant investments over the next 12-18 months? (Percent of respondents, N=339, five responses accepted):

  • 36% - Increasing use of server virtualization
  • 32% - Improving data backup and recovery
  • 32% - IT infrastructure orchestration/automation tools
  • 28% - Data center consolidation
  • 27% - Increasing use of solid-state/flash storage technology

Those findings have been consistent over several years. Increases in server virtualization and improvements to data protection appear very close or directly adjacent to each other, and both initiatives are always among the top data center modernization spending priorities mentioned by respondents.

That discovery might surprise some organizations, but it really shouldn't. The reality is that whenever you modernize production, you must also modernize protection. If you don't modernize both in parallel, legacy approaches to data protection combined with modern systems approaches are very likely to let down the IT teams that are trying to deploy the new production infrastructure—and worse, disappoint the business stakeholders who rely on the data.

How to Achieve Modern Production and Protection

Truly achieving the levels of IT agility and durability that today's end-users expect requires more than generic, commoditized approaches to production and protection. Organizations should seek out best-of-breed, technologically innovative mechanisms that will let them take a smarter approach to both production and protection across the whole infrastructure.

What to Look for in Modern Production

In almost any kind of data center—from midsized businesses using a single rack to the largest of enterprises and service providers—the true underpinning of modern IT is virtualization. That said, the infrastructure necessary for success in a highly virtualized environment has evolved significantly since virtualization's inception more than a decade ago.

Early virtualization attempts happened using whatever generic physical server platforms were available (e.g., "pizza box" 1U and 2U hosts, or perhaps blades connected to a SAN). Today, most organizations recognize that the best virtualized infrastructure stems from a building-block approach powered by converged infrastructure or hyperconverged infrastructure (CI/HCI) appliances.

Why is CI/HCI the best approach now and for the foreseeable future? Because collapsing the IT stack in such a manner brings an incredible level of simplicity to an IT environment. CI reduces the complexity of "piecemealing" the purchasing and assembly of components, while HCI takes the benefit even further by reducing the requirement to have different specialists in place (a server admin, storage admin, etc.) to handle the various management layers. One person manages the whole server/storage environment.

The most important thing to remember is that when it comes to sustaining a modern production environment, service delivery, not hardware management, should be the centerpiece accomplishment of the IT organization. And when ESG asked IT decision makers which type of infrastructure they thought gave them the best chance of being able to deliver cloud-like services/IT-as-a-service, most said HCI was an ideal fit.

The Relationship Between CI, HCI, and Organizations' Data Center Modernization Efforts. Which of the following statements do you believe is most accurate in terms of the relationship between converged or hyperconverged technology and your organization's data center modernization efforts with the goal of becoming more "cloud-like" by delivering IT-as-aservice? (Percent of respondents, N=324):

  • 44% - We believe hyperconverged infrastructure platforms give us the best chance to become more cloud-like and deliver IT-as-a-service
  • 29% - We believe that either converged or hyperconverged infrastructure platforms positions us to become more cloud-like and deliver IT-as-a-service
  • 17% - We believe converged infrastructure platforms give us the best chance to become more cloud-like and deliver IT-as-a-service
  • 4% - We don't believe that either converged or hyperconverged infrastructure platforms positions us to become more cloud-like and deliver IT-as-a-service
  • 6% - Don't know

In contrast, only 4% of respondents preferred the do-it-yourself approach. That was a predictably low response rate, considering that DIY is a people-intensive, time-intensive effort centered on managing infrastructure.

Data center modernization really is about giving more agility to IT and to the end-users whom the IT organization supports, thus allowing everyone to be more responsive to changing business demands. ESG is seeing those gains come to fruition: A combined 87% of respondents whose organizations have already deployed HCI say it has made them more agile. In fact, among those respondents, 25% reported that HCI made them significantly more agile.

Drilling down further, ESG also surveyed the IT decision makers about the features they require for HCI. Manageability topped the list, which makes sense. These organizations have shifted management duties away from specialists over to IT generalists, so the management activities now must be straightforward enough for the IT generalists to handle easily.

The second most commonly mentioned "must have" feature was data protection. That response also wasn't surprising. As mentioned, when an organization enhances its production infrastructure, the need to protect that updated infrastructure remains.

Top Five 'Must Have' Hyperconverged Infrastructure Technology Features. Which of the following features would you consider to be "must have" when it comes to purchasing hyperconverged infrastructure solutions (i.e., we would not purchase a hyperconverged system without these features)? (Percent of respondents, N=306, five responses accepted)

  • 30% - Scalable systems management
  • 28% - Hypervisor conversion
  • 28% - Data compression
  • 25% - Scale up and out
  • 20% - Built-in data protection

What to Look for in Modern Protection

A good way to appreciate the requirements of modern data protection and recovery is to understand the challenges that organizations running highly virtualized environments continue to experience

Top Ten Challenges in Protecting a Highly Virtualized Environment. Which of the following would you characterize as challenges for protecting your organization's virtual server environment? Which would you consider to be your organization's primary virtual server data protection challenge? (Percent of respondents, N=400):

Challenges

Primary virtual server data protection challenge

All virtual server data protection challenges

Recoverability of data

15%

47%

Validating recovery success

8%

29%

Response time for troubleshooting backup failures, policy violations, etc.

7%

38%

Validating backup success

8%

36%

Predictability for backup/restore times

6%

35%

Identifying inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the backup process

7%

34%

Gaps in protection

6%

32%

Identifying factors impacting the performance of backup operations

8%

31%

Continuing to keep pace as scale or VM-density increases across enterprise

6%

31%

Simplified views across virtual infrastructure

6%

29%

It is an expected but unfortunate reality that data recoverability is the biggest challenge facing teams running virtual environments. What is more intriguing is the issue reflected in so many of the other challenges related to managing a virtual server environment. Namely, several of the challenges relate to inadequate visibility of some sort. Put another way, a general lack of "virtualization savviness" in data protection appears to be a big problem.

Many generic data protection technologies don't provide sufficient contextual insight or instrumentation to allow IT to effectively protect an environment where VMs are moving dynamically between hosts or nodes. These generic "solutions" don't provide the kind of actionable insight that IT operations administrators, vAdmins, and other key stakeholders require if they want to ensure protection and recovery.

To address the problem, organizations need a better approach that focuses on rapid VM recoverability, assurance against data loss, and the ability to holistically leverage cloud services as part of a larger data protection strategy.

Top Ten VM-specific Capabilities Considered Major Factors for Modern Data Protection. Which virtual machine-specific capabilities are primary factors for choosing new data protection product considerations? (Percent of respondents, N=387, three responses accepted):

"Instant" or "rapid" recovery of VMs directly from the backup solution

18%

Continuous or near-continuous data protection

17%

Ability to use cloud services for offsite protection

16%

Ability to protect IaaS-hosted VMs

14%

Granular recovery of data objects (e.g.,SharePoint/Exchange) from VM-backup

13%

Ability to use cloud services for BC/DR

13%

Granular recovery of files from within VM-based backups

12%

Management of backups/recoveries from withinhypervisor UI

12%

Auto-discovery / Auto-protection of newly created VMs

11%

Integration with hardware-based deduplication arrays

11%

The Best IT Is 'the IT You Don't See'

For much too long, IT really stood for "infrastructure technology," not "information technology." IT organizations had to spend their time managing disks, servers, volumes, LUNs, and so on—to the detriment of managing and protecting data.

But today, it is possible to evolve that approach to the way it should be: returning to true information technology management focusing on the data itself. It is all about making the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure practically invisible. The industry is seeing consistent gains in this area, whereby resiliency and agility increase, and granular, burdensome hardware management all but disappears. The result of "invisible IT" is that organizations are able to focus on IT service delivery and data management instead of frustrating hardware management and routine backup tasks, ultimately achieving operational simplicity.

Recently, ESG asked IT managers what they believed IT would look like in five years. Their vision of the future aligns with the concept of invisible IT. The conclusion is that invisible IT isn't a fad; it's how a lot of IT organizations are planning for the future. Specifically, ESG survey research shows a widespread shift away from the DIY approach and a corollary shift toward a service-delivery focus.

DIY popularity is shrinking fast. ESG research shows a reduction from 57% of respondents in 2015 to 29% in 2017 who think they will be taking a DIY route five years from now. This evolution is well underway and will likely accelerate even more.

Nutanix and Comtrade Software—Better Together

The main motivations for using a hyperconverged infrastructure center on making management easier and consolidating both infrastructure and people. But backup had been largely left out of the discussion. So how do we take that one further step? Through data protection modernization. And that is exactly what Nutanix and Comtrade Software have been working on.

In the context of the progress being made toward greater simplicity in both production and protection, consider the better-together scenario these two companies have attained. Both have broken away from commoditized approaches and are offering something built to be better. Comtrade Software calls its data protection solution HYCU, inspired by the simple yet elegant poetry form and reimagined as a purpose-built solution for Nutanix.

A flawless haiku can be hard to create. Yet, when one makes a thoughtful effort, the result is usually simple, seamless, and elegant. These are defining elements of HYCU and its Nutanix solution.

The Nutanix Philosophy: A Quick Overview

Nutanix, founded in 2009 and based in San Jose, California, is an Enterprise Cloud OS company that also sells HCI appliances. Its founders set a goal to make data center infrastructure invisible enough that IT professionals would be free to focus their attention on better service delivery instead of spending all their time managing legacy data center resources built on inflexible architecture models.

How Best to Protect the Nutanix Platform

From a data protection perspective, one indicator that a disruptive platform is becoming mainstream is when well-established vendors begin to build products specifically tailored for that platform. This was true when Windows Server began its reign, when the first VMware hypervisor was gaining attention, and when the first SaaS offerings started to be embraced.

The latest platform experiencing that level of industry interest and excitement is the Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV) from Nutanix. Important aspects of many IT environments have been enhanced greatly by Nutanix's engineering investments in the underlying mechanisms and APIs for enabling data protection, which in some ways resemble the architectures and best practices found in the top products for protecting VMware hypervisors.

Established data protection vendors are now endeavoring, with varying degrees of success and enthusiasm, to provide protection and recovery capabilities worthy of AHV.

In contrast, Comtrade Software, which has a decades-long long history of developing data protection technologies (mostly as an OEM), has already delivered HYCU—a solution intended to serve as the best-of-breed protection solution for Nutanix Acropolis and VMware-based virtual machines.

A Look at HYCU by Comtrade Software

Comtrade Software is the first technology partner to custom-build a data protection product for Nutanix. Its HYCU software is meant for use in hyperconverged environments using the Nutanix Prism infrastructure management solution and/or using Nutanix AHV. Support for ESX has also been announced for HYCU.

HYCU by Comtrade Software offers complete data protection with application awareness built in. Next Figure provides a glimpse into how HYCU bolsters the Nutanix solution stack.

Architecture Diagram—HYCU by Comtrade Software Enriches a Nutanix Environment:

The simple, seamless elegance of the HYCU interface belies its underlying power and agility. HYCU was designed with both the hypervisor (i.e., AHV or ESX) and the embedded applications (i.e., Exchange and SQL) in mind.

Everything is managed though the HYCU dashboard. Notably, the dashboard will look reassuringly recognizable to any IT professional familiar with the Nutanix Prism management framework. Even IT generalists brand-new to Nutanix and/or Comtrade should find it intuitive to use.

How Together, Nutanix and Comtrade Software Really Are Delivering Better IT

The hallmark of good, modern IT is grounded in operational simplicity allowing IT teams and business-unit stakeholders to focus more on the functioning of their business and less on repetitive, nonstrategic, non-value-add maintenance and housekeeping. Modern production and modern protection undoubtedly can contribute to organizational goals. For example:

  • Modern production should leverage an integrated platform that delivers cloud-like IaaS. It should not force people to worry about a lot of "nuts and bolts" activities.
  • Modern protection should leverage the platforms that the organization wants to use and should make data protection just a service of production instead of being a frustrating, standalone task.

The Bigger Truth

Data center modernization requires both modern production and modern protection to deliver the benefits that senior executives and business-unit leaders expect from the investment outlays they've allocated to IT.

Modern production should include converged and hyperconverged appliances because modern business requires agile IT. Agile IT, in turn, requires IT to be delivered as a service. One cannot achieve it with the excessive change-management cycles and management overhead that come with build-it-yourself IT—where multiple administrators from multiple departments must get involved if anything is to be accomplished. If your IT teams are still focused on managing parts and pieces, they won't have time (and the infrastructure won't have the agility) to deliver IT as a service. Yet, IT as a service is what businesses need today to meet their goals.

Modern protection should be workload savvy, but few are. Other commoditized or generic data protection approaches may attempt to protect/recover modern platforms such as Acropolis; however, many will fall short due to their architectural limitations and the inability to fully embrace the enabling data protection mechanisms within the underlying platform.

Fortunately, one combination that meets or exceeds all of the criteria is Comtrade Software HYCU, built for Nutanix.