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Volume 30, Issue 4

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Tuesday, 23 August 2016 00:00

Stop Treating Edge IT Like a Second-Class Citizen

Written by  ALISON CONIGLIARO-HUBBARD

Our world has become more distributed and data-centric than ever before. That is transforming how IT organizations manage application delivery and performance for the ever-increasing number of users who work on the edge. Or at least, it should. The edge is where business gets done. These workers are the chief revenue generators, so IT must ensure they remain productive. But too often, improving edge IT plays second-fiddle to the data center. As a result, workers suffer through frustrating outages and poor application performance, IT wastes time and money trying to manage edge systems and trying to bring new sites and new services up when business calls for them, and data is more vulnerable to loss and theft. It’s time to disrupt edge IT. Now for the first time ever, implementing a software-defined edge will enable you to approach edge IT as a true extension of the investments and innovations you already have in your data center.

Hubbard-1“The edge” is a broad umbrella that can encompass anything from a remote law office, to a factory, an oil rig, or even a ship at sea. So to keep things simple, let’s use the term “ROBO,” remote or branch office.

The average data center serves 55 ROBOs. After surveying nearly 300 senior IT professionals a 2015 vendor report discovered:

  • Almost 50 percent of all employees work in branch or remote offices

  • 50 percent of companies’ data is stored outside the data center

  • Branch and remote offices represent roughly 50 percent of IT’s budget

Despite the wide variety of ROBOs, clearly they all have at least one thing in common: the critical role they now play in growing revenues and driving business growth.

 

When hyperconvergence falls short

As more workers, data, and budget dollars flow to supporting ROBOs, IT’s focus over the last five years has been on modernizing the data center. The Taneja Group reports “hyperconvergence” (a term it coined) is one of this year’s hottest IT trends. More than 25 percent of organizations the analyst firm recently surveyed are looking to adopt hyperconvergence as their data center architecture.

Many of the hyper converged options on the market are beginning to offer small versions of their solutions for ROBOs. However, the typical hyperconverged appliance was designed as a piece of data center infrastructure, meant to simplify and scale data center infrastructures. It converges servers, storage, virtualization and networking into the building blocks of one system that, theoretically, would be easier to maintain and service than a collection of individual point solutions. And while this may seem like a great idea for ROBOs, the challenges IT organizations need to address are quite different as enterprises become more distributed. As the Taneja Group points out, ROBOs have different and often more challenging requirements than a datacenter.

 

Consider that companies rarely staff ROBOs with trained IT personnel. This forces IT to perform monitoring, maintenance, and troubleshooting remotely. But popular hyperconvergence appliances are not designed to be remotely managed en masse, don’t address unreliable networks, and converge storage locally and directly within themselves. This creates a number of data protection issues. Deploying new remote sites for a distributed organization is complex, expensive, and time-consuming. Every site requires dedicated hardware, software, licenses, and, quite often, an IT administrator.

To quote the Taneja Group report: “In ROBO scenarios, the datacenter form of hyperconvergence is not significantly better than simple converged infrastructure (e.g., pre-configured rack or blades in a box).”

 

The solution is not to invest more time and money in hardware at the ROBO. In fact, take just the opposite approach: create a software-defined edge model that removes infrastructure from ROBOs, and at the same time, centralizes application delivery, data storage, backup, recovery, and all other IT operations to the main data center.

 

Branch IT

Hubbard-2Take a moment to pull out your smartphone – it proves the software-defined edge model works. You will have access to all the apps and data you’ve decided you need for work and play. Installing and using a new app takes just a few seconds. When you bought your smartphone, you didn’t also have to buy a backpack to carry servers, storage and backup systems. Instead, all of your data is secure in the cloud and available whenever you need it. If you lose your device, your life-line is alive and well as you left it - in the cloud, and access to all of your contacts, data and apps only requires the simple and quick process of loading that information onto a new device.

 

IT can replicate that user experience for all frontline workers, reduce the costs and complexities of managing such a highly distributed environment, and without weakening the organization’s security posture by implementing this model. This enables IT to manage everything inside a secure, centralized datacenter and deliver applications and data to users at ROBOs. The key benefits include:

  • Hardened security posture: 100 percent of data is secured in the data center, not sitting on a piece of hardware in a far-away ROBO location, out of your control; and without compromise to remote user productivity. All data is encrypted at-rest and in-motion for true end-to-end encryption.

  • Improved user productivity: Generate up to a 100x increase in branch application performance. Users will encounter far fewer instances of downtime due to system outages or poor performance. Ensuring information and system availability enables users to get their work done using any device they choose.

  • Ensure business continuity: 100x faster recovery times (RTO) minimizes the damage done by outages. Perform backup and recovery operations in mere seconds instead of days or weeks.

  • Improved operational agility: IT can deploy branch services and sites in under 15 minutes, and manage everything via the central dashboard. All heavy ROBO IT operations, such as provisioning new services and sites, and recovery of sites in the case of outages, take seconds instead of days. Remote backup headaches are completely eliminated. The result is a more agile IT team that is better able to support the needs of the business.

 

Modernize edge IT

We’ve established that consolidating infrastructure at the edge is the critical first step. But it’s just the first step. Again, simply mashing together disparate pieces of hardware into one appliance will not solve short- or long-term performance, data security and management issues.

You also need to make the edges “stateless.” If you’re a storage professional, you know “state” means facing daily operational challenges to manage and protect data at the ROBO that’s vulnerable to loss and theft. A lost storage piece at the ROBO will require hours, days, (or in some cases longer) of effort to bring it back online. And there’s no guarantee of success, particularly when resorting to older backups. Decoupling storage and compute, by moving data storage from the edges to the central data center creates stateless data stores without compromising user experience.

It’s also important to software-define the edge. This enables IT professionals to have complete visibility and control over every single location in the business no matter where they are. IT decides which applications and services need to be available to workers at specific ROBOs in order to maintain their high productivity levels.

Think about modern edge IT investments more holistically. Examine your organization’s requirements across the infrastructure, operations and the overall business. For example, ask yourself what user productivity gets lost if something goes down? How long does it take to provision a new site or application? How long does it take to recover from an outage or data loss? What professionals do you need to send in to do that work? How painful is it to standardize across all sites when you open a new ROBO or merge with another organization? What challenges do your IT teams face when attempting to backup remote office data? These are just some of the important considerations to keep in mind as you’re planning how to re-architect your remote office IT to meet the needs of your users today and tomorrow. After all, we live in a different world – one that’s more distributed across the country and the world. IT must therefore rethink how it supports those workers.

 

Alison HubbardAlison Conigliaro-Hubbard is senior director for Riverbed Technology. She is responsible for worldwide product marketing for SteelFusion, the world's first software-defined edge solution specifically geared to address the costly operational and business challenges resonant in a world of increasingly distributed enterprise architectures. Conigliaro-Hubbard brings almost 20 years of experience in infrastructure, data center, cloud technologies, in sales, product marketing and has held global OEM channels leadership roles at Cisco Systems, Brocade, Autodesk and GreenButton, now a part of the Microsoft Azure Cloud. She is a graduate of the University of Miami with a bachelor's degree in broadcast communications and marketing.