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March 6, 2017updated 08 Mar 2017 4:40pm

The evolution of the data centre according to Cisco

Cisco's head of data centres for UK&I discusses data centre evolution and the transformation of the 'digital core.'

By Hannah Williams

Cisco is more well-placed than most to chart the evolution of networking. The giant of networking first burst onto the scene in 1984, launching the now humble router to revolutionise the networking world.

From those humble beginnings in routers, the networking giant today boasts full portfolios in all of the major market segments – IoT, Cloud, IT and more. Sitting at the core of today’s networking is the powerhouse that is the data centre – a key piece of IT infrastructure which Cisco has seen, and helped, evolve.

Data centres of old, born from huge computer rooms, were comprised of early computer systems – systems which were complex to maintain and needing a special environment in which to operate.  The 1980s internet boom saw computers spring up everywhere and, coupled with the rise of Unix and Linux-compatible PC operating systems, saw the term ‘data centre’ enter the colloquial language of nearly every big IT department.

However, the data centre of today is an entirely different beast;

“Data centres are not just big bricks building, it can be that but it’s also evolving and I would talk about it more as a digital core which is kind of moving away from that physical entity data centre,” Joachim Mason, Head of Data centres at Cisco UK&I, told CBR.

“Digital core can be everything that you need from network, compute, storage, software and cloud which is all part of what you’re doing to deliver applications and data for customers today.

Read more: Transformation – a modern company drives at speed to digital innovation

Indeed, this may be the latest linguistic evolution of the ‘data centre’. The dot-com bubble saw the rise of the Internet data centre, then we had the cloud data centre, with each variation of the ‘data centre’ term becoming more and more blurred until we reached today’s ubiquitous ‘data centre’.

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This latest iteration of the data centre, or ‘digital core’ as Mr Mason calls it, also calls upon the organisation operating the data centre to evolve, with Cisco a case in point. Where once the networking giant was focussed on hardware, today’s customers have different demands.

“It’s a constantly evolving thing and as technology has changed, so too has the mix of technology changed and what they are actually doing for people changes,” said Mr

“Things are evolving and changing and Cisco evolves and changes as we need to. Fundamentally what we’re most concerned with is solving the problems that our customers have which are technology based, so as their demands grow and their amount of data is growing they need an IT and data centre environment that can scale to fit with that and also be agile enough to be flexible with the demands.”

Customer demand is driven by the IT buzzwords of today – Cloud, Internet of Things, Big Data and Security. Each area is complex – take the IoT for example. Gartner forecasts that 8.4 billion connected things will be in use across the world in 2017. That is a staggering 31% increase on 2016 numbers and nearly half way to the research firm’s 20.4 billion connected things forecast for 2020.

The old way of processing the data would see the backhauling of a data feed to a data centre, then pushing the processed data back out to the edge platform. However this way of processing comes up short when you take into account how important speed is for today’s business. This has given rise to intelligence at the edge, which pushes the processing as close as possible to the source. This is just one way which data centre demand, network demand, has changed. Another area is security;

“Where do you need security on your networks, as it is a thing that touches absolutely everything. It has a role as a platform, as an enforcer, as a sensor in security space and it also has the role of delivering applications and services out to all. So whether you’re in front of a laptop or walking around outside, it’s the network that’s giving you [security].”

Cloud, big data, IoT – all the buzzwords merge in working towards one common goal in the enterprise, Digital transformation. Digital is changing everything, as the UK data centre chief told CBR:

“The term ‘digitisation’ for one is used widely, it’s real and it’s happening leading to a lot of change for all industries including our own, so with that you’re talking about changing processes mentally, making them more digital and agile in response to being intuitive.”

“It used to be that the only thing that happened during IT happened in IT organisations and it’s now at a point where we’re all much more savvy with technology than we were 10-20 years ago so we can access it from wherever we like without having to seek permission from someone.”

This, for Cisco has changed the networking, and data centre, game. The focus now is keeping customers switched on, providing visibility, quick and easy deployment and always-on availability.

“The software front end is what customers care about and what they need is for it to be there and connected quick, intuitive and all those things. The minute it’s not there the whole thing kind of goes to port so that’s what we fundamentally care about.”digitisation

As case in point, Cisco started the year with a new Tetration Analytics offering to deliver various deployment options. For instance, Cisco’s ASAP (Analyse, Simplify, Automate and Protect) data centre gives organisations the ability to modernise their data centre and IT infrastructure with a hybrid IT solution.

It enables organisations to gain complete visibility across everything in the data centre in real time. This being part of its aim to also deliver a 100 percent customer visibility offering for network and software-defined network solutions.

Mason said: “The delivery of applications will come from different places, so it might come from quite a traditional start with major players like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft that we’ve all grown up with in the industry and are built on a fairly traditional landscape…

“Whereas new sorts of applications, web scale and cloud native are kind of built and developed architecture in a different way, scaled in a different way and there’s lots of applications that you can use on your phone that have kind of become common practice and natural for you to use. The reality is you’ve got to find a balance to how you deliver to customers.”

Increasing amounts of data combined with a cloud-first approach for many organisations continues to further the evolution of the data centre. As some data centre providers sell up and get out of the business, the likes of Cisco continue to thrive due to its ability to embrace change.

While new technologies and the IT buzzwords will tend to steal the headlines, it is the sometimes unattractive infrastructure piece that makes all of this possible. As new technologies come along it’ll require continued agility from tech giants like Cisco to evolve the data centre, or digital core, powering future business.



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