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What's Top of Mind in IT?

In December 2016, we began a research effort by categorizing the conversations we have with customers and prospects. 

We wanted to answer a few questions:

Coming into 2017, what are people most interested in and focused on?

Are there common themes or project scopes that are top of mind and to-do lists? If so, are there external catalysts driving these decisions and actions?

How much variance exists between the questions we're being asked and the projects being undertaken? 

Are the questions being asked and the topics/solutions being researched the actual objective, or are they on the edges, reflecting a different way of thinking about a risk or opportunity?

What, exactly, are their definitions of the terms, products and services they're interested in?

In other words, are we speaking the same language?


We then compared this information against our web traffic, including page visits and keyword triggers.

With 60 days of data in hand, we identified four interesting trends:

Cloud Migrations.

How do I migrate existing applications and data from where they are (wherever that may be) to the cloud? The cloud, in this case, is bookended by two definitions. On one end, the applications and data are no longer on-prem. On the other, the application has been completely optimized/modernized/transformed for a SaaS model and to take advantage of seamless integration with third-party APIs.

Availability.

Availability, in this case, is defined in three ways:

  • The application or data is always available. This is what we would traditionally term as High Availability or HA application architectures;
  • The application performance is improved to meet current end-user speed or usability expectations. This is very closely linked to application transformation or modernization (effectively taking advantage of advanced data, application and network architectures to improve performance); and
  • APIs. The application and data is available in new ways as the business, end users and third-party partners may require.  

DevOps.

More closely linked to Cloud Migration and Availability than we had expected, the DevOps questions all center around increasing the availability of, and access to, infrastructure management capabilities. This is either through automation (think Continuous Integration) or through outsourced management of these components. What surprised us the most here is that these conversations really dove into a need for someone to bring DevOps processes and mentality into their organizations. Equally surprising was that this requirement extended beyond infrastructure and reached all the way up into the application development process.  There is a clear desire for modern processes, and it's great to see.

Security.

When we dug into these questions we quickly learned that security really was part of a much larger effort to meet rapidly evolving compliance requirements. Whenever someone mentioned fully managed security, and we asked them to define what that means to them, it quickly became a compliance conversation. The underlying need is to mitigate the risks associated with increasing requirements for data access (via APIs) and extremely fluid security and compliance regulations. The TL;DR version is best practices to manage an ever-changing landscape.


So, how much variance exists between the questions we're asked and the projects we undertake?

Not much, really. When we dug deeply into these conversations, we were able to learn that while there was usually one key driver for the research or inquiry, it was ultimately part of one of the four trends mentioned above. People were just coming to one of these opportunities from slightly different angles based upon their unique requirements. In essence, it is important to do more listening than talking to be sure the edges of the scope are clearly known by everyone involved. 

Finally, are we speaking the same language?

In many instances, we are. However, the definition of a term or expectation of a service are inherently unique. In many cases, the expectation extends beyond what would be termed an industry standard (in a positive way). This corresponds directly with the aforementioned statement about being an attentive listener and, in all instances, asking very direct questions. This minimizes, if not eliminates, ambiguity in the conversation and helps get everyone right where they're going as efficiently as effectively as possible.


If you have any interest in discussing these trends or the research we're currently undertaking in more detail, please put some time on my calendar. I'm happy to make time for the discussion and share what we're learning. 

Topics: Data Center Infrastructure

The 7 Biggest Data Center Migration Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

 

Slow. Pain. Ouch. Nope. (Not the words you were thinking?) This is for good reason.

In helping hundreds of companies migrate everything from single applications to full data centers, we’ve identified seven common mistakes people make during data center migrations, and more importantly, how to avoid them. 

Read all seven mistakes on datacenterknowledge.com.

Topics: Data Center Tips

A Balancing Act of Power

After calculating your rack’s expected power load, it’s all a balancing act!

Everything in the server world is getting smarter and faster, and this includes one of the basic parts of the server: the Power Supply Unit (PSU).

Power supplies were once a simple set of transformers and filters. Today, they are an intelligent switching and monitoring unit with their own firmware. This leads to some interesting and unforeseen issues when designing the power feeds to a rack.

Here are some things to ask and take into consideration:

  • Are the rack feeds to be a Primary/Primary arrangement or a High Availability Primary/Redundant configuration?
  • How many servers and devices are single-corded or dual-corded?
  • Have you selected Power Distribution Units (PDU) with enough outlets to supply all the devices in the rack and the correct number of circuit breaker banks protecting the outlets?
  • When using dual-corded equipment in a Primary/Redundant configuration, have you balanced out your Swing Load?
  • Are the PSUs in your equipment the older style, designed to supply half the load from each, or are they of a newer design where one provides the entire load and the other sits in standby?

The first items are relatively simple to figure out.

Every rack has two power feeds from diverse sources. Each feed has its own PDU and associated safety circuit breakers to provide power to your equipment.

Primary/Primary arrangements are usually used with single-corded equipment where you can afford to lose power to anything plugged in should an outlet bank or main breaker trip. Primary/Primary can pack a lot of power in to a small space at the expense of providing no critical redundancy. Primary/Primary indicates you can draw up to 80% of the rated main breaker for each feed.

In the case of Primary/Redundant, where each piece of equipment has at least 2 power supplies, each PSU is connected to a separate PDU and feed. This keeps the equipment running in case a PDU fails or a breaker trips. During a failure, there is a “Swing Load” as the equipment load shifts from using both PDUs to only one. Correctly-designed rack feeds for a Primary/Redundant arrangement are sized so that one PDU can supply the entire rack load to keep your critical equipment running. This is accomplished by intentionally loading no more than 40% per feed so that if one fails, the other can take the entire swing up to 80%.

We want to minimize Swing Load whenever possible. During a failure, as the power draw shifts all at once, it can overtax the remaining PDU. Swing Load in a poorly designed rack feed could cause the remaining feed to trip its breaker and fail as well, taking down the entire rack.

In the past, dual-corded servers would draw power from their two PSUs in a balanced fashion: 50% from one and 50% from the other. Hooking one PSU to one power feed and the other PSU to the second power feed provided redundancy in case of failure. If one PSU failed or the electrical feed from the PDU failed, then the server would draw 100% from the remaining PSU.

To improve power supply efficiency, some manufacturers have redesigned intelligent PSUs. Instead of drawing 50% from each, the intelligent PSU places the entire load on one while running the other in standby—warmed up but not providing any current unless the first PSU fails.

We recently powered up a new rack with over 40 dual-corded servers with intelligent PSUs. It produced a graph like this from its two power feeds:

balacing-act-power
Dual power feeds to the rack. Top graph to the first PDU, bottom graph to the second PDU.


We placed all of the left side PSU on one PDU, and all of the right side PSU on the other PDU—a common, clean rack design.

You can see that about 11:00 on the graph, as the servers were turned on, they all started drawing their main load from the upper feed as all the PSU on one side went live. The other PSU went to standby, and all of them were connected to the lower feed, which showed no increase in power usage at all.

While the total power load was still well within the design rating for the rack, it was not balanced at all. If the upper PDU or its feed were to fail, the entire rack load would swing to the bottom feed. All 8 kilowatts would transition from one feed to the other in a fraction of a second.

To minimize any potential for future trouble with the swing load, we shut down and swapped the AC line cords for half of the servers in the rack. This placed half the favored PSU on one feed and half on the other, thus evening out the draw across both feeds and reducing the Swing Load by half should either side fail.

You can see that in the graph at 13:00 on.

Now the maximum Swing Load is only 4 kilowatts. This would not have been an issue with the old style PSU that draw equally from both sides, as the results would have been the same.

Best practice dictates keeping Swing Load to a minimum, as it takes a good deal of stress off the PDUs during failures. There will be enough alarms sounding when an entire rack of servers report loss of half their expected power that you don’t need the added worry of will the remaining feed hold up until the failure can be rectified.

Here’s another observation from the Operations crew: Make sure your network routers, firewalls, and load balancers are dual-corded as well. Keeping dual-corded servers running but unable to communicate when the single-corded router loses power is a bummer.

The better the balance of the rack loads, the better the rack will behave!

ServerCentral engineers can help you correctly size power requirements for your racks and assist in spec’ing and supplying the correct PDUs for your needs. Just email sales@servercentral.com.

Topics: Power Data Center

ServerCentral's Onsite Parts Depot 

It's a huge pain to go to the data center when hardware fails. Especially when you live far away.

Servers don't break at convenient times, either. Often it's at 2 AM, rush hour, or the moment you sit down to watch a new episode of Rick & Morty.

So not only do you have to travel to the data center to find out what broke, you also have to replace it. That means going to the store—or worse, ordering parts online and waiting for them to arrive—before you can fix it. All the while, your server is down and your boss is upset.

This is a problem that ServerCentral addresses daily. We maintain a huge inventory of replacement parts in our Chicago-area data centers.

DC-GALLERY-parts-1

Whatever you need is always in stock. Even exotic optics and ancient RAM.

It doesn't matter if your servers are from 1999. Once you're a customer, we can stock your treasures from the Mesozoic Era steps from your cabinet. 

If you're too busy working on 1000 other projects to do a hardware swap, our in-house Remote Hands team can do it for you. They're at the data center all the time, including weekends and holidays.

Existing customers can put in a request at support@servercentral.com

Topics: Support Data Center

Making An IT Budget Checklist? Check It Twice!

We are at year end and the holiday season is nipping at our noses. For many of us, it’s budget time. Are you making your infrastructure wish list? If so, do you think you’ll get what you asked for?

Many times, our customers share with us fantastic ideas about how to enhance the services they provide to their internal and external customers, only to be shut down for one reason (budget) or another (budget). It appears that, for many organizations, the needs of IT are treated as the red-headed stepchild of the organization (no offense to our red-headed friends). How do we change that?

Perhaps we can help:

#1: Know your audience.

Who will champion your plan? Tailor your wish list to the person who will ultimately approve it and provide you with the support and budget needed to make your wish list a reality.

Board members, CEO, CFO:

Present high level—refrain from using techy, geeky language and getting into the weeds with the technology. You can still be excited about your proposal, but remember:

The instant you use a 3-letter acronym to a non-technical leader, you’ve lost them entirely.

Instead, provide information on how the technology will benefit customers, the company, and ultimately revenue.

For example:

“With this new system in place, online shoppers won’t lose their shopping carts when they navigate away from our website. Items are saved in their carts the next time they return, meaning they can conduct their online transactions faster, which results in more completed transactions in a day, adding up to an estimated $xxx,xxx in sales per month.”

CTO, CIO:

Equip them with the information to share your vision and be your messenger as they will understand the technology. Again, refrain from going too technical.

Do most of the work for them so that all they need to do is paste your slides into their presentation.

If you’re the decision maker:

Skip to step #4.

#2: Think metrics.

Make sure to present numerical data in your proposal. Your focus should be on the impact to the business. What would the human resources and revenue results look like after implementing new IT infrastructure and/or applications?

Would there be 2 hours/day of improved productivity per employee? Sales transaction times reduced from 20 minutes to 10 minutes?

Know your facts. Data is king!

#3: Select your words wisely.

The thesaurus is your new best friend. Replace “buy,” “cost,” and “spend” with “contribute,” “value,” and “investment.”

Let’s work together to change the paradigm of IT being a cost center. We all know if it wasn’t for you, your IT team, and the infrastructure you have in place, there would be no business.

Bounce your script and/or presentation off of a non-technical counterpart. Any words that may seem negative to them will most likely sound negative to your audience.

#4: Be incremental.

Although we say change is good, we all know that it’s a challenge met with hesitation, anxiety, and risk. A phased approach to your plan will most likely be easier for upper and executive management to swallow instead of an all-at-once, complete overhaul.

This isn’t a pie eating contest.

Prepare a step-by-step plan to achieving your ultimate goal. Communicate in blocks of time, investments, and positive impacts to the business.

Typically, the IT department is invisible until someone can’t get into their email. Let’s change that.

If you do these steps already, bravo! I hope that your plans are in play. If not, I hope that this has been informative. If you’d like us to assist you with developing your plan, please let us know. We’ll be happy to help you fulfill your wish list.

Topics: Data Center Tips

The Brain of The Internet Infographic

Data centers are the wonders of the modern world. Check out this infographic to see why!

Server_Central_The_Brain_of_the_Internet_draft_3_800px_11-20-2014-2

Topics: Data Center

My SOC is Better Than Your SOC

We’ve come a long way since the days of the SAS 70, which did little to actually test the security of a data center or managed service provider. Under a SAS 70, which was designed to test the integrity of financial reporting and not information security, an organization could make up their own set of rules to be audited against. An auditor, usually a CPA sanctioned by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), would "test" their client by looking for evidence that they followed each rule.

The SAS 70 is the equivalent of asking students to write their own test questions.

If the client failed their own test question, the auditor would mark them as deficient or non-compliant with that section for that testing period.

The SAS 70 was designed in a world before the Internet or widespread data communications, so in 2010, the AICPA issued two new documents governing the use of compliance engagements:

  • the Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements Number 16 (or SSAE-16); and
  • the Attestation Standards Section 101 (or AT-101).

Much like the SAS 70, SSAE-16 rules are made up by the organization being tested and have no guarantee of actually protecting your data. 

The SSAE-16 is for a service organization that directly handles financial transactions that affect the financial reporting of their clients, while the AT-101 is for a service organization that houses the technology systems that a client uses for financial reporting. It’s an important distinction:

If your provider doesn't handle financial transactions on your behalf, they shouldn't be using the SSAE-16 report for compliance.

Therein lies the problem with compliance programs at most data centers and managed service providers. They stick with SSAE-16 because they get to keep the same rules from their days with the SAS 70 instead of adopting the strict rules of the AT-101.

In the end, the decision on compliance comes down to one important factor:

Does your service provider use the same tired controls they’ve been using for the past decade, or do they adopt the industry-leading standards with the most comprehensive set of controls available?

Your information security depends on your provider, and we do everything we can to make sure your data is safe in our care. Contact us or request a copy of our audit to get started.

Topics: Data Center Compliance

VM Uptime Contest

uptime contest You know you want to win $100 to Amazon.

Uptime is the opposite of downtime: 

uptime google search results Thanks, Wikipedia

Now that we’ve stated the obvious, let’s get down (up?) to it.

Uptime is something that every organization strives to maintain. Whether it’s an internal or external application, quality of service delivery is huge.

To celebrate uptime, we’re going to have some fun.

Take a screenshot of your vSphere or System Center (or whatever) showing the uptime of your longest-running virtual machine (VM) and the current date/time:

 

uptime screenshot 111 days on Windows

Tweet @servercentral with the hashtag #uptimeSC:

uptime contest twitter @sysdotblog has the right idea

The person with the longest uptime wins $100 to Amazon.com. 

amazon gift card Use it to buy more uptime

Enter by midnight (CST) on Halloween.

Go!

Topics: Data Center Events

What Are The Right Questions to Ask Your Data Center?

Last week, we noted the upcoming introduction of a series critical questions to ask of your existing or prospective data center partners. We promised to provide you with not just another list of questions - but to provide you the insight needed to be in the best possible position to parse through the answers to achieve your objectives.

Today, we're really pleased to introduce What Are The Right Questions to Ask Your Data Center?

Whether you decide to turn these questions into an RFP or simply use them for topics of conversation in your next meeting, again, it’s all good by us. We're here to help.

Topics: Data Center Products and Services

Ask Your Data Center The Right Questions

The scope and scale of today’s data centers is best characterized by a number:

16,800,000

This is the number of search results Google yields when you search for “IT infrastructure trends 2015”.

How are IT infrastructure trends and data centers connected?

The number of questions to ask a data center partner increases in line with the dynamism of IT infrastructure trends. Month, quarter, and even year-long searches to identify the best data center partner often go unfulfilled. As the technologies become more complex, the volume of questions and the depth of the answers overwhelms the process. It is often far easier to make no decision.

Unfortunately, the path of least resistance - inaction - quickly becomes the path of obsolescence.

We’re going to change this.

Our goal is simple. We want to help.

For 15 years, industry-leading companies around the world put their trust in ServerCentral to design, deploy, and manage their mission-critical infrastructure. Leveraging this experience, we've identified critical questions to ask of your existing or prospective data center partners. Most importantly, we don't want to simply provide you with another list of questions. Instead, we want you to be in the best possible position to parse through the answers to achieve your objectives.

Whether you decide to turn these questions into an RFP or simply use them for topics of conversation in your next meeting, it’s all good by us.

The framework will present questions to ensure your (or your partner’s) data center can support a healthy portion of the IT infrastructure trends that will shape 2015.

Please check back on 12 September 2014 for the framework. If you’d like to receive a copy via email, subscribe to our blog over in the right hand column and we’ll send you a copy as soon as we’re finished.

Topics: Data Center