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October 28, 2011

Virtually Shaping Your Data Center in a Click

Imagine you are able to virtually align your data center with your business needs with the click of a button. Let’s try illustrating how this would be like.

Suppose you are a cloud service provider. You would hit a button that asks to create a specific application for your own organization, or for one of your customers,. Hitting that button would set off a critical sequence of events that would eventually create the application best fitting your business objectives.

The underlying operation that would make this happen would include:    

--Infrastructure stage: The system would define and locate the available, virtual resources required to meet the application demands/specifications for you, including factors such as CPU power, memory size, proprietary hardware that should be assigned as a resource, storage type and others.

--Image installation stage: The required software images would be installed automatically -- operating system, web server version, database application etc., would be selected, all per the application needs.

--Application enablers: The required application enablers would be installed together with tools that ensure optimal availability, performance and security.

In an abstract way, all these stages would virtually shape your data center resource to fit your business needs exactly.

If you are a cloud provider hosting different types of customers, it would allow you to shape the cloud resources per each customer’s needs and to your business benefit.

If you are the IT manager of a large enterprise, it would allow you to virtually shape your datacenter resources (cloud based or not) per your users’ needs, thus maximizing employee efficiency in your company.   

This scenario is no longer science fiction. Vendors of application delivery controller products, information security products, networking and server companies are all working toward achieving the goal of delivering the above mentioned experience to the IT manager.

Some define it as a “liquid datacenter”, some would call it the “fabric” in which resources are shared and organized to serve specific applications, or simply “virtual datacenter.” In the end this means that the separation between the network, computerized resources, application and the tools that enable it to run securely and optimally become so transparent that they practically don’t actually exist anymore. What does exist is a “virtual shape” of resources that aim to meet your business needs.

The IT manager wants an application that will fit his needs and would include within it all the “virtual shape” factors from bottom up to serve him in the best possible way.

If conditions are changed, for example if traffic is increased or reduced unexpectedly, some network elements fail, computer resources fail, etc. At that point, the virtual resources that serve the business application must maintain its virtual shape, i.e., continue to work as designed in order to meet business goals.

Application Delivery Controller (ADC (News - Alert)) and security tools play a critical role in this process. In order to ensure high availability and performance of the business application, the ADC must virtually shape itself, as well as the other resources, to meet the demand of the specific application it serves.

In order to do this, the internal ADC parameters should be automatically configured to load balance and to accelerate the application they were assigned to serve in the optimal way. They should also configure themselves to provide the relevant application visibility and reporting parameters that serve the business intelligently.

Characteristic parameters of the ADC shape can include protocol and ports that should be load balanced, optimized session time-outs, proper health check methods, enablement of SSL acceleration, data compression type, reporting and monitoring key performance indicators and others, so that eventually the ADC virtual shape will best serve the business application.  

We can say that the ADC’s internal characteristic parameters are part of the overall “virtual shape” of the application resource that will determine if the business is served effectively or not.  

The term “virtual shape” also means full application “isolation”. Isolation means that the participant resources, which were assigned to serve specific business application-- from network and up to the application, ADC and security levels -- are all well articulated to provide fault isolation in terms of application availability and security.  The result is:

--Any kind of failure in any one of the resource levels in this virtual shape will not affect other application resources.

--The content maintained in one virtual shape is isolated from the other virtual shapes.  

--Control and visibility into each virtual shape is separated (provides full role-based access control.

Fault isolation is one aspect; the other is survivability of the virtual shape. Each resource in the virtual shape that is “hurt” can be replaced by another one from a pool of resources that was pre provisioned or selected simply because they were not in use at that specific moment (“available for calls”). In order for this replacement resource to know how to play well, it should be automatically configured with its virtual shape parameters.

The infrastructure that allows all of the above includes some visionary ideas, but overall it is not out of our reach, and we are already able to offer parts of it commercially.  IT managers should take this into consideration with every change they plan to undertake in their datacenters. In any case, they should aim high as this technology is feasible today and should be required as an integral part of any ADC solution.

Avi Chesla is Chief Technology Officer at Radware (News - Alert). To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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