When does a unified architecture become a unified architecture?

By Kent Christensen
7/13/2011

My last post discussed how unified architectures provide a blueprint for an internal cloud data center architecture, delivering reduced risk and an optimized infrastructure for most mission-critical applications. And while there's a lot of buzz about unified architecture, detractors point out that only a subset of registered opportunities result in an immediate FlexPod or Vblock deployment.

At Datalink, we see this as good. Or at least reality.

Unified architectures incorporate servers, networks, storage, and virtualization management. But technology is only part of the solution. Proper integration into your organization and business processes is the real objective. That's where the real work and opportunity lie.

I've discuss with dozens of organizations how private cloud computing based on unified architectures can accelerate IT and business objectives. Rarely does an organization reject the concept of a unified architectural approach. It's easy to see the benefits of leveraging the engineering, testing, experience, and support that a unified architecture represents. Who wants to reinvent that wheel and hope they're smarter than those who have built out the optimized data center? But how can WE get there considering our existing business and IT environment? For most organizations, adopting a migration strategy to a unified virtual data center enables a dramatic IT transformation.

While most organizations see the benefit of adopting the new cloud-centric virtual data center, they need to do so while supporting growing and expanding businesses. They can't stop business to cut over applications to a new operational paradigm. They also need to deal with the real organizational challenges of instantaneous transformation, which include:

  • Organizational barriers – Many organizations don't have a single owner of all infrastructure and applications until you get to the CIO. Smaller organizations that have broad control are limited by experience to architect across all the disciplines.
  • Technology lifecycle – Even when we want to adopt the unified architecture, it's rare that we can do it all at once. Most of the time, we may be ready to refresh some areas but have made recent investments in others. Most unified architectures replace existing technology versus incorporate them.

The “journey” to the virtual data center
At Datalink, we adopt a strategy to reach an end state, say a fully automated private cloud based on a unified architecture, and then plot a tactical plan to reach that objective. It doesn't have to be completed on a certain date, but rather can be adopted over a period of time. As a result, we deploy significantly more V-Scape solutions than complete end-to-end unified architectures. At least initially.

V-Scape allows an organization to adopt a strategy that leverages existing processes and infrastructure and transforms IT as the organization evolves and technology refreshes. For example, you might add the storage, networking and fundamental virtualization management strategies that are present in the unified architecture but leverage existing servers that won't be refreshed until next year. Additional components are integrated as the organization and technology refresh dictates. Suddenly, we reach a point when the infrastructure has grown into a complete FlexPod unified architecture.

So when did the FlexPod become a FlexPod? In concept, when we laid out a private cloud strategy based on the solid principals of a unified architecture aligned to business objectives, and delivered and supported by experienced professionals. Technically, many of our FlexPod examples started this journey months before they actually deployed the complete solution. This isn't a negative; it's reality.