Data Center

Apply the 3 Rs to gain Melinda Gates' superpower

The following is a contributed article by Jeff Aaron, vice president of marketing at PernixData, a company that provides software that brings scale-out performance and management to storage.


Recently, Melinda Gates revealed an interesting perspective on how to solve global poverty. When asked if she could have one superpower to help solve that enormous challenge, she answered “more time”. That is a great answer – but since we cannot alter the space/time continuum, how do we actually create more time?

Perhaps it is equally powerful to just do more in the same amount of time. In other words, be more efficient with how we operate. This is actually achievable if we have the right tools, and apply the right principles to everyday operations.    

In fact, this concept is actually being proven today inside the data center. That is because running a data center efficiently amidst constantly changing applications, technologies, and platforms is a major problem facing many companies (albeit a far cry from global poverty in the list of top issues facing the world). As IT administrators are always strapped for time and money, a new paradigm shift was required to move from reactive troubleshooting to proactive design, thus improving data center efficiencies.

Enter “infrastructure analytics”.

As GI Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle.” Once you know what is actually going on in your data center, you can then spend time addressing the top issues in the most efficient manner. This is the beauty of analytics, which gives the insight IT administrators need to make intelligent decisions. As a result, analytics are at the top of the list of strategic CIO projects in a recent survey conducted by Gartner (discussed in this webinar).

With infrastructure analytics, IT administrators can take a data-driven approach to storage that fundamentally changes how it is designed and managed. More specifically, they can apply the same principles to data center management that Mrs. Gates advocates as a cure for poverty:

  1. Recognize the problem
  2. Reduce it through innovation
  3. Redistribute the work

Let’s talk about these principles in more detail.


Recognize the problem

You cannot make intelligent decisions about storage design and management if you don’t first understand your application environment. More specifically, you need a firm handle on workload behavior to ensure that your storage is optimized for your specific business needs.

Many companies are surprised to learn that key workload characteristics are constantly in flux, such as block sizes, read/write mixes, access patterns, and data volumes. They are even more surprised to hear that different storage platforms handle these workload characteristics differently. So, step one is to understand what your application environment looks like so you can then understand what impact it is having on your storage infrastructure – and vise versa.


Reduce it with innovation

There is a fine line between information collection and information overload. If the first is not handled properly, it leads to the second. But if it is handled properly, you have a situation where big data can become big knowledge, which ultimately saves time and money.

For example, the old world of data center management involved lots of red blinking lights telling you when things were wrong. This is a very reactive approach to management, which isn’t very efficient. The new, more innovative approach lets you observe trends and make predictions to prevent issues before they arise. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  It’s amazing how astute he was, given he never stepped foot in a data center!


Redistribute the work

A great way to get more time for projects is to get more people involved in them. Historically, though, this has been a big challenge in the data center as different people have different expertise. For example, a storage administrator often lacks the skills (and tools) to debug an application or server problem.

If done right, however, infrastructure analytics can bridge this gap, creating a single unified platform for managing the data center. This ensures more people are working towards a common goal, enabling companies to benefit from IT economies of scale. Furthermore, all individuals know how their functions fit into the big IT picture, and they have a better feel for how their roles impact other people. This enables everyone in IT to act less like administrators and more like architects, which is the Holy Grail in most IT organizations.

Infrastructure analytics won’t solve world hunger. But it does solve the hunger most corporations have for storage that is dynamic, scale-out and predictable. And it gives IT administrators more time in their day to focus on strategic tasks. Maybe small kids don’t dream of this kind of superpower – but I know quite a few CIOs who are using it to save the day.


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