By Eric Liew, Solutions Architect at Zadara

Recently, I read an interesting article about the venerable Swiss army knife. Prior to the invention of the knife, soldiers were expected to carry various tools to perform their daily tasks. This included tools for cleaning their service rifle, cutlery for eating, a knife for general cutting, so on and so forth. 

These tools were not only bulky and heavy, thereby limiting other essential items the soldier could carry, but also easily misplaced when it was needed most. 

In 1891, the Swiss Army commissioned an all-in-one tool that was designed to address the problem of the soldier’s overflowing toolbox. This tool would be a compact multi-bladed device that would have a knife, a screwdriver, and various other implements needed by a soldier in the field. This tool eventually became known as the Swiss army knife and has been a part of toolboxes – both military and civilians – for over 100 years.

That article got me thinking about the IT manager’s toolbox. During my 20+ years in the IT industry, I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the most capable IT managers in the industry.  All of them have one common pain point – too many disparate solutions to provide basic IT services to their users, and too many tools to manage them. 

Consider the typical enterprise – they all require server resources to host their apps, storage capacity to store their data and some sort of networking so everything talks to everything else. Simple demands, but not simple to provide when it comes to solutions. 

Servers these days are usually virtualized, requiring some sort of hypervisor and the management tools that come with it. Storage gets even more complicated. Depending on the storage type, workload, and performance requirements, different storage solutions may be required. All-flash SAN storage for applications, file servers for collaboration, object storage for backup and archival. 

Three basic requirements result in three different solutions usually provided by three different vendors with three different sets of tools. It’s much the same with networking – switches, routers, and firewalls all require different tools and processes. And this is before we even throw in technologies like software-defined networking (SDN), hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), containers, and cloud computing into the mix. The net result is that the IT manager – much like the soldier in the army – has the same problem of an overflowing toolbox. 

So, that got me thinking, would it be possible to create an all-in-one toolbox for the IT manager? I’m not talking about unified management tools – those add cost and are usually complex to implement and maintain. No, I’m talking about a single platform with one management interface that would be able to provide universal IT services for a company. One solution that can do everything an IT manager needs, like a Swiss army knife for the enterprise datacenter.

Let’s consider what this all-in-one platform would require. 

Firstly, it should have its own hypervisor to provide virtualized compute services. On top of that, in this cloud age, it would be nice if this compute platform was also compatible with cloud APIs, containers, and upcoming technologies like Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC). This will ensure that the IT manager will be able to meet today’s demands while being ready for future requirements. 

Secondly, on the storage side, this platform should provide block, file, and object data types and support all major storage protocols on the same hardware at the same time. Because the storage will be supporting all users and application workloads, it should allow encryption and performance tuning on an individual volume basis so that the IT manager can get the security and IOPs that they need, where they need it. 

Thirdly, networking should be baked into this universal platform, and it should allow the IT manager to easily define network performance and segmentation through software policies. Last but not least, everything should be administered using one central management console that controls the compute, storage, and network aspects of the platform in a cohesive manner. 

And since we’re wishing here, I would also like this platform to be anywhere I need it to be: on-premises in my datacenter but able to connect to any public cloud of my choice or in the cloud itself;  and I would like to be able to consume these IT infrastructure resources in a pay-per-use manner.

Does such a platform exist today? Sadly no, not in its entirety. 

Hypervisors, software-defined storage, and software-defined networking all do their part to simplify management in their respective domains, but it is still left to the IT manager to manage and troubleshoot issues across the infrastructure platforms themselves. 

In particular, we have seen advancements in software-defined storage solutions that are able to provide multiple data types within the same platform but are still limited in terms of requiring different boxes for different data types or the ability to tune performance on a per-volume basis. 

I am fortunate however to be at Zadara Cloud Services – a leading-edge cloud service provider, where I believe we have come the closest to creating this swiss army knife for IT Managers. Our universal compute and storage solutions are an ideal infrastructure solution for the enterprise, and being a fully managed service, offloads some of the management headaches from the IT manager to us.

Zadara’s unique VPSA (virtual private storage array) technology is particularly interesting. It allows IT managers to create virtual arrays which support all data types and storage protocols on the same platform, while still providing the ability to tune and secure each array as if it was a physical storage system. Hopefully, this will inspire other vendors to look into the overflowing toolbox problem and come out with more exciting solutions in the future.

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