Is it time for an upgrade?

“Infrastructure Refresh”. An expression that generally invokes one of two reactions in IT Managers – a sense of dread at the prospect of having to revisit the cost, risk and complexity associated with migrating systems, or one of excitement at the opportunity it can represent.

26 April 2017

Irrespective of your view, the need to consider replacement or improvement of an IT Infrastructure is one which continues to sit at the forefront of many IT Managers’ minds.

At GCI, you may not be surprised to hear that we sit on the side of the fence that aligns with excitement at the prospect of refresh - and not for the reasons you may think! The opportunity to evaluate the way IT services are delivered makes for interesting conversation and an enjoyable experience, discussing approaches that can be deployed to enhance the way IT is perceived and utilised within businesses. This is compounded by the longer refresh cycle that many are adopting when it comes to IT infrastructure – typically 4-5 years due to a tougher financial climate and the reliability of modern hardware. Given the pace and rate of change, it’s often the case that significant enhancements can be achieved come refresh time. Aiding the process and adding the value of our experience is a task we relish, especially when the end result is effective and reliable IT.

So what are the options? In our experience, there are a handful of similar scenarios that organisations consider at the point of a refresh; a “like for like” scenario (often comprising an iteration of virtualised infrastructure), a change in strategy (taking advantage of new technologies like hyper-converged infrastructure, or HCI), or the more substantive move to a different delivery model altogether (such as Cloud infrastructure).

What should you do? Which is right? Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail…

The first, a “like for like” deployment, is often the starting point. Many organisations are invested in server virtualisation which makes the transition to new platforms relatively straightforward. Workloads are portable, utilisation is very visible, and familiarity with or confidence in the underlying technology stack (e.g. VMware vSphere) often makes direct replacement an attractive option. However, despite these benefits there are limitations that may be relevant. In a modern era where agility is expected, the need to account for changes in capacity (both upwards and downwards) is difficult to accommodate efficiently with “traditional” infrastructure. In addition, the CapEx based approach to procurement is sometimes seen as a negative when compared with the more utility-based approach to IT services that’s now available (e.g. Software and Infrastructure as a Service).

How about the second option? New technology that reflects a change in strategy, like HCI, is where things can get interesting. Hyper-converged platforms remain relative newcomers to the world of infrastructure, but as we progress it’s evident that this market area is maturing and growing. A modular approach to infrastructure, HCI allows rapid and vast scaling through small form factor nodes that provide integrated RAM, CPU, and Storage in a manner which removes complexity and enables efficiencies that aren’t possible with traditional infrastructure. The transition can enable a host of advanced functionality and integrated services - including deduplication, backup, and disaster recovery - whilst also accommodating significant density and performance through the use of technologies like SSD. As with a traditional approach to a refresh, however, a change in hardware strategy is not without limitation. The reliance on platform efficiencies make sizing complicated and implementation more intricate, and the adoption of a platform over commodity hardware can lead to vendor lock-in that is seen as a risk to some. As with a traditional approach to server virtualisation, HCI also represents a CapEx approach to refresh which, as noted previously, may not be desired.

What about Cloud, the third example of an available approach? Is it the answer? You could be forgiven for thinking it’s the obvious option based on the emphasis on Cloud Services presented by many in recent years. Cloud is an attractive option given the way it addresses some of the shortfalls represented in traditional infrastructure. A utility-based, OpEx approach to IT. One which is service driven and relieves pressure on “keeping the lights on”. One which provides natural elasticity and agility in a way which traditional infrastructure (on-premise or otherwise) simply can’t. But, like the other options, it’s not suited to all scenarios. A move to Cloud can divert pressure to other areas – networking or application delivery for example - and whilst there are opportunities for cost savings, they’re not assured. Compounding all of these things is the transition; of all options, a migration to the Cloud is the most complex and time consuming. Not a reason to dismiss, but a considerable factor in any decision around a major infrastructure upgrade.

So what’s the answer, and which is best? In short, as much as I’d love to have “the answer”, there is no “right” answer. It’s about weighing up the available options and aligning with both business requirements, and the experience of a trusted partner who can guide you in the right way. In many respects that’s no different to the way it’s always been, but the variety of options available now (that likely weren’t viable at the last point of refresh) can make that a daunting prospect. The good news, it doesn’t have to be!

We pride ourselves at GCI on offering sound advice and adding value through consultative, customer-focused support to aid your decision making in what is likely to be a significant investment that could dictate your strategy for the years to come. It doesn’t have to be complex, and we’d welcome an opportunity to discuss and make sense of the available options with you further.


Want to know more? You can read more about a good place to start – an Infrastructure Review – or get in touch for more information at enquiries@gcicom.net.

 

Kelvin Papp

Product Manager

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