Conducting to Perfection

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Imagine how difficult it is to master an instrument. It takes long hours of tedious practice to make each note sound just right. Now consider how difficult it must be to make 100 instruments play together in a perfect rendition of a Prokofiev or Brahms masterpiece. It’s just as hard as making a datacenter operate smoothly.

If you had a chance to see one of the performances of the Boston Symphony Orchestra while they were on tour in Europe this summer, I hope you looked closely at Andris Nelsons, their musical director.  It isn’t hard to be jealous of the way the musicians respond to his leadership and wish that the components in your datacenter were just as responsive and obedient.

Current technology trends are not making things easy on the CIO. The digital orchestra in the datacenter is gaining new components, systems and subsystems every day that all need to work together seamlessly. The slightest change in one part will make a great difference to the ‘sound’ of the whole, and every element in your infrastructure needs to stay in tune all the time. Making things even harder is the geographic dispersion of your ‘instruments’: cloud computing has made storage and compute tasks fulfillable anywhere in the world.

No False Notes in the Data Center

Orchestration is crucial in the workings of the software-defined datacenter. Even if all the instruments play flawlessly, a mediocre conductor will not succeed. The talent of an orchestra director stems from the ability to harmonize each individual musician into a complete sound system. As we have seen over time, the role of the CIO is also becoming that of a broker, bringing together onsite elements with cloud services.

The role of “orchestration software” cannot be overestimated. Finding the right orchestration software can make the difference between delivering average services to the customer and blasting away the competition. This is especially the case for service providers, with huge datacenters that need to cater to the needs of hundreds of clients. Operations in such an environment have to run as if on a metronome and follow a set of rules as strictly as a cello player follows the conductor.

Guiding the Performance

Orchestration is a pain for most datacenter operations. While some parts may be fully automated, it is much more difficult to get storage, compute, and networking to work together.  This makes many datacenters sound like an orchestra where the string section is great, but the percussion seems to be playing a different score.

Standardization and simplification of datacenter architecture are only part of the answer here. Installing common processes and tools to run in both cloud and on premise scenarios will reduce complexity and improve IT staff productivity. But orchestration needs to go further, proactively adjusting in real time to absorb spikes in capacity or meet performance requirements, while keeping a holistic view on the stability of the entire system. Hyper-converged infrastructure and a software-defined datacenter can help a great deal here. The EMC Federation also offers technologies and management solutions that enable this kind of high-level overview.

And isn’t that what the conductor does too? He or she stands on the rostrum, looks out on all the musicians, guiding the performance while ensuring that string, woodwind, brass and percussion are all in sync.

Our data centers really are not that different from the symphony halls around the world.

EMC Corporation was the exclusive sponsor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s first European tour since 2007.

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