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June 25, 2014

Shifting Roles in the Modern Data Center

By TMCnet Special Guest
Malcolm Rieke, Director of Product Management, Catbird

While IT siloes are coming to an end, traditional roles are reimagined.

It’s no secret the virtualization and cloud revolution have brought unprecedented levels of agility and automation to IT infrastructure and data centers around the globe.

As a result, the changing nature of the data center architecture—moving from physical to virtual—is necessitating a shift in various IT roles within many organizations.

You may already be aware that the Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC) is a data center where infrastructure is virtualized and delivered as a service, frequently referred to as converged infrastructure. This innovative-approach allows organizations to leverage cutting-edge technologies that ultimately enable IT to implement more pervasive security in an easier-to-use, less disruptive way across a data center.

With SDDC, networks are virtualized at the access layer and can support virtual network topologies independent of physical network. Virtualized security technologies exploit the speed and automation of converged infrastructure, making security controls as easy to deploy and manage as their virtual machine predecessors.

SDDC gives IT the ability to apply policy control within the cloud architecture by seamlessly integrating security into the network fabric, providing users with end-to-end visibility and data protection as well as building continuous compliance into daily operations. IT teams benefit by reducing costs and the complexity of compliance management.

Virtualization also gives data center admins the power to seamlessly incorporate security as part of the provisioning of virtual machines (VMs), automatically have security policies follow VMs when they move, dynamically adapt network controls such as firewall rules and block or quarantine compromised or out of compliance assets. Fully automated virtualization improves security by making it more fluid and context-aware. This means security can be more accurate, easier to manage and less expensive to deploy than traditional physical security.

With the ability to institute predefined capabilities based on rules and execute them automatically, IT teams have the ability to design according to the needs of the applications. As a result, IT can spend less time on operations and more time building highly efficient applications.

SDDC is radically reshaping traditional IT roles and responsibilities across network, security, and operations.

Rather than regard the changes as reducing their role or diminishing their responsibilities, SDDC expands traditional roles by blending the functions, presenting an opportunity for previously independent teams to work collaboratively, expanding their knowledge and roles beyond traditional Operation/Network/Security silos. By expanding and shifting their roles, away from silos and towards converged infrastructure administration, IT personnel can contribute more to the business, improving agility and overall security.

According to recent reports, virtual administrators today are managing approximately 40 percent of data centers. However, there is still a core network of security teams managing their data centers with outdated methods, including some solutions based on technologies that are more than a decade old.

It’s important for IT admins to realize that old-style physical security devices are not designed to protect the new virtual network components architecture of virtualization. Such “traditional” security depends on physical devices deployed on the perimeter of the data center or on physical networks. These physical devices depend on network inspection and are thus blind to the significant security-related activity within virtual infrastructure or to changes coming from the adoption of Software-Defined Networks (SDN) in the data center.  Virtual is dominating the network layer just as it has dominated the compute layer in the SDDC.  According to the Gartner (News - Alert) Group, virtualization has surpassed 50 percent of all server workloads. Gartner believes it will reach 86 percent in 2016.  

SDDC has the potential to deliver ubiquitously secure applications, providing higher levels of security, provided the organization can embrace and adapt to these technologies. For IT to function efficiently moving forward, System, Network, and Security teams must recognize this opportunity to expand their portfolio and embrace the change. 

So how can business leaders approach this change-management challenge within their organization?

First, they need to take a straightforward approach by assessing the state of the organization’s skillset. The next step is to determine what additional skills are needed to effectively operate the new data center. Training and cross-training staff members are essential to creating a cohesive team. Leaders must identify individuals with the aptitude and disposition to adopt a new methodology and provide guidance in a top-down manner for staffing the next generation data center. Here are a few other tips:

  • Help show IT admins how to examine emerging technologies that will impact the organization, and provide guidance for being ahead of the curve from an organizational perspective
  • Provide ways to redefine and expand IT roles commensurate with new responsibilities of the converged data center (think cross-functional!)
  • Show admins how to take advantage of the change to have a more expansive role with a broader scope and more visibility into the whole data center

The reality today is that most IT teams rely on organizational structures based on System/Network/Security skill siloes and may struggle to realize the benefits of their combined skills sets. However, if business leaders and IT admins can embrace and adapt to the new technologies as a team, rather than individually, organizations will reap the benefits of virtualization and become empowered to provide higher levels of security.

The modern data center is here, and we must make changes to completely take advantage of all that it has to offer.

In many organizations, systems administration has already been greatly enhanced through the adoption of virtualization technologies. Virtualization not only provides a more efficient and effective way to manage infrastructure needs, but also provides the opportunity to satisfy compliance requirements in a continuously expanding, software-defined world.

For IT to function efficiently, System, Network, and Security teams must recognize this huge opportunity to streamline efficiencies ­– sooner than later – and acclimate to this new generation of data centers in order to truly stay ahead of the curve.

About the Author:Malcolm Rieke is the Director of Product Management at Catbird. Mr. Rieke has 20 years of information security design and management experience, including virtual infrastructure security design and implementation, network security design and management and corporate investigations and digital forensics. He's developed security policy for major financial institutions and overseen their security audits. As Director of Product Management at Catbird, Mr. Rieke has provided the vision and technical requirements for Catbird's private cloud security product. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Engineering from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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