In 2008, Middle East enterprises had the unique opportunity to deploy and use state-of-the-art technologies as they set up greenfield datacentres. NME examines the server room trends of the year gone by, and the ones the new year will bring.
These twelve months have been the year of the datacentre. Well, it was in the Middle East at least.
In the region, where infrastructure has consistently dominated IT spend for the past few years, most enterprises were intent on building brand new, or greenfield, datacentres in 2008.
This is one of the key reasons that the Middle East offers an arguably unparalled view into the larger trends that affected datacentres in 2008. Free of the legacy solutions that burden counterparts in more mature markets, IT managers in the Middle East had the opportunity to choose and use state-of-the-art, cutting-edge technologies. This was truly a unique opportunity that many chose to use to gain a competitive edge for their respective organisations.
But what were the larger trends in datacentres that influenced investment patterns in the Middle East?
The virtual world beckons
Any conversation about predominant datacentre trends in the region has to be dominated by the subject of virtualisation.
"In my opinion, virtualisation has been the biggest technology trend that has affected the region over the past year. Virtualisation is a key factor when transforming datacentres, because it allows the creation of homogeneous layers in the infrastructure and in the management layers, reducing overall costs, improving the quality of service and the utilisation of resources," says Antonio Gallegom, EMEA south infrastructure consulting solution principal, EMC.
Agrees Anthony Harrison, manager of systems engineering at Symantec in the region: "Server virtualisation is one of the technologies most transforming and affecting our world today. This is simply because it delivers real benefits. It reduces server spend, makes adding new servers quick and painless, increases infrastructure flexibility and reduces planned downtime. Moreover, it helps reduce facilities costs because you are not constantly adding new equipment."
Benefits of virtualisation, especially in the server arena, began to be tapped by enterprises in the Middle East, whether in building greenfield ones or in upgrading legacy systems. According to some, this adoption lapped on even to the final end-user stage.
"Virtualisation essentially lets one computer do the job of multiple computers, by sharing the resources of a single computer across multiple environments. Virtual servers and virtual desktops let you host multiple operating systems and multiple applications locally and in remote locations, freeing you from physical and geographical limitations.
In addition to energy savings and lower capital expenses due to more efficient use of your hardware resources, you get high availability of resources, increased security, and improved disaster recovery when you build a virtual infrastructure," says Thomas Huber, regional manager systems engineers, EMEA east at VMWare.
"Server and desktop virtualisation, mainframe type reliability and availability on distributed systems were the major developments of the year. The end-user work force has become mobile requiring access to any systems and any applications from anywhere. Being able to virtualise the desktop means easy access and rich experience of working from anywhere like you were working in your office.
Server virtualisation means customers can now consolidate their distributed workloads and centralise their servers resulting in lower total cost of ownership, ease of management, faster recovery times, and faster roll outs or updates and technology upgrades," says Noman Qader, territory sales manager at Citrix.
With pilots turning into production projects in many enterprises in the Middle East, these end-users are beginning to look at management solutions that will enable them to get higher levels of productivity from their virtualised environments.
Not just virtual
Though virtualisation is high on everybody's mind, it would be wrong to consider it as the dominant trend of this year. The server farm was radically changed in most enterprises, and often without virtualisation.
There have been huge advances in x86 architecture servers, with reference to power consumption and management, in addition to processing capabilities.
These along with increasing reliability, have accelerated x86's shift into the datacentre. The maturity of supporting technologies like virtualisation, and server monitoring, power management, and management applications not only increase efficiency of the servers, but also allow for dynamic responses, and an extremely high level of automation.
Dynamic infrastructure using the above technologies, leads to ‘green' datacentres," says Chandan Mehta, enterprise product manager at Fujitsu-Siemens Computers.
"There were a number of developments that influenced the datacentre, such as moving towards large scale processor platforms with a strong emphasis on virtualisation. Also there is the new concept of a ‘unified fabric', which has been embraced by two major switch manufacturers, Cisco and Brocade," says Asef Baddar, business development manager at Leviton.Earlier this year, Cisco had announced its Nexus 7000 series of switches, which can operate as a bridge between Ethernet and Fibre Channel protocols, providing a unified fabric for both IP and storage.
This eliminates the need for parallel networks that have to be monitored, maintained and upgraded by the enterprise. With these switches, organisations can enjoy the benefits of a single network that will allow seamless shifting of data and computational resources across the datacentre and WAN.
The Brocade Data Centre Fabric (DCF) Architecture is fashioned differently. It is meant to transform an organisation's current Brocade technology and product portfolio into a unified fabric that integrates physical and virtual connectivity with block and file data access.
The management layer exploits deeply integrated device and fabric intelligence to communicate with workload management, provisioning, and capacity-planning tools. This in turn extends application service levels and data management policies into the fabric.
Both concepts of a unified fabric has drawn interest among enterprises in the Middle East, especially the large ones.
Blade servers have also risen in importance in 2008.
"Blade server technology has completely changed the dynamics of the datacentre environment. Although blade servers have reduced the amount of rack space utilised, organisations are having to provide a significant amount of additional power per square meter of datacentre environment and having to provide up to double the power requirement in cooling capacity," says Nader Atout, sales and marketing director of the Gulf region at Dimension Data.
Fibre inside the datacentre and even to the end-point, and increased concentration on ‘greener' infrastructure technology options have been some of the other dominating trends of the year. The year to come
Many of the trends that began to gather strength in 2008, will be played out further in the year to come, and most of this will be oriented towards consolidated and centralised computing power, making the datacentre almost all-powerful within enterprise IT infrastructure.
"The whole industry is going back to centralised processing power. Regional customers are fast realising the benefits and are consolidating common workloads like file and print, e-mail, branch systems, etc. Some have even gone to the extent to managing business critical applications like ERPs and core banking applications, centrally.
But we are just touching the tip of the iceberg. Our region holds a huge potential for consolidation considering that most customers are relatively smaller in size with many branches spread across cities and countries," says Citrix's Qader.
"The current financial crisis and increased strain on resources will see a renewed focus on energy efficient infrastructure technologies. This, in addition to server and storage virtualisation technologies, will be big influencers on datacentres," points out Mehta.
The increased impetus on consolidating computing resources will mean a much more intense consideration of cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) options in the market.
Symantec's Harrison says: "We believe software as a service and "cloud computing" will be the next wave of technological development. Cloud computing has been in existence for a long time, but again, economic pressures will begin to weigh heavily on organisations who will think twice about further investments in hardware, and look to find more cost-effective alternatives."
"The unified fabric will have a strong influence on datacentres in 2009. Cisco has shown commitment to this trend with its datacentre 3.0 strategy, along with its continued development and introduction of the Nexus product family of networking switches," adds Badder.
Bill Ryan, product marketing manager, enterprise business unit at Foundry Networks says: "Converged Ethernet and, in particular, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) will be a technology that will gain further momentum in 2009. Driven partially by virtualisation, storage area network (SAN) infrastructure will move towards FCoE since it will simplify, ease management and improve the transport performance of storage information within networks."
"Enterprises looking for ways to expand their on-premise infrastructure to add capacity on demand, as well as SMBs or workgroups wanting a fully outsourced infrastructure, are investigating cloud computing.
Many of today's traditional solutions have issues like proprietary application platforms that require redevelopment time to function off-premise, inability to move to another provider if SLAs aren't met, and long lead times to move or set up new environments," says VMWare's Huber.
Most of this desire to consolidate and optimise on resources will be driven by the prevailing economic climate. As the financial crisis hits regional shores, companies will try to maximise on existing resources and investments already made.
"Technologies that will focus on the business information requirements for IT infrastructure, resulting in efficient, tiered IT architectures will be the focus for the coming year. Building cloud infrastructures will also influence datacentres, helping IT organisations to automatically manage and optimise the distribution of rich, unstructured information across global, cloud environments.
Finally, gaining efficiency in the physical layer of datacentres (power and cooling optimisation), from a green IT perspective, will become an area of focus during the next year of change," says EMC's Gallegom.
Apart from actually bringing increased processing power into the datacentre, power and cooling factors will gain increasing importance as companies look to cut costs further.
"The current financial crisis and increased strain on resources will see an increased focus on energy efficient technologies. This, in addition to server and storage virtualisation technologies, will be big influencers on datacentres," says Mehta.
There is no doubt in anybody's minds that the coming year will hold a lot of surprises. Initial growth predictions have already been revised by most analyst firms, and as spend decreases, enterprises will work to consolidate and optimise resources. And, one can be sure, that much of the impact will be felt in regional datacentres.
For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.