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Presidio CTO on virtual data center strategy dos and don'ts

Dave Hart, chief technology officer of $1 billion IT infrastructure service provider Presidio, discusses virtual data center conundrums and how midmarket CIOs can get around them.

Dave Hart, chief technology officer at Presidio Networked Solutions, a $1 billion IT service provider that specializes in developing IT infrastructures, recently spoke with SearchCIO-Midmarket.com about the fastest-growing piece of Presidio's business: virtual data centers. Hart also touches on some of the common conundrums when developing a virtual strategy, which companies are doing to see success in the virtual world, and how vendors' integrated approach will help boost virtual data center adoption.

Dave Hart
Dave Hart,
Presidio Networked Solutions
IT shops have a lot of IT infrastructure options these days: colocation, virtual data centers, the cloud or building out their own. Are strategies shifting as a result?
Hart: Almost universally in the past 18 months, primarily driven by economics, there has been a stampede toward cloud computing in general. The motivation was, I can save money by going to the cloud. That was the hype and the message. Once clients dug into that, they found, at the end of the day, that they were moving money from one pot to another. They really weren't saving anything. Even if they were saving money, when you did the risk/reward computation of losing control of your infrastructure to save 5% of your [operational expenses] over three to five years, a lot of them were coming to the conclusion that they were not ready to pull that trigger. It's not a meaningful enough savings.

If IT shops are not pulling the trigger, what type of movement are they making, if any, in the cloud?
Hart: What we've seen is this stratification of the cloud into three tiers. At the high level, [it's] the Software as a Service model, whether that's Salesforce.com or Microsoft. Platform as a Service, like a .NET environment or a J2EE environment in the sky, where I can write my own code and host it up there for a particular amount of time, is something else they are doing. The last piece is Infrastructure as a Service. We're seeing almost no adoption of that. Primarily, people tend to figure out how to do it on their own. They instead are asking us to help them figure out what an optimal private cloud looks like. And once they get comfortable with operating applications in a private cloud, that's when they'll start thinking about the pieces they can move off to a public cloud offering.

What's the difference between a private cloud and a traditional data center?
Hart: A private cloud is a virtual data center. From a lexicon perspective, a private cloud is what the next-generation data center looks like. It's a far more efficient use of capital resources in its greenest form. It's also something that has a very tight orchestration and management model so that I am able to abstract applications from the underlying hardware. [That way] I can provision things more quickly and very dynamically move workloads around, based on the application requirements, without having to have a whole separate project around it, because I've finally achieved this concept of utility computing. That's where the actual infrastructure itself is available to all applications, not just on a one-to-one basis.

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Where do companies stand with their virtual data center strategies as they work toward achieving a true utility computing model?
Hart: Most are stuck between 10% to 25% of the way. The reason for that is virtualizing Tier 3 applications was such a no-brainer that everyone ran out and did it. What they found when they got to the end of that is they were able to lower their power consumption and lower [capital expenditures] on servers over a long period of time, but they created this new problem, which was how do I manage all these VMs? There are so many angles to that, and many people didn't think it through simply from a day-to-day IT operations perspective. In a virtualized world, who owns what? We virtualized the technology, but we didn't necessarily virtualize the IT organization at the same time. You still have server, network and storage guys who are trying to maintain their little worlds. That's one big problem we see over and over again. The other one is, depending on the industry you're in, there's significant compliance issues in a virtualized server and virtual data center. Where does that information sit at any point in time? It's hard to know. There are some interesting challenges around IT operations that I think have become an attenuator on adoption. Now people need to think through, not only from a technology perspective, but an organizational perspective, "How do I organize and tool up my next-generation data center?"

What can be done to avoid such problems?
Hart: I see a correlation between success with a virtual data center and people who have adopted ITIL or ISO 20000 best practices. People who are further along in the ITIL framework tend to adapt better to a virtualized world because they have a very structured way of thinking about IT operations, IT service management, change management and problem management.

Are midmarket companies' infrastructure strategies shifting more toward virtual data centers?
Hart: They get the benefits more than the enterprise because they don't have scale. They're actually in a better position to adopt some of this virtualized data center technology because they tend to have a less parochial IT organization. The server guy might actually be the networking guy, too. They tend to have less political baggage and fewer people needed to nod up and down in order to get some of this integrated virtual private cloud stuff done.

I see a correlation between success with
a virtual data center and people who have adopted ITIL or ISO 20000 best practices.

Dave Hart
chief technology officerPresidio Networked Solutions
What are the main projects midmarket companies are working on?
Hart: They are virtualizing their Tier 2 and Tier 3 applications and looking at storage consolidation as part of that. They are interested in a strategy around disaster recovery and trying to sort through that in their virtual world. They tend to be pretty good adopters of unified communication/collaboration because they see that the name of the game is productivity. Even in 9% unemployment, if you're a law firm or a technology company, there aren't many A+, No. 1 players lying around looking for work, so you have to get the most out of the players you have, which means making them more productive [through unified communications].

Do you give the same advice to your midmarket clients as you do to your enterprise clients moving in the direction of a virtualized data center? The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) or IT Service Management, for example -- does that make as much sense for midmarket clients?
Hart: They should use the transition to private cloud or virtualized data centers to incorporate that kind of thinking into their business. You don't have to be an ISO 20000-certified shop to get the value out of ITIL -- [you can benefit from] adopting that framework and starting to think about IT Service Management in that way, holding yourself accountable and being disciplined enough to have a service catalogue, have a change management platform and function that you follow. You don't have to buy any software to do that. You don't have to invest in infrastructure to do that. You just have to educate your people, put processes in place and hold yourself accountable to live within them.

What are vendors doing to bring the virtual data center pieces together from an infrastructure perspective?
Hart: Technology providers have started thinking in a much more integrated way. An example of that is the VCE [Virtual Computing Environment] coalition from Cisco, EMC and VMware, or if you look at HP's offering around their Matrix converged infrastructure story. The vendors are helping move the rock down the road by integrating their offerings from a technology and reference architecture perspective, a support perspective and from a general architecture and selling perspective. So you're no longer talking about the server, the virtualization technology, the network transport platform and the storage separately and trying to make them all meet in the middle during an implementation. It is more of an integrated infrastructure stack now. That's an extremely enabling way of looking at it, because it removes a lot of the question marks and struggles that come with making sure that things will work together as advertised.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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