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Coming Trends in IT Modernization: Interview with Intel's Jim Fister [Sponsored]

Coming Trends in IT Modernization: Interview with Intel's Jim Fister [Sponsored]
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The year is still young, but already key trends are taking shape that will drive IT modernization in 2015. I sat down with Jim Fister, Lead Strategist and Director of Business Development for Intel’s Data Center Group, to discuss some of today’s major trends in data center innovation, including:

  • Continued virtualization of data center components
  • Development of real-time analytics and the data hub architecture
  • Evolution of private and hybrid cloud infrastructures
  • Advent of software defined infrastructures
  • The Internet of Things and analytics at the edge

Intel's Jim Fister and Tim Allen Discuss Data Center Trends for 2015

Jim is a focused strategic thinker with deep technical knowledge and broad industry insights into critical IT trends. In this conversation, we discuss how innovation in the data center can be the bellwether of broader cultural change across the enterprise.

Tim Allen: Jim, we’ve talked before about how cultural shifts in an enterprise often arise from technical advances within the data center. Can you give me an example of how this process has been manifested in the past?

Jim Fister: Well, first, it’s not necessarily just the data center anymore, at least not the walls that make the building. Changes in how IT does its job in the data center can lead to important cultural shifts across the entire enterprise. Think back a decade ago, when virtualization was just beginning to surface as a trend in the data center. The prevailing architecture of the time was one application running on one OS running on one machine, with data centers full to bursting with servers that were too big, too hot, and with single-digit utilization. The answer to that technical crisis was virtualization, which has resulted in the heavily virtualized data centers we know today, with multiple apps and OSes running on virtual machines. This is creating a whole new set of practices that scale beyond just the server and the network in a building.

TA: And this has propelled many kinds of business and cultural changes across the enterprise. For instance, virtualization technologies helped power the advance of cloud-based infrastructures that are changing the very structure of business models today.

JF: That’s right. The point here is that IT innovation—in this case, virtualization—has had a cultural impact in the enterprise far beyond the IT team.

TA: What are some of the key IT modernization trends that you are tracking for 2015?

JF: One of the most important developments taking place right now is the advance of in-memory databases that can generate real-time analytics from a wide variety of data sources. In-memory databases such as SAP HANA integrated with big data processing frameworks, such as Apache Hadoop, can process transactional, analytical and unstructured data nearly simultaneously and on the same compute infrastructure. Of course, these advances provide significant advantages to businesses, which can make smarter and faster decisions based on predictive intelligence and real-time market and customer analytics, but they also have a large potential impact for enterprise IT infrastructures. In-memory databases and high-performance server platforms, such as those based on the Intel® Xeon® processor E7 v2 family, are at the heart of a new computing architecture called the data hub that represents a complete re-work of the conventional IT environment.

TA: I recently wrote a white paper, A Data Hub Architecture for Building Real-Time Business, that discusses the business and IT benefits of the data hub infrastructure. There’s no doubt that real-time analytics based on a data hub architecture has the potential to transform how we do business. It comes down to getting more out of your data, no matter what its source. I explain how a data hub platform can provide immediate access to critical insights and patterns in data so organizations can more quickly react to—and even predict—outcomes to drive better business decisions.

JF: We will also see further data center modernization around private and hybrid clouds. Of course, cloud technologies have been around for a while and many organizations have migrated some front-end applications to off-site cloud infrastructures. But today I see companies going further and exploring the option of placing more critical applications in hybrid and private clouds. This will be a different discussion for every company, because few businesses are going to put their most sensitive operations in the cloud. But a sensitive operational structure for one company might be the first thing to migrate at another. Cloud allows companies to scale for their business, not just along standard practices already in place in the broader enterprise.

TA: Conceiving of enterprise computing infrastructures as a continuum of clouds has the potential to change not just how IT organizations manage applications and data, but how businesses define themselves. With software, platform, and infrastructure as a service, a business can focus on solely on its mission as an innovator without needing the trappings of a larger enterprise. This has the potential to transform traditional business models and lead to leaner, more focused, and creative organizations.

JF: The software-defined infrastructure is another data center trend that has implications beyond the IT organization. It represents the move away from manual data center management and workflows governed by hardware toward automated software-based infrastructure controls across compute, storage, and networking resources. What we’ll see much more of this year is the virtualization of network functions, where fixed function appliances, such as firewall or VPN units, are replaced with virtual machines running those services on standard servers.

TA: Can you explain that further?

JF: If you have a virtualized application that requires specific firewall settings, you can attach the firewall functions to the app within the virtual machine, ensuring that the firewall will migrate with the app when it is moved to a different server. This speeds provisioning and deployment of workloads in a virtualized environment by consolidating multiple hardware-based network services into a virtualized resource governed by software, which is far simpler and less costly to administer.

TA: The cultural impact of this IT trend to the broader enterprise is clear: as data center infrastructure is increasingly virtualized and delivered as a service, and control of the data center is automated by software, the more hardware becomes a commodity resource. Redefining the data center as a portable software stack operating virtually on a standardized hardware base reverses a longtime paradigm of vertical stack-based enterprise computing, where the requirements of proprietary hardware once reigned supreme.

JF: Speaking of proprietary hardware, a surprising number of large enterprises, particularly in government and financial sectors, still operate at least in part on mainframe RISC-based systems. While the disadvantages of legacy mainframe computing are pretty well documented, and include high operating and support costs, they persist at the heart of many organizations because of the perceived business risk of moving mission critical applications. But a coming cultural shift may finally lead to their demise. It has to do with personnel. How long will the IT managers with the skills set to maintain RISC-based systems still be available? As a generation of IT professionals who learned their mainframe skills in the 1970s and 1980s begin to retire, who will take their place? The cultural shift of IT pro retirement may have as much impact on RISC replacement trends as understanding the benefits of more scalable and flexible computing architectures.

TA: What other IT modernization trends are you tracking?

JF: The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a hot topic in recent months. For the enterprise, it refers to billions of always-on sensors, detectors, logs, connected devices, and other intelligent data sources that gather unstructured data from myriad locations, often at the edge of the network. Analysis of this data promises to reveal patterns, connections, and relationships that can provide valuable business insights. However, we’ve already discussed how the most efficient computing architectures position processing and data sources as close in proximity as possible.

TA: How does that impact IoT analytics?

JF: I started by saying that the data center has now scaled beyond the four physical walls. This is a great example of that. In the near future, we’ll see data analytics moving out of the data center and closer to the edges of the enterprise, where the IoT collects data. This will help increase the instantaneousness of analysis and help organizations make faster, smarter decisions. But it also bucks the momentum for ever more centralized computing resources. Time will tell what the broader cultural impact of this IT trend will be for the enterprise.

TA: Thank you, Jim. It will be interesting to see how the year unfolds. Let’s check back at the end of the year to discuss how your predictions have taken hold.

Follow the growing data center team with Tim on Twitter @TimIntel.

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