What we do
Over the last couple of years I think it’s fair to say we’ve all seen a change in the dynamic of the infrastructure market. It became apparent some time ago that cloud capability will become applicable to everyone in some shape or form. What took us all a little longer to understand was how. This then led to confusion for everyone, including the technology providers, their partners, and most importantly our customers. This challenge can perhaps best be summarised by a delayed acceptance of what we now know of as the “3rd platform” - placing agility, data-centricity, choice, and efficiency at the top of the priority list – needing to co-exist with traditional IT, a conflict aptly explained by Gartner as “Bimodal” IT.
At Softcat, we think the immediate answer to that dilemma lies with cloud integration. It’s not about moving everything off-site or outsourcing accountability for everything, but rather investing in tools that provide the flexibility to leverage the cloud (now we have a better idea what that means!) into whatever may prove a best fit – but critically, also delivering on what we need to achieve today.
So, where do we see that being the case?
Backup is the most mature example of vendors understanding the power of the cloud and harnessing it. The challenge backup brings is familiar to us all; a necessary evil made up of awkward manual intervention, maintenance overheads, regular capex outlays plus on-going costs all without any tangible business benefits. Perhaps it’s no surprise that backup vendors have been the first to harness cloud capabilities.
CommVault is leading the charge, followed closely by ArcServe (now an independent and subsequently more agile organisation), in working with both Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to allow you to use their storage targets to offload long term retention demands. For Veeam customers there’s also the option to use the Cloud Connect feature to replicate backups to Softcat’s Hosted Infrastructure.
Cloud backup has multiple benefits; less onsite tin, lower capex spends, no refresh cycles, no/less faffing with tape, greater reliability, and less responsibility as backups are automatically replicated between sites on your behalf.
However, upon consideration, we believe the biggest benefit might be the ability to convert a backup into a live server using cloud compute. This offers the opportunity to reduce the demands of DR for workloads that don’t have a stringent recovery time, as workloads can be restored on demand if the need arises. This also represents a great way of testing the usability of the cloud in earnest, without either risking production workloads or wasting time you probably don’t have testing hypothetical scenarios.
Disaster Recovery suffers many of the same challenges as backup, so it’s logical that cloud should be leveraged in a similar way.
Where you need tight recovery times and points there is a place for true DR solutions, and the likes of Zerto are at the forefront of granular replication into and recovery from the cloud. Zerto’s hypervisor replication already integrates with AWS, as well as on-premise hypervisor technologies like VMware vSphere and Hyper-V. This provides the ability to recover or even migrate groups of applications across disparate platforms without the need for costly and time consuming conversion tools. With in-built journaling, Zerto is also upsetting the status quo of traditional backup vendors, giving customers the ability to roll back in time, in a way that Sky+ or Tivo users enjoy at home.
Another consideration for DR is VMware’s integration between vCentre and their own cloud, vCloud Air, which allows you to manage on and off-premise virtual infrastructure through a single, familiar platform. One consideration for the adoption of cloud technologies is managing the additional complexity it brings in return for the business benefits of agility, choice, and efficiency – so what VMware has done is critical to finding that balance on an increasingly regular basis.
VMware has also developed the capability for VMs to be ‘vMotioned’ between your on-premise infrastructure and vCloud Air, even over significant distances. Having tested this internally, we believe this should be a serious consideration for not only DR but also customers looking to burst in and out of public cloud platforms, with tools like vRealize proactively optimising the cost of resource.
Where the benefits of cloud storage are less well defined is in the storage market, something demonstrated by the different approaches taken by the industry’s heavyweights. Equally, the business benefits are less obvious. However, what they all now accept is that if they can’t stop the adoption of public cloud they might as well get on board!
We believe that the problem greater integration could solve is the increasingly pertinent one of agility. The challenges of storage today are focussed on minimising complexity, while supporting the unpredictable growth of the various and very different workloads that most businesses encounter post virtual sprawl. Because of this, it is very hard to control the cost of storage and thus to agree on an architecture that delivers value for everything from databases to archives.
There are several use cases forming whereby your choice of on-premise primary storage will help with this. The first is having a gateway that allows you to treat public capacity as a fourth tier of on-premise storage, with all the same functionality and visibility you would expect; but leveraging the lower operational costs of low performance cloud capacity. This is probably best captured by EMC’s Cloud Array. Alternatively, you could look at leveraging cloud capacity as a distinct target – but with all the same functionality. Whilst this could be used for certain workloads that don’t fit the cost profile of primary storage, it also provides the ability to replicate to an offsite/cheaper target for recovery or DevTest purposes. This is the path Nutanix and NetApp are on.
Back to what is possible today, a very different route is that of becoming the single point of management for public and private clouds, the control of which is crucial for the likes of HP (Helion) and Cisco (Intercloud).
Both support you in integrating the entire private cloud with hyper-scale and service provider alternatives to have a combination of all for different hybrid purposes. Whilst very much tried and tested, it still feels like its relevance will gather pace in the broad market over the medium term, as the need for various public and private clouds with regular movement between them is not frequent in the short term. In fact, going back to the cause for deliberation we believe that these two technology platforms will have a firm home with the increased adoption of Gartner’s 3rd Platform, as at the heart of this is the flexibility to choose and maximise efficiency.
To bring this chain of thought to its conclusion, what’s clear to us from customer feedback is that even with the best team in the world, it’s very hard to differentiate a business in hardware configuration/maintenance and supporting standard 2nd platform applications such as Exchange.
Where we fit into the equation is by highlighting tools that will support the agility your business needs as per the above examples. In conjunction, we offer a trusted partnership that you can rely on to be accountable for the overhead of tasks that don’t help you differentiate (for example backup or DR management and Exchange support); thus allowing your team to concentrate on the things that do.
We would love to hear any comments you have about this article!