In IT we often hear the concept of ‘single pane of glass’ – a symbolic, possibly overused phrase that puts everything you need to worry about onto a single screen that could be managed by someone who doesn’t have any technical expertise.
It’s a nice idea, but those of us behind these screens know that it’s a little more complicated than that at the best of times.
The single pane concept speaks to the wider movement to simplify the back-end (or the boring part) of IT to free CIOs and their departments to focus on services that speak to core business goals and more directly benefit customers and staff. In time, the real hope is that IT can turn from a cost centre into a profit centre and the data centre can contribute directly to business growth.
If we break that down – IT workloads cost a certain amount to host and run. For IT to become a real profit centre, we need to be at a point where the business benefit of an application, piece of data, workload, etc. outweighs the cost of running it.
Think about it in a retail or food setting – as we draw towards some practical applications of IoT, industries in these areas are trying to leverage innovative tools like facial recognition software to help improve customer experiences and, ultimately, sell more. KFC and Alibaba have teamed up in China to roll out a “smile to pay” service. If they and others trying out these services can sell more than the investment needed to facilitate them, that means a profit centre, simple.
Moving from consolidation to a distributed network
To get better value from data centres themselves, many businesses have favoured consolidation over the years – going from multiple data centres spread throughout their operating market to maybe having a core data centre housing more or less everything and a back-up data centre in another location.
New South Wales local councils, for example, when going through the process of consolidating into a smaller number of larger councils, brought together a mix of data centres under two roofs at colocation sites. On a state level, GovDC has taken this further by consolidating most NSW government data centre infrastructure into two purpose-built facilities.
It’s a logical play – keeping everything within arm’s reach equals easier management. Until recently, it was true too. However, the fast-growing edge networking industry is here to throw a spanner into the works.
Many in the industry worry that spreading the data centre to remote locations might upset the balance of keeping everything close together and easily managed. One of the key concerns we hear from organisations is that by deploying a distributed network to meet its edge requirements, they will need additional IT resources on site to manage it and budgets simply don’t permit that.
Fortunately, recent developments in edge infrastructure allow you to keep that balance intact. While the data centre can – and should – be across a distributed network, the management of it can be centralised in one location.
This level of simplicity and visibility should be appealing to companies of all sizes, and for those who ‘just want to keep the lights on’ or really leverage the most from digital transformation.
Distributed networks in all shapes and sizes
Picture the following scenario. Your company headquarters and IT resources are based in Melbourne, but you have a regional office in Wagga Wagga. The IT manager wakes up and sees an alert on his smartphone about an outage on the regional site’s modular data centre. Using his ‘single pane’ view – which he can conveniently access while still in his PJs – he identifies the problem and solves it before anyone in Wagga Wagga even knows something has gone wrong.
Now think of the effect in a larger setting – healthcare organisations throughout Australia and indeed the rest of the world are starting to look at how they can leverage the likes of data analytics to improve bed shortages, ambulance management, meal management, etc. These kinds of applications require high speed and low latency to operate at their best, and a distributed network of modular data centres monitored through a central monitoring system could be a real enabler.
Imagine this type of network being used in online gaming – research from Newzoo showed that the global games market hit just shy of $127 billion in 2016, with this set to rise considerably in the next few years. Latency is the enemy of gamers, and mere milliseconds can make all the difference. As VR becomes part and parcel of the gaming industry, the amount of data needed to be managed and kept latency-free will increase dramatically.
Planning for the future and enabling IT to find new value
We also shouldn’t forget that edge infrastructure effectively manages itself so the IT team looking after it from a central location will be able to focus on the fun and more business-proactive side to IT. Added capacity can also help organisations plan further investment in IT resources more effectively.
That means you get the best of both worlds – data managed at the edge where it’s created, ensuring lower latency and removing the need to run all local data through the core network; and the single pane of glass simplicity IT departments crave.
Ultimately, investing in the edge will be essential to improving customers’ experiences and finally making IT not only pay for itself, but actually amass new value that simply couldn’t be found until now.
Robert Linsdell is A/NZ managing director, Vertiv.