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Simplexity, or simplification of complexity, is the process of tying all the necessary IT, communications and support infrastructure equipment necessary for a data centre into easily deployed, scalable and manageable solutions. David O’Coimin, solution offer manager at Schneider Electric UK, explains


Round-the-clock availability of digital services from desktop computer to smart phone is the most visible manifestation of the always-on information age in which we live. It is made possible not only by the ever increasing power of IT systems and universal availability of communications but also by the convergence of computing, networking and storage products into unified back-end systems that are manageable, scalable and deliverable at affordable cost.

IT convergence sees individual servers and storage systems replaced by pools of computing, networking and storage resource which are allocated to software applications and users according to need. It makes possible the provision of cloud computing and phenomena like the Internet of Things, which some observers expect will see 26bn connected devices around the world by 2020.

The establishment of IT convergence is reflected in the product strategies of leading equipment vendors. Companies with broad product lines such as Dell and HP have their own single optimised solutions combining multiple IT components such as servers, storage arrays, networking equipment and the accompanying management software needed to ensure these components work together optimally.

Other companies, including storage specialists such as NetApp, Nimble and EMC and networking and server specialists like Cisco and IBM are partnering with each other or companies whose products complement their own to create converged stacks of equipment. All vendors in the space are developing preconfigured and tested reference designs to allow their systems to be used in a variety of applications that scale from the small business or branch office to the large data centres serving multiple customers.

A vital component of converged IT solutions is the necessary infrastructure needed to ensure it all works together securely and optimally. Typically IT and networking vendors do not concern themselves with power distribution and power backup systems, nor with cooling or environmental monitoring equipment. And although they have management software to monitor the vital performance of their own equipment, such software tools seldom take account of such items as the surrounding environment or the health of the mains power supply.

To make IT convergence happen, a corresponding alignment of infrastructure systems is necessary to simplify the complexity of combining so many different systems together in a scalable, manageable and affordable manner.

Fortunately, just such ‘Simplexity’ is now achievable based on co-operation and partnership between specialists in the infrastructure field like Schneider Electric and leading IT vendors.

This fully completes the process of convergence of computing, networking and storage systems, first by protecting the IT equipment from disruptions to the power supply and the dangers of overheating, and secondly by helping to make the management of power and cooling as efficient and cost effective as possible.

Underneath the layer of converged IT systems are products such as UPS (uninterruptible power supply) systems, PDUs (power distribution units), and racks for small and branch offices or data centres, each with their own integrated cooling systems, physical security and environmental monitoring systems.

Helping to tie it all together is the infrastructure management software layer. DCIM (Data Centre Infrastructure Management) systems such as Schneider Electric’s StruxureWare for data centres suite provides a ‘single pane of glass’ view, through which the operator can monitor and react to the behaviour of the computer room infrastructure. StruxureWare is becoming ever more tightly integrated with other vendors’ management software to bring a high degree of automation to the management of converged systems.

Thanks to its close co-operation with other vendors Schneider Electric can provide additional services aimed at simplifying the complexity of choosing the right converged infrastructure system for a customer’s specific needs. These include site readiness assessments, reference designs, configuration and auditing tools, for pre-built solutions up to and including prefabricated modular data centres.

All of these allow customers, large or small, to procure proven reliable systems, scaled appropriately for their needs, to get them up and running quickly with predictable performance and lower operational costs.

Among the hardware vendors with whom Schneider has close partnership agreements are EMC, VCE, Cisco, NetApp, Dell and HP. StruxureWare for Data Centers is integrated with management software including VCE’s VCE Vision, and HP’s One View to allow a single consistent view of the operations of converged stacks featuring equipment from those vendors.

In the case of Cisco, Schneider has integrated the networking vendor’s EnergyWise protocols into the firmware of its own PDUs and UPS so that Cisco’s monitoring software can receive power consumption data at the device level from Schneider Electric’s hardware.

This gives management a particularly detailed view of the power consumption of devices throughout an installation, allowing them to see which equipment is operating efficiently, where there may be threats to the system and whether some older equipment might need to be replaced.

StruxureWare for Data Centers can also be integrated with broad-based software virtualization systems including VMWare and Microsoft’s System Centre Operations Manager to provide insight and control across various hardware stacks so that products from multiple vendors can be successfully integrated and managed from a single point.

Business scenarios
Integration between physical infrastructure and converged IT systems allows businesses to deploy the right amount of server, comms and storage capacity for their specific needs. Business managers can plan for reliable scalable systems that grow only as their needs do; Schneider Electric and its partners can implement tailor-made systems based on proven reference designs and highly integrated converged stacks for a range of applications from small or branch offices up to large data centres.

For smaller premises such as SME, branch and remote Offices, Schneider Electric, and its partners, can deliver a prefabricated ‘Micro Data Centre’ that allows cloud-based software application platforms to be deployed quickly and reliably at low cost.

Typically, such a system could be built incorporating a FlexPod Express hardware stack that combines storage products from NetApp with networking and compute products from Cisco. Alternatively a prefabricated stack such as VSPEX from EMC or an entry level VBLOCK from VCE could be used.

Around these converged stacks Schneider Electric wraps a life-support system comprising highly available power systems, using APC Smart-UPS; the appropriate amount of environmental insight and security; management software combining its StruxureWare DCIM , other vendors’ monitoring tools; and finally an office-ready enclosure with its own integrated cooling and sound proofing that can be rolled into its location and be up and running immediately.

For larger installations such as Enterprise Server rooms or data centres, Schneider Electric partners can deliver converged systems housed in racks and containment systems with the necessary cooling and power backup facilities which can be arranged in hot-aisle/cold-aisle configurations for greater cooling efficiency.  Integration with the building management system simplifies the oversight of this equipment.

Across all of these converged stacks, customers may choose to deploy VMWare’s vSphere management software integrated with Schneider Electric’s StruxureWare. This collaboration combines information from the IT layer and the physical-infrastructure layer, enabling data centre managers automatically to migrate their virtual machines from an impacted host server to a healthy host server. In other words the entire software stack, including operating system and applications, that is running in virtualised mode on one piece of hardware can be switched over seamlessly to run on another, should a problem emerge.

Network managers can monitor their entire IT environment, including power, cooling, security, and environmental data from within VMware vSphere, and receive notice of physical infrastructure events and their impact on the IT infrastructure.

Another utility is the integration of Schneider Electric’s software tool PowerChute Network Shutdown which provides an overall layer of management to the power protection afforded by

Schneider Electric’s Smart-UPS systems

Thanks to tight integration, PowerChute Network Shutdown communicates over the network with the UPS to protect the physical and virtual IT environment against power outages and other environmental or physical threats.

In VMWare High Availability Clusters, PowerChute can trigger virtual machine migration to maximise uptime before gracefully shutting down virtual machines and hosts. Installation and management is straightforward as PowerChute can be deployed as a VMWare virtual appliance while the PowerChute Plugin option enables management via the vSphere Client.

For the ultimate in rapid deployment of data centre technology, converged infrastructure systems can be delivered as an all-in-one prefabricated data centre modular solution to any available space close to a customer’s premises. These systems are preconfigured, protected, adequately monitored and pre-tested to ensure that they work immediately.

With today’s expectation of always-on endlessly available IT services the pressure on businesses to react quickly and cost effectively to opportunities is vital. IT convergence has been a steady trend for some time, but to ensure that newly deployed systems operate effectively and withstand the inevitable mishaps that will occur due to power, networking and hardware outages particular care must be taken to provide the necessary support infrastructure.

Happily, the tight integration between vendors of server, communications and storage equipment is also extending to the physical infrastructure which provides assured power, cooling, monitoring and security so that overall management of data centres and server rooms can occur from a single centralised monitoring point.

Rapid, affordable deployment of new IT resource, and secure management of the same thereafter ensures that the IT system stays ‘always on’.

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