The shifts in the data center


The demands on the data-centre are rising with need for handling massive data volumes, enabling high speed of data accessibility and offering longevity of data

The data center remains pivotal to delivering IT applications for commercial and consumer consumption. In the region, the investments continue to be robust. Strong economic growth, rapid take-up of smart devices, the rise of Smart Cities, and increased investment in mega projects like World Expo 2020 in Dubai and 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar are all driving business demands for more agile IT infrastructure. The data-centers of today are evolving to support the newer data intensive applications with real time output.

Mohannad Abuissa, Head of Sales Engineering – East Region, Cisco Middle East says, “Cloud, mobility, and big data applications are causing a shift in the data-center model. New applications are placing demands on the infrastructure in new ways. Distributed applications (for example, Big Data and Hadoop), database applications that run on bare metal, virtualized applications running in multi-hypervisor environments, and cloud-based applications that are available on demand all impose different demands on infrastructure.”

Summarizing the changes and trends being see in the data center segment, Tarek Helmy, Regional Director Gulf and Middle East, South & East Africa of Nexans Cabling Solutions says, “The pace of innovation in data-centre infrastructure is increasing with more innovation in the past five years than in the previous 15 years. With the ever-increasing number of mobile devices and IoT (Internet of Things), data has also grown and increased exponentially. Data centers today need higher speeds, greater design flexibility and a cost-effective migration path.  There are a lot of changes going on in data centers such as centralization of sites and growth of cloud based solutions. They also require greater design flexibility and a cost-effective migration path.  The trend in data centers is towards more data and bandwidth.

Data center infrastructure is now seen to extend beyond brick and mortar walls. There is a lot of data today being hosted with external service providers. Servers are getting consolidated and virtualized. Massive data volumes, speed of data accessibility and the longevity of data are key drivers for the transformation of data-centers in the Middle East. Cloud computing is one of the main technologies driving this change.

Mohannad adds, “Boosted by the region’s rise in Big Data, business analytics, and sharing of rich media, data centers need to support new business models. The vast majority of the data center traffic is not caused by end users, but rather by data centers and cloud-computing workloads used in activities that are virtually invisible to individuals.”

Key trends

Among other aspects, network monitoring and management as well as integrated infrastructure are key facets of the next generation data center.

Mohannad says, “The Virtualization of physical data-center infrastructure has built a flexible foundation for many enterprises, and attention is now turning to enabling centralized visibility of all applications and systems in order to control performance and service management. Also, an end-to-end data center solution should be able to integrate computing, storage, networking, virtualization, and management into a single platform and more efficiently support evolving business applications.”

More global co-location third party data-center service providers are establishing their presence in the region. More customers, both in the enterprise and the SMB are preferring co-location as an option to manage their IT needs.

Mohannad says, “There are definitely more global players establishing their presence in the region. With traditional data center architecture, IT organizations often spend as much as 70-80 percent of their resources just maintaining the existing infrastructure. The evolution to cloud computing and IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) has allowed organisations to make significant improvements in efficiency and agility, ultimately freeing IT resources from the burden of maintenance to focus more on delivering innovation.”

He adds, “Many enterprises, managed services providers and cloud providers in the region are choosing co-location, where they lease the data center space rather than buying or building their own data centers. This is especially true in the case of SMB’s who are looking to build business continuity and disaster recovery solutions without incurring the high cost of building a secondary or a tertiary data center within a country. Co-location service providers can benefit from economies of scale, and thus are able to provide cost effective and attractive DRaaS offerings to lure SMB’s in.

Cloud adoption has matured to an advanced stage where enterprises are increasingly relying more on cloud infrastructure.

According to Jeroen Schlosser, MD, Equinix MENA, “Enterprises are already using multiple clouds today, and the need to connect more diverse and traditionally divided ecosystems with demanding expectations around performance, user experience and seamless integration will push this trend more aggressively in the coming year. 2017 will be the tipping point, when the convergence of multiple clouds across the enterprise – data, applications, infrastructure and personal clouds – will fundamentally change the way people and businesses operate.”

With hybrid cloud deployments very much part of IT enterprise investments in infrastructure build-up, CIOs are faced with choices as to best options. Data integrity may influence the decision making of Enterprise to SMB customers who may prefer cloud services hosted from locally based data centers.

Mohannad opines, “Going forward every enterprise will live in a world of multiple clouds, and building a hybrid cloud strategy that includes both public-cloud and on-premises assets will be a top item on every CIO’s agenda. A CIO has to balance business and technical considerations such as being able to achieve the efficiencies and disruption that a public cloud provides, while staying within the confines of regulations around data sovereignty, providing acceptable application latencies, and avoiding cloud lock-in. It is for such considerations that we see growth in the data center segment. Vendors like Cisco, and local service providers and systems integrators wanting to create new revenue streams have a great opportunity to help their customers build their cloud solutions, whether private or hybrid.”

SDN ramping up

The software defined focus in networking, storage, compute etc is rising.

Jeroen says, “Networking that previously depended on physical wiring can now be dynamically controlled via software. Going forward, the next generation infrastructure – compute, storage, network and data centers – will be open source based.  Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) centralize and automate the management of large, distributed multi-data center networks using simple application level policies. “

Cisco is focused on innovations that break down silos across the components of the data center, and add programmability to all layers of the data center to support increasingly virtualized and distributed applications. Among Cisco’s innovations are the Unified Computing System (UCS), which uses a Unified Fabric to converge both SAN and LAN connections into a single infrastructure and Cisco’s Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI), or SDN 2.0, which simplifies and accelerates the deployment of applications, reduces IT costs and operational errors, and helps make businesses more agile.

“Today’s data center architecture must support a highly-mobile workforce, proliferation of devices, data-driven business models, and be capable of seamlessly incorporating cloud applications and services. To meet these diverse requirements, Cisco offers the Unified Data center platform, a unified data center architecture that combines compute, storage, network and management into a platform designed to automate IT as a service across physical and virtual environments, resulting in increased budget efficiency, more agile business responsiveness, and simplified IT operations.

The Unified Data center also offers a flexible and open data center architecture that will support legacy infrastructure components, as well as delivery of IT-as-a-Service and cloud services. Cisco’s Software-defined Networking (SDN) strategy for the Data-centre is built around the 3 key pillars of Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), Programmable Fabric and Programmable Network

Cisco’s competitor, Juniper’s new Open Cloud incorporates technologies in routing, switching, packet optical, network management and software-defined networking (SDN) Interconnect. It offers customers a flexible and open approach to architecting data center networks to meet the demands of public, private and hybrid multi-cloud environments.

According to Masum Mir, vice president of Product, Solutions & Technical Marketing, Juniper Development and Innovation at Juniper Networks, “The demand for cloud services is bringing forth a tidal wave of change and new opportunities for the networking industry. The DCI infrastructure demands bandwidth capacity, secure connectivity and operational simplicity. The Open Cloud Interconnect solution can play a pivotal role within a technology transition cycle that’s heading towards a digitally cohesive era where automation, mega-services and machine learning will reign supreme.”

Need for high speed cabling

One of the fundamental principles of the data center of the future, both globally and in the Middle East region, will be the ability to dynamically deliver business critical applications. To enable this, next generation data-center infrastructure also entails a focus on the structured cabling part. Else, with Internal data center traffic expected to grow 80% over the next three years, networks are at risk of becoming bandwidth bottlenecks.

Dr. Rick Pimpinella, Panduit Fellow, Optical Fibre Research says, “Just as the storage memory in your computer, USB drive, or smart phone rapidly reaches its storage limit with photographs, music, and other data, the data center operator must plan for the unrelenting demand for more data as it is the foundation for business continuity.  To meet future needs, it is important to focus on next generation network infrastructure.  A critical component of the infrastructure is the structured cabling, and its important to know if it can support the next generation network resources and transceiver technology designed for higher speed data rates and maximum channel reaches.”

It has become more imperative than ever for data center infrastructure managers to carefully consider their network architecture. In today’s competitive business environment, there is a need to implement the most cost-effective, future-proof connectivity infrastructure quickly and efficiently. Server virtualization is one of the trends in increasing the efficiency of data centers; however, it can lead to stresses in the supporting connectivity infrastructure.

Tarek elaborates, “The ever-increasing flow of traffic – from the cloud in particular – is putting pressure on conventional network architectures, particularly in terms of ensuring business continuity. These developments affecting the data-center environment place a new series of demands on the network at the level of cabling infrastructure, and are changing data center design from the ground level up.”

Elaborating the difference between LAN in an office and in a data center, Tarek explains, “In data centers, the main requirements are high-speed links with condensed number or terminations (fiber & copper). The high-speed links require either fiber links, which are usually pre-terminated fiber cables to support switch-to-switch connectivity or high-end copper technology such as Cat6A, Cat7A or Cat8 to support server-to-switch connectivity.”

Cabling needs to support the increasing need for high speed and bandwidth. Looking at bandwidth needs in data centers, data center connectivity can be seen as “switch-to-switch” vs. “server-to switch” links.

Tarek adds, “Switch-to-switch connections is fiber rich, while in server-to-switch more copper solutions are used. Parallel optics enables us to achieve up to 100GB today with multimode fibers (OM3 & OM4). Two-lane singlemode is also possible but will be much more expensive because of higher transceiver costs. Upcoming copper standard of 25Gb/s over copper (25GBASE-T) will also enable us to see more copper ports to support high speed server-to-switch connectivity.”

Optimum set ups include a mixture of copper and fiber cabling. Copper cabling should support migration paths to connect servers running from 1G to eventually 25G and possibly 40G whereas fiber cabling should connect network switches running from 10G to eventually 100G. Good quality cabling and careful design help to minimize disruptions.

On the need to future proof investments in cabling, Tarek says, ”The primary role of data center cabling is to facilitate and enable this unprecedented growth in data and bandwidth while at the same time maximising data centers’ up-time. To date network speeds as high as 200Gb/s are being discussed. Fiber is best placed to support such high network speeds.”

As part of its vision of supporting the world’s growing data needs, Nexans recently launched new copper-based solutions to support bandwidths of 25Gb/s and 40Gb/s Ethernet and ultra-high density LANmark ENSPACE solutions for data centers.

Dr. Rick elaborate the importance to future proof structured cabling as it is always an extensive upgrade and therefore is quite wise to do it with a longer time frame in context.

He says, “To fully utilise all fibre strands, the data-centre infrastructure must be carefully designed with an upgrade path in mind.  A more efficient upgrade path would be to replace 10GBASE-SR transceivers with next generation 50GBASE-SR transceivers (to be ratified in 2018), which utilises the same duplex fibre structured cabling.  The higher speed 50Gb/s solution is projected to be lower cost and utilises an advanced modulation scheme which can be extended with future 200 Gb/s transceivers.  Focusing on next generation data center infrastructure will provide a cost effective flexible infrastructure for years to come.”

While the data center continues to evolve as the hub of IT infrastructure that enables IT applications, the challenge is to future-proof the data center and how you should manage and support your data center and your on-premise systems. Among the challenges anticipated, data centers in future will have to manage application solutions based on containers and micro-services delivered in the cloud and utilising software defined networks (SDN), and network function virtualisation (NFW).

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