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Transforming Physical IT Infrastructure through Software-Based Intelligence

February 06, 2017

Networks are undergoing a dramatic transformation on a global scale, out of necessity to keep up with a host of technology trends including mobility, the cloud, the IoT and the growing popularity of subscription and services-based consumption models. And as much as legacy business models, standard operating procedures and resistance to change are all keeping networks from evolving as quickly as they could be, physical IT infrastructure presents the biggest source of resistance.

That leaves organizations with the difficult challenge of making their way through the infrastructure bottleneck. A recent blog post from Fiber Mountain, a company that focuses on making network and data center infrastructure more efficient, discusses the challenges and limitations of physical IT infrastructure and how they may be overcome so organizations can embrace web-scale networking architectures.

Fiber Mountain believes that there is no real way to predict the scale of future networks or how they will evolve, even over the next few years. What is now considered a blazing fast speed might very well be laughably slow in just a few short years. By incorporating software control into physical IT infrastructure, networks are essentially future-proofed and architected to meet the scale and speed demands of the future, whatever they may be.

Making IT infrastructure more agile is another way to respond to unknown future network demands. Simply adding capacity isn’t enough, as that is a finite process and capacity will ultimately get maxed out. By creating an agile design using software to modify, expand and change infrastructure, network architects can help overcome the limitations of physical IT infrastructure.

                    Image via Pixabay

“A flexible balance needs to be struck between overarching policies and localized decision-making and control,” writes Fiber Mountain. “To support this, the old world of static physical IT infrastructure will be modified and expanded. In the new world of physical infrastructure, network administrators will be able to see and control every aspect of the network in real time, all the way down to physical layer connectivity.” 

Building this new world of physical infrastructure will require a new way of thinking from architects and network managers. Of course, ripping out old infrastructure and doing a wholesale replacement is not a viable option, for financial and planning purposes. A one-time upgrade, however drastic, has inherent limitations and networks will ultimately run into the same bottleneck issues as technology advances. By using software control to enhance legacy IT infrastructure, network managers and architects can scale out networks, add new features and make enhancements without reinventing the wheel.

Fiber Mountain also has some practical suggestions for upgrading physical infrastructure, including doing away with manual documentation and troubleshooting of device connectivity, which can be time consuming and prone to error. By using dynamic managed connectivity, network operators can eliminate manual documentation and free up time and resources to focus on other issues. Another common problem in physical network design is the tendency to overprovision or build out excess capacity to meet anticipated demands. By using physical layer SDN, operators can make more efficient use of network resources without wasting and overprovisioning them. The same holds true for cooling and power capacity, which are often overprovisioned and end up unused and wasted. By using DCIM systems integrated with SDN orchestration, network operators can provide the correct amounts of power and cooling as well as real-time responses to unforeseen problems.

Overhauling physical IT infrastructure doesn’t have to involve re-architecting the entire network. By layering software control, intelligence and automation on top of existing equipment and resources, network operators can make better use of the assets they have while also preparing for future needs and network infrastructure transformation.

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