As economic pressures continue to bear down on organizations, leaders are constantly looking for ways to improve facilities and processes to create efficiencies and reduce costs. One area that is getting a lot of attention – and rightfully so – is the data center.
In the past, data centers were viewed strictly as a place to house data and provide reliable services for businesses. But nowadays, the typical data center is overprovisioned, underutilized, and basically inefficient. And enterprise data centers everywhere are reaching their limits in terms of power & cooling and physical space. At the same time, budget constraints and compliance/risk factors are requiring organizations to rethink data center strategy.
Data Center Convergence
Recent trends in data center designs and operations, though, are aimed at mitigating risks and increasing efficiencies, which save companies money on operating costs. One such trend is data center convergence, which basically means creating a pool of virtualized server, storage, and networking capacity – which are shared by multiple applications as well as lines of business – to reduce the footprint of all elements of a data center.
Many benefits of data center convergence are readily understood:
- Reducing the data center footprint translates to savings on capital expenditures and operational expenses, including power & cooling and systems management, without sacrificing performance and reliability
- Virtualization reduces complexity and dramatically reduces the time involved with overseeing traditional server farms, direct-attached storage devices, and numerous network components
- Convergence enables better alignment between IT projects and business objectives, which helps the business gain advantage and efficiency via increased IT responsiveness and incremental tech capabilities
Other benefits of data center convergence are beneath the surface – consider the impact of network virtualization on the network infrastructure and data center cabling. Network virtualization is when hardware and software network resources are combined into a single, software-based administrative body or virtual network. It can involve combining many networks or parts of networks, or providing network-like functionality to the software container on a single system. True data center convergence is achieved through a fully virtualized network architecture because it allows servers, storage, and network infrastructure to be integrated, thereby increasing efficiency and simplifying management, without sacrificing network reliability.
It is thought that organizations will probably adopt data center convergence quicker than cloud computing due to tightening budgets and shrinking profit margins. So where does data center cabling fit in? More on that shortly.
Other New Data Center Trends
Prior to assessing how structured cabling will be affected by data center convergence, here are some other notable trends in data centers:
- Data center services’ daily operations are becoming modularized and scalable.
- Rising data center costs are leading organizations to optimize the network infrastructure within the data center.
- Organizations are moving away from rented and leased space in a strategic effort to reduce costs and consolidate to one data center.
- Transformation in data center operations from a cost center to a value-add center, based on identifying how IT infrastructure maps (i.e. the relationships between physical and virtual IT assets and the applications they support) need to be designed to meet specific business goals and objectives.
- Virtualization initiatives, the rise of cloud computing, energy concerns, and specialized heating/cooling containment strategies have all combined to drive greater data center equipment density.
- Data center location is critical. More geographies are available since operating staff is minimal thanks to virtualization, which means decisions are driven by factors like: lower labor costs, less population density, lower construction costs, and lower energy costs.
Impacts Trends have on Structured Cabling
So what does this mean to the structured cabling system? There is increased focus, not just on the logical network, but on the physical network design as well. Simply put, network cabling must be re-thought. If the physical infrastructure is not ready, there is no network, regardless of the availability of active devices/equipment.
One of the most significant trends affecting structured cabling is the movement toward the construction of new data centers in specific geographies. New construction allows organizations to make impactful decisions on a data center cabling solution that will integrate seamlessly with the advancement in new technology. A comprehensive network cabling solution will also reduce infrastructure costs and support scalable data growth, ensuring the organization stays ahead of the competition.
The optimization of network infrastructure is another trend that impacts structured cabling, since network connectivity of servers, storage, desktops, applications, etc. all rely on cabling. The massive amounts of data that is collected, transformed, and delivered across the network require a state-of-art network cabling solution. Not only does the system need to support current data, but it must accommodate for the future influx of data (Big Data) that will ultimately occur as the organization grows.
Cloud initiatives are impacting the approach to network cabling as well. For example, an organization implementing a private cloud infrastructure might deploy the physical network infrastructure before actual usage is needed in an attempt to deliver rapid scalability. Therefore, a well thought out physical layer design that allows for a phased implementation approach is crucial to successful rapid deployment models.
In addition, more integration of IT components from virtualization/convergence initiatives might mean more cable density in some instances and less cables (with more network capacity) in other instances. Examples include:
- Fiber optic cabling to all server racks and storage arrays (to handle increased density while reducing cable pathways and improving airflow)
- Top-of-rack input/output convergence to simplify data center cabling and improve flexibility
- The need for high-density connectivity (e.g. special patch panels and enclosures for increased port/fiber/switch density) and high-capacity cable management (to optimize performance and protect network cabling infrastructure)
The Bottom Line
The changing trends in and around the data center signify a new era in data center management, centered on efficiency and cost effective solutions, without sacrificing performance, scalability, and the need to support the ever-changing needs of lines of business. Organizations can take advantage of these opportunities by establishing a structured cabling infrastructure that will support the business well into the future. Because it’s not just network infrastructure that will be affected by these data center trends – bottom lines will be, too.