How I Learned to Love the BCS

Many of us are beginning to focus on the holiday season and to bask in the joy of family and loved ones. Some of us are focused on the BCS selections (Like the rematch between Alabama and LSU for the BCS National Championship?). Others look toward Christmas as the opening day of the NBA season…while others wonder if the Packers can achieve the mythical perfect season in the NFL. The point is that sporting events now define many aspects of the holiday season. Who could imagine Thanksgiving without the Cowboys on TV?

In many ways, the current level of discussions surrounding the Data Center and Cloud Services are analogous to the world of sports. Both are currently undergoing a paradigm shift; and both are stimulating debate as to whether the new model is as good or better than the old model. Where sports fans complain about the impact of the polls and computers in determining the BCS standings, IT professionals are also complaining and questioning the viability of the cloud model. In October of 2011, Symantec released a report which found that fewer than one in five organizations questioned have outsourced the hosting of their applications to cloud computing providers, with two-thirds in early discussions, in trials or not considering a move to a cloud model.

While the study found that three out of four organizations have adopted or are currently adopting cloud services such as backup, storage and security, when it comes to the wholesale outsourcing of applications there is more talk than action.

Concerns about security and a lack of expertise among IT staff are the main factors holding companies back, according to the survey of 5,300 organizations carried out by Symantec.

“While computing changes constantly, most shifts are simple changes that don’t require organizations to change the core of how they work. Not so with cloud computing,” Symantec said. “It requires organizations to change how they approach IT.”

As with the BCS, there is a light at the end of the tunnel – and it is not an approaching train. The fact is that I see several trends on the horizon in 2012 which will begin to change data center transformation and cloud services from “hype” to a viable operational model.

  • The Evolution of Virtualization – Server and storage virtualization? We are now in the late adopter portion of the curve. The focus in 2012 will move to desktop, data and mobile virtualization—while addressing new security requirements. This new focus on virtualization will ultimately drive more companies to treat IT like a business. The danger in this trend is in following a specific vendor’s vision, though it is unlikely that any one vendor’s vision will prevail. Enterprises should maintain architecture control, and build toward it with a constantly updated strategic plan.
  • Unstructured Data and Monetizing PatternsUnstructured data will grow some 80% over the course of 2011 thru 2015, creating a huge IT challenge. Technologies such as in-line deduplication, automated tiering of data, and flash or solid-state drives for higher-end performance optimization will increase in importance beginning in 2012. Analytics to monitor for recurring data patterns that could develop into money-making applications will also be an important focus beginning in 2012.
  • The Operationalization of Cloud Services – Moving from hype to adoption, cloud conversations in 2012 will now center on migration plans and implementing, managing and securing cloud solutions. The age of the “visionaries” is now being eclipsed by the “knuckle draggers” – the experts who actually build and operate the various cloud models. While cost will always be a potential benefit for small companies, the biggest benefits of cloud computing for large Enterprises are built-in elasticity and scalability. As certain IT functions industrialize and become less customized, such as email and unified communications, there will be more possibilities for larger organizations to benefit from cloud computing.
  • Data Center Efficiency and Monitoring – The power issue is beginning to move up the corporate food chain. 2012 will bring forth several analytic tools to monitor power usage on a variety of levels. With the increased attention given to power consumption, IT organizations will begin to realize that many systems are highly underutilized – which will escalate discussions around increasing virtualization. An average x86 server that is powered up, but idle, will draw 65% of its specified wattage, for example. IT organizations will begin to demand an inventory of what computing resources are doing in the data center as there is a significant amount of energy savings that can be realized. Virtualization is one of the most critical components being used to increase densities and vertically scale data centers. If used in an appropriate manner, average server performance can move from a 10% average to 40% to 50%, yielding significant benefits in floor space and energy savings.
  • Business -Aware Smart Phones – In 2012, one of the bigger trends will be the investment and efforts surrounding the creation of appropriate strategies to take advantage of smart phones within the Enterprise. Gartner has in the past indicated that context-based computing will go beyond the business intelligence application stack to make a unified communications environment possible by bringing together data culled from business applications, social networks and mobile devices.
  • IT Staff Retention and Retraining – Transformation of the Data Center and the migration to cloud services requires organizational transformation as well. In 2012, the overall strategy will have to address how to get older IT workers excited about learning new skills and staying on the job. In 2012, almost 10,000 baby boomers will be eligible to retire each day.
  • The Evolution of Ethernet Fabrics – I officially declare that the marketing focus on Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) dies a gruesome death in 2012. The focus moving forward will be on two critical issues – using Converged Network Adapters (CNAs) to connect to Top of Rack (ToR) or End of Row (EoR) switches which can 1) separate native Fibre Channel flows from the Ethernet data flow and 2) provide a management platform that will integrate element management of the server, network and storage systems.

Gartner agrees with me on this trend, as it defines data center infrastructure convergence as: “The vertical integration of server, storage, and network systems and components with element-level management software that lays the foundation to optimize shared data center resources efficiently and dynamically.” The Enhanced Ethernet Fabric systems which are currently supported on the market by Cisco, Juniper and Brocade unify network control but don’t provide all of the necessary functionality yet. I am particularly interested to see how well the Cisco “Jawbreaker” product development turns out as well as the Juniper QFabric and QDirector product releases in 2012.

As with the BCS….your perception of cloud services and data center transformation can be often driven by a complex system of experiences, technology religion and the “Layer 8” issues…the human-political layer of the OSI model. These trends will not provide a “silver bullet” with respect to your transformation but they will help stimulate the discussion and validation of your strategy moving forward.

I learned to love the BCS by embracing it. As an LSU graduate (Geaux Tigers !!), I came to realize that the BCS tends to favor the SEC (especially the SEC West). With Data Center Transformation and Cloud Services, it is necessary to embrace it to love it as well. You may find that the cloud model favors your strategic direction and your desire to differentiate your business against that of your competitors.

So what are your predictions (not just the BCS but for Cloud Computing)? How do you see Ethernet Fabrics evolving? What are you experiencing with Data Center Efficiency and Monitoring? We look forward to your comments.
The Networking Exchange Blog Team About NEB Team