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  Intercomms Issue 20
Issue 20 Articles

Netformx logoReducing the Complexity of
Data Center Design

InterComms talks to Scott Boynton, Senior Data Center Strategy Manager, Netformx, about keeping pace with the complexity of data center design through automation

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Scott Boynton, Senior Data Center Strategy Manager, Netformx
Scott Boynton, Senior Data Center Strategy Manager, Netformx

We discussed the complexity of data center design with Scott Boynton, Senior Data Center Strategy Manager at Netformx. Mr. Boynton provides networking expertise and vision for the development of software to help resellers and integrators become more efficient and profitable. Previously Mr. Boynton spent 14 years as a Product Line Manager for Cisco Systems creating some of Cisco’s most profitable products and solutions plus 5 years at American Express architecting a global remote access network. He is the holder of six patents and has an M.B.A. in Management Information Systems.

Two-thirds of the world's data centers are moving to the cloud in 4 years

There is no denying the fundamental transitions taking place in the way data centers are designed, deployed, and maintained. Virtualization and cloud computing platforms are maturing and transforming how companies drive their next-generation data centers. Data center and cloud computing businesses are growing rapidly and have become targets for diverse applications and hardware.

Global cloud traffic is expanding by leaps and bounds. Cisco®’s second annual Global Cloud Index forecasts global data center traffic to grow fourfold between 2011 and 2016 and reach 6.6 zettabytes annually—the equivalent of 92 trillion hours of streaming music (about 1.5 years of continuous music streaming for the world's 2016 population).

The challenges of data center design

In many ways, the elegance of new data center platforms masks the complexity inherent with converging networking, virtualization, computing, storage, security, and management.

Accelerating business and technology developments are putting increasing demands on the infrastructure. Installed technologies are quickly becoming outdated as hardware and software leapfrog each other in a vicious cycle of driving higher requirements and more performance.

Data center infrastructure is comprised of five main areas: Applications, Compute Hardware, Storage, Fabric Infrastructure (network), and Facilities. In each of these categories a different vendor stands in the number one market share position, with no one vendor having products in every category. With each application and functional area having different requirements, the heterogeneous infrastructure and the comprehensive offerings from multiple vendors complicate the design process, making any data center design a multivendor solution reliant on vendor partnerships and pre-tested reference designs that ease the burden on customers.

However, most data center design tools today only focus on a specific area, vendor, or technology with iterative and manual approaches needed by the customer to fit the pieces together into an optimized overall design. Pre-tested reference designs are typically limited by the vendor’s testing resources and are designed conservatively to handle a larger set of customer requirements without over-taxing the equipment. This may leave the deployed equipment with a lower utilization than the customer would desire for the budget spent.

All of this points to the fact that designing complex data center architectures has become segmented and time-consuming, thereby impacting profitability, efficiency, and agility. Few people are qualified to do a complete data center design; instead, multiple people having different expertise (such as storage, servers, or network architecture) and vendor-specific knowledge is usually required to be involved in a design, driving up the quoting costs and lowering margins to the resellers. A new approach is needed.

Faster and more profitable ways to design data center solutions

The solution needs to come from a third party that isn’t constrained by a single vendor. The solution needs to come from a company that has expertise in taking complex designs and simplifying them into a simple process flow that any user could complete no matter what their specific areas of expertise. The solution also should focus on the needs of the resellers—and not the vendors—to maximize every deal, flow in the way resellers engage with customers, and provide competitive quotes to win more customer bids.

A new, innovative approach would start with the application workload needs and use templates and basic questions to create a complete, multivendor or multiproduct-line data center design. This top-down, automated approach would significantly reduce data center design time.

By placing detailed information about hundreds of thousands of applications, server hardware, storage, networking, and facilities products in a central repository, data center and cloud computing platform designs could be created efficiently, accurately, and optimally for the whole stack plus across multiple vendors and product lines.

Using guided selling “advisors” would make it easy to determine necessary application resources and derive compute and storage requirements. The advisors would direct users to an optimal solution across multiple vendors and product lines, based on the client’s requirements and without relying solely on the users knowledge of data center products or resource sizing details. This increased precision would also eliminate the common habit of overestimating the resources required, “for safety’s sake”, and would enable resellers to create more competitive bids.

Automating the complete design process in a single system and relying on a central repository of product information means fewer specialists would be needed. So a single person could design a data center without relying on specialists. The final design would be competitively and optimally sized for the customer’s need. As a result, service providers and resellers could hire more account managers to win more business instead of a multitude of high-priced and scarce specialists.

This new approach would reduce the complexity of data center designs, simplify operations, and reduce costs. Resellers, providers, and integrators could respond faster and more accurately to data center RFPs with less time and effort, therefore handling more deals with their existing headcount.

The first automated solution to reduce the complexity

Netformx is releasing the first solution in the industry to address the challenge of designing these increasingly complex data centers. They focused on developing a solution that easily guides users through the complex process of matching application resource requirements to data center infrastructure across multiple vendors. The new solution—Netformx Data Center Designer—will release in the first half of 2013. InterComms spoke to Scott Boynton, Senior Product Strategy Manager behind this groundbreaking data center design solution.

Q: Netformx DesignXpert is already the global leader in enterprise technology design and proposal generation. Isn’t it already being used for data center design?
A: Yes, many of our customers are using Netformx DesignXpert for multivendor data center network design and Cisco UCS computing equipment. They then use manual approaches and multiple vendor-specific tools to put the whole design together. The opportunity we saw was to create a single solution across vendors that incorporates all the application, compute, storage, fabric, and facilities needs for a design.

Q: At a high level, what approach did you take to reduce data center design complexity?
A: Our main goal was to provide a simple, guided, step-by-step path that would narrow down choices so users could easily and quickly create accurate designs. Users with limited knowledge about applications, servers, or virtualization can benefit greatly from a wizard-like experience. By guiding the user every step of the way, the accuracy of the design is maintained from start to finish and the need for guesswork, training, or time-consuming research is eliminated. As a result, users can create accurate multivendor designs faster and have the peace of mind to know the design is configured without errors, using best practices created by the infrastructure vendors.

Q: How did you simplify the process of calculating the necessary application resources that dictate the final compute and storage requirements?
A: We developed ApplicationGenius with an industry-first central repository—the Netformx Online Community—that enables infrastructure vendors and resellers to share application resource use case templates. With the embedded template editor it only takes a minute to create new use cases from existing spreadsheets, documents and post-it-notes on the sales engineer’s desk. Vendors also have groups of engineers that just answer reseller questions regarding sizing applications for their hardware. The community database gives them a way to put the knowledge of every sizing they have done in a self-help interface. Users can access these existing templates to quickly build resource requirements for their customer’s unique needs in a fraction of the time it takes to research the answers online. This also reduces the need for individual users to have prior knowledge of all the applications their customers want to run in a data center environment.

Q: How do you deal with the complexity of vendors having different types of equipment?
A: For the hardware we create unique solvers for each infrastructure vendor and their different series of equipment. The output from ApplicationGenius is used by the ComputeGenius solvers that the user has chosen in order to identify the optimal equipment to support the required workload. Users are presented with 3 price solutions based on various criteria pertinent to the equipment selected.

Q: What happens next?
A: All configurations from Netformx Data Center Designer are imported to the Netformx DesignXpert workspace where users can include other products, software, and services then produce the final Bill of Materials (BOM) and reports. When the design is final users can either upload to the Cisco Commerce Workspace (CCW) or produce BOMs for other vendors to complete the order. Designs can be customized and quoted with diagrams, BOMs, and custom reports to produce a professional-grade and compelling proposal.

Q: What will we see in the first release of Data Center Designer?
A: The first version of Data Center Designer includes ApplicationGenius and ComputeGenius with the Cisco UCS B-Series and C-Series solvers. StorageGenius and other modules will be coming later this year.

Q: Have you had any early feedback from users?
A: Netformx Data Center Designer users are finding they can save over 50% of the time normally spent to create customer proposals for data center solutions. The ability to automate the creation of accurate designs minimizes the time to respond and quote to the customer, therefore increasing profitability in this highly competitive environment. The solution also mitigates the risk and cost of faulty designs and implementations. This directly translates to faster and more accurate proposals with better profitability.

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