Implementing Software-Defined Everything in the Data Center
By Jim Livingston, CTO, University of Utah Health
Healthcare organizations demand the highest level of data center security, performance and automation. In 2016, I realized that we had an aging infrastructure to support four hospitals and 10 community clinics. It was time to make a change, but I wanted to make a data center transformation leap, which would set us up for the long term.
Organizations really need a core infrastructure that can manage everything, from on-premise systems to cloud services to disaster recovery sites. I’ve seen too many people try to jump straight from a traditional environment to the cloud and fail. I wanted agility to support hybrid cloud operations and automation to unburden our IT staff from mundane, repetitive tasks. To address these needs, I initiated a full data center transformation to deliver a software-defined operating model.
It used to be that you had applications, and you had the network. With software-defined data center technologies now available, IT can now combine traditional high-performance switching technologies with advanced management and automation capabilities.
We can now place workloads wherever it makes sense—not just once, but any time. Essentially, we define the connectivity and behavior of an application, push the policy from the core to the extended network and then reuse it as a template for other applications. It gives us more consistency and security. And, the automation frees us to pursue entirely new possibilities like artificial intelligence and machine learning.
A software-defined data center:
• Integrates cloud computing and data center management
• Supports higher speeds and scalability
• Reduces over subscription of core links
• Accelerates application deployment
• Automates IT tasks and allows for auto-provisioning of the network
• Represents a lifecycle upgrade
• Improves network and server visibility for IT teams sharing common tools
• Increases security because policies are white-listed between security zones by default
Software-defined operations have transformed the interpersonal dynamics and workflow of the university’s IT department. Server, network, security and storage teams that used to operate independently are now working together to provision and manage services across the entire stack. The software-defined data center has spawned a cultural change within the IT department that has brought teams together and helped them work in concert. We are able work much more efficiently and expand our employee knowledge base.
The University has gained complete visibility of application connectivity, dependencies and data flows across a hybrid IT environment through advanced data center automation tools. This level of visibility is essential for mission critical applications like Epic, which supports all of the University’s health records and medical operations. Epic is large and complex, and it is difficult to keep track of all the components and how each of them function, and what else can be affected if one of the workloads goes down. Having complete application insight and a better understanding of application behavior and dependencies allows us to create detailed policies that ensure each application is fully protected and supported.
Another huge challenge we face is in supporting lots of medical devices connected to our wireless network. Strengthening our core data center infrastructure and automating operations has allowed us to focus more on our digital transformation overall.
We are currently deploying an automated multisite capability to link our primary data center in Salt Lake City with a disaster recovery site in St. George, Utah. Connecting the sites logically will immediately improve the redundancy and availability of the university’s systems and services. Traditionally, failover can be extremely painful, with tedious and time consuming manual work. Using newer capabilities designed for a software-defined automated data center, our disaster recovery failover can be reduced by many hours.
A software-defined, automated data center offers huge operational benefits, including:
• Improved Network Operation and Staff Efficiency
• Average Annual Business Benefits over 5 Years: Risk Mitigation and Business Productivity; IT Infrastructure Cost Reduction; IT Staff Productivity
Cisco has been our partner on this journey with Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure, Cisco Tetration and Cisco Multisite now fully deployed in our data centers. Technology is always changing and interesting, and right now, the data center in particular is incredibly exciting. It’s great to be a part of the digital transformation!