“It Takes a Village” to Deploy & Manage IT at the Edge

Typography
Opinion

Configuring, deploying, and maintaining the supporting infrastructure for IT equipment is tough enough. Doing all of this for multiple, geographically-dispersed sites without local trained staff makes it even harder. How can you ease the burden, speed things up, reduce errors, and keep a good handle on everything that’s going on at these distributed IT sites?

The answer is that you have to find and engage with the right ecosystem of partners and vendors who can deliver and help maintain a well-integrated micro data center complete with the power, cooling, security, management and IT. My colleague, Wendy Torell, and I just published a new White Paper that explains in detail what distributed IT owners can do to not just survive, but thrive in our new IoT driven, hybrid computing world. 

When you have a lot of sites and no one local to manage things, then you’re going to need help. You’re going to feel pressure to standardize, simplify, and automate things. You can’t be everywhere and do everything. Some of the bigger national and global players can, of course, but most can’t. Only by accepting outside help and yielding to this pressure will you be able to make up for these handicaps. But, it’s tough to get good help these days, as they say. And despite some people’s belief that infrastructure hardware is commoditized, you have to be careful to pick a solution that actually addresses these unique challenges of edge computing. But, how? It all starts with working with the right “ecosystem” of people.

A collaborative ecosystem of partners

This idealized, cooperative ecosystem is comprised of IT equipment manufacturers, physical infrastructure vendors, system integrators, managed service providers, and, of course, you the end user. Each member has a set of core competencies and roles to fill that bring value. Note that there are members who might fill more than one role. Some integrators, for example, also provide managed services. Some hardware vendors might be able to do the integration on site at a factory. To paint the picture in very broad strokes, the ecosystem works together to simplify the design and configuration phases while providing both a physical and virtual workforce to ease management and maintenance burdens.

The following briefly describes a few key attributes or outputs of the ecosystem to look for…

  • Easy-to-use, rules-based configurators to select the appropriate IT stack and supporting infrastructure, monitoring, and services
  • Reference designs (architectures) for IT stacks and micro data centers that are tested and validated
  • Collaborative and open partnership between the IT and physical infrastructure vendors as well as the system integrators
  • Cloud-based software management tools with digital remote monitoring capabilities that gives the end user, vendors, and MSPs access to the exact same time-stamped data
  • Infrastructure management tools that integrate into MSPs’ Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) software
  • Vendors and integrators with deep knowledge of both the IT and infrastructure systems 
  • Partners with the logistics infrastructure to deliver integrated solutions safely and the ability to service those assets across all locations

 

 

A pre-configured, integrated micro data center

When the ecosystem works as it should, effective integrated micro data center solutions are produced. Being essentially a complete “data center-in-a-rack”, the physical infrastructure and IT systems are pre-configured, tested and, ideally, installed into the rack enclosure before delivery to the site. These solutions might also be based on an existing reference design and have been, presumably, built before and perhaps even have certified compatibility by the IT equipment manufacturer. All of this simplifies deployments by reducing errors, site work, and disruptions to on-going business operations. In fact, according to one of our integration partners, World Wide Technology[1], the ability to pre-configure technology platforms and devices before shipment to site…

  • reduces field engineering costs by 25 to 40 percent
  • increases order processing speed by 20 percent
  • reduces maintenance costs by 7 percent

These are powerful improvements.

Open APIs and cloud-based software management tools

A critical element of successful edge IT deployments is the infrastructure management software. These tools become indispensable when managing assets that are geographically dispersed and lack trained onsite staff. It is the management software that connects the end user, MSP and vendors into a management and maintenance partnership. In other words, it is through the tools that you get outside help managing and maintaining  your edge sites. However, traditional data center infrastructure management software (DCIM) does not really work well for this. These on-premise, license-based tools were architected (and priced) for single, larger installations. There was no way to see all sites and assets from a single location and sign-on outside of the network. A VPN tunnel was needed with (typically) unique log-on credentials for each location. And once logged in to a given site, you’d only have visibility to that site’s assets. This does not work well for distributed edge environments, as you might imagine.

New cloud-based, mobile-friendly DCIM tools have emerged that are architected to make it much easier for trusted service providers and vendors to help monitor and maintain distributed assets. Modern tools are browser based and offer mobile apps to allow real-time monitoring of all distributed assets from a central place located anywhere. Being subscription-based, it’s much easier to get started. Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) make it possible for important infrastructure data (e.g., UPS battery status) to be shared with your MSP’s RMM tool. Digital remote monitoring services also exist now that enable the infrastructure vendor to monitor your critical equipment for you. This will make maintenance activities much more proactive and less disruptive to your business.

Working together with the right vendors and partners can greatly simplify and improve the availability of edge computing IT deployments. To learn more about what Schneider Electric’s integrated ecosystem can do for you, visit our Alliances page.

[1] https://www.wwt.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/WWT_Integration_Centers_Overview.pdf, Accessed on February 28, 2019

 

Author: Patrick Donovan

Patrick Donovan is a Senior Research Analyst for the Data Center Science Center at Schneider Electric. He has over 20 years of experience developing and supporting critical power and cooling systems for Schneider Electric’s IT Business unit including several award-winning power protection, efficiency and availability solutions. An author of numerous white papers, industry articles, and technology assessments, Patrick's research on data center physical infrastructure technologies and markets offers guidance and advice on best practices for planning, designing, and operation of data center facilities.