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Some hardware components are simply easier to manage than others. Investing in highly manageable infrastructure can help IT support changing business needs while improving productivity and reducing total cost of ownership.
IT leaders are constantly thinking about ways to decrease costs.
When InformationWeek recently asked IT executives about the primary ways they planned to innovate this year, the most common answer was “lower IT costs or business costs.” And the pressure to spend less appears to be growing. In the 2014 survey, 9 percent more IT leaders said they planned to reduce expenses than said so in 2013.
Yet, in the quest to save money, IT managers sometimes overlook a source of significant savings — highly manageable infrastructure.
Customer-focused IT vendors are listening and responding with new approaches to data center architecture. New platforms offer more built-in flexibility and scalability than their legacy counterparts, thanks to integrated advanced management software.
Investing in highly manageable hardware gives organizations a way to improve productivity, lower total cost of ownership (TCO), and free up resources for activities that drive business value. But finding infrastructure that is truly easy to manage can be a challenge.
Vendors offer a smorgasbord of industry-standard and proprietary hardware — sorting through the choices to find the most manageable options is no easy task. To simplify the process and maximize savings, organizations should look for IT architecture with the following five characteristics:
The InformationWeek survey showed that 70 percent of IT leaders cite “focus on day-today IT operations” as a top barrier to innovation. Tasks like provisioning and deploying servers, applying updates, and performing routine maintenance can consume staff time, preventing IT from tackling valuable new projects.
“70 percent of IT leaders cited ‘focus on day-to-day IT operations’ as a top barrier to innovation.”
To reduce the time spent on day-to-day activities, IT should look for a next-gen server platform with built-in automation capabilities. Automation software can dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to perform simple tasks. For example, the zero-touch deployment capabilities in the new Dell PowerEdge FX platform allow administrators to deploy or reconfigure hundreds or thousands of servers in just seconds using simple system configuration profiles. In some cases, this reduces configuration time by as much as 99 percent, according to Dell. The integrated Dell Remote Access Controller (iDRAC) 8, which is integrated in FX servers, includes automation features that make it easy to deploy, configure, monitor, and maintain server nodes and attached storage devices. This embedded management device works with any operating system or hypervisor, and administrators can access it from a centralized control console, at the server, or from a mobile device.
Another way to improve IT productivity is to purchase hardware that comes with very easyto- use management functionality. In many data centers, IT staff use a host of specialized tools that each perform one or two functions. However, managers can increase productivity by providing administrators with tools that have broader functionality. IT tools built to fit your needs will save time spent switching among tools and learning how each tool works. In the best case, it can also provide IT staff with a quick overview that helps them diagnose problems more quickly.
Advanced management tools have intuitive interfaces that minimize the number of clicks and screens necessary to accomplish tasks. Dell’s agent-free tools don’t require the installation of additional software, which further reduces complexity.
“Intuitive interfaces minimize the clicks and screens needed to accomplish tasks.”
Given the pervasiveness of smartphones and tablets, it also makes sense for organizations to look for management software that they can use from their mobile devices. Dell has addressed this need with OpenManage Mobile, which allows users to monitor and maintain PowerEdge servers and Dell storage and networking hardware from their smartphones or tablets. Instead of rushing back to the data center to deal with a potential problem, administrators can perform routine tasks from their offices, home, the train, or wherever they happen to be.
Dell’s FX architecture takes an innovative approach with small, highly dense modules that combine compute, storage, and connectivity capabilities in a 2U server chassis. This highly configurable architecture offers several benefits.
First, companies can tailor the number of compute or storage modules they use in a particular chassis in order to meet the needs of their workloads. And, because the FX architecture uses the 2U form factor, companies can buy “bitesized” chunks of resources and scale up when necessary, minimizing the number of empty slots while helping to eliminate overprovisioning. The dense modules also make it possible to condense more IT resources into a smaller space, reducing real estate needs and related costs.
Highly manageable infrastructure drives down costs by maximizing energy efficiency. Many next-generation platforms include features and management tools that are optimized for low power consumption.
In a traditional data center, cooling is one of the highest energy expenses, if not the highest. To avoid these costs, some very large enterprises have gone so far as to build their data centers in colder climates, including some above the Arctic Circle.
Organizations can avoid the need to go to the ends of the Earth by looking for a server platform designed to reduce cooling expenses. Dell’s FX platform with available Fresh Air 2.0 technology is a leader in this area. While most IT equipment is built to handle temperatures up to 35°C/95°F, Fresh Air-compliant configurations allow servers to run efficiently with ambient temperatures up to 45°C/113°F. That lets organizations run data centers without air conditioning in a much wider range of climates. In addition to choosing servers optimized for energy efficiency, companies should look for hardware they can optimize for their workloads.
Different people like to work in different ways. In order to maximize productivity, an infrastructure platform needs to enable IT staffers to work in the ways that are most comfortable for them.
Highly manageable infrastructure should support a wide variety of tools. If companies are buying hardware with management software built in, they should check to make sure that these tools will integrate with any software they are currently using and want to keep.
Innovative vendors are taking management flexibility even further and giving users the option of whether to manage their systems like traditional rack servers or like blade servers. Dell’s FX platform, for example, lets administrators choose whether to use iDRAC 8 for traditional rack-style management or its Chassis Management Controller (CMC) for blade-style management.
“With Dell Fresh Air 2.0, servers can run efficiently at ambient temperatures up to 45°C/113°F”
With these options, organizations can add new systems to their existing infrastructures without changing their processes. That simplifies training and helps reduce the time necessary for management activities.
Highly manageable servers should also be highly reliable. After all, if a system constantly breaks down, IT management costs will rise. But if a system runs dependably month after month and year after year, IT staff can spend more time on activities other than repairs. To purchase reliable systems, organizations should look for three different qualities in their hardware:
1. Resilience. It may seem that all servers are basically alike, but some hardware includes design features that make the servers less likely to fail. For example, manufacturers can optimize component placement to maximize airflow, which reduces the likelihood that a component will fail due to overheating. They can also use more resilient components, such as fault-resistant memory. And some nextgeneration infrastructure also provides pre-failure notification, allowing IT to perform preventive maintenance before a component actually fails.
2. Redundancy. Smart IT departments design their data centers with redundant servers and storage arrays, but redundancy should also occur at the component level. For instance, Dell’s FX platform includes redundant power and cooling capabilities. In addition, FX includes failsafe virtualization, which utilizes solid state drive (SSD) cards with redundant hypervisors to enable very fast restores. The storage modules for the FX platform also can utilize redundant PERC9 RAID controllers for higher availability of storage.
“Look for a manufacturer with an excellent reputation for customer service and tech support.”
3. Recoverability. When inevitable problems occur in the data center, organizations need to be sure they can recover quickly. Highly manageable infrastructure often includes recoverability features, such as tool-less chassis design, which allows staff to open up the hardware quickly to diagnose and repair problems. The quality of services available from the vendor also has a big impact on the time it takes to bounce back from a problem. Companies should look for a manufacturer with an excellent reputation for customer service and tech support. Some, like Dell, offer innovative programs such as Automated Parts Replacement and Dell ProSupport Plus, which identifies and addresses problems in critical systems before they occur.
By carefully selecting infrastructure hardware that is highly manageable, IT can drive down costs while supporting their organization’s ever-changing business goals. When it takes a minimal amount of time for IT to deploy and configure resources, it’s much easier to redeploy and reconfigure those resources, allowing IT to meet evolving business needs. By deploying highly manageable architecture, IT is helping to future-proof their data centers. Organizations can maximize cost savings and productivity gains by selecting a vendor that provides end-to-end solutions and management tools that transcend different types of hardware. With familiar tools, reliable support, and hardware designed to reduce costs, the right infrastructure can help reduce TCO and free staff for innovative projects that help the business become more competitive.
Dell Inc. listens to customers and delivers innovative technology and services that give them the power to do more. For more information, visit www.Dell.com.