On: 08 Oct 2019

'To virtualise, or not to virtualise, that is not the question', as Stephen O’Herlihy of PFH Technology Group tells Quinton O’Reilly of the Sunday Business Post.

Who really cares about infrastructure and virtualisation anymore? The argument goes like this: provided your workloads are suited to the cloud, your people and processes are cloud-ready, and the price is right, you’ve earned your ticket to the cloud.

A simple cloud assessment will generally help you understand your suitability and if you don’t like the results, you can modernise your apps. And when it comes to costs, this is all opex, so it’s all very simple, right?

Stephen O’Herlihy is chief technology officer of PFH Technology Group, which specialises in transforming IT, simplifying operations and modernising infrastructure for large national and international organisations. He understands where this slightly jaundiced, cynical view comes from.

“Having worked in IT for nearly 25 years, I know first-hand how hard transformation, modernisation and digitalisation is,” said O’Herlihy.

As you navigate your way through modernisation, there are many hurdles to overcome and difficult decisions to make. This is in addition to the frustration of the goalposts constantly being moved, driven by the rapid rate of technological innovation.

“One dilemma many of our customers face is that they’ve got a large, ageing infrastructure which is in need of investment or refresh,” he said. “Do you spend the budget on infrastructure one more time or try to migrate to a cloud, which can carry risk?”

What generally happens, O’Herlihy said, is both: You invest in a new infrastructure and cloud tenancy, which has become known as a hybrid approach.

From that, it appears that infrastructure and virtualisation are still very much front and centre. While they remain relevant to any discussion around cloud, O’Herlihy said it’s useful to chart the development of virtualisation over the last 15 years or so.

“Back in 2007, when I started working for VMware, virtualisation was already a mainstream technology,” he explained. “Many customers were realising the benefits of virtualisation. The technology was rewarding for both the business and IT, the benefits were enormous, and for the first time, it had a genuine, tangible ROI (Return On Investment).”

“You could build large, highly available, reliable, scalable, and cost-effective infrastructure solutions. An enormous amount has happened with infrastructure and virtualisation over the last 12 years.”

Virtualisation started with the compute element and allowing businesses to pool resources, getting the best utilisation of their physical servers.

Virtualisation has since expanded to include virtualising the storage, the network, security and even the WAN.

This is the realm of the software-defined data centre, which virtualises all your traditional hardware into software-defined computing, storage, networking and firewalls.

As you’ve implemented everything in a software-defined way, you can easily define, orchestrate and manage all of your data centre resources in an agile way.

The benefits, in terms of utilisation, are considerable but for the organisation modernising its IT, it’s merely the tip of the iceberg.

Once you’ve virtualised your environment you can easily provision and dynamically configure all the resources with a few mouse clicks. You can spin up entire data centres in minutes as it’s all software-based.

This is the beauty of the software-defined data centre. You can deliver applications, virtual OS instances with complex storage configurations, entire networks with firewalls, load balancers and VPNs.

If this sounds familiar to readers, it’s probably because you’re using Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Virtualisation is the core building block of a cloud: commoditised common x86 servers with local disks all pooled – by which we mean virtualised – together with an intelligent orchestration and management engine.

So, should you build yourself a cloud? PFH doesn’t recommend it, as it’s complex to architect, design, build and manage its life cycle. It’s more attractive to buy rather than DIY and there are many options: some are public cloud, some are private cloud and some use the best of both worlds, namely hybrid cloud.

Whatever path you take, there are now plenty of ‘data-centre-in-a-box’ solutions with a fully managed life cycle, running everything from Microsoft Windows to Kubernetes.

These solutions are designed to deliver the characteristics that make cloud so popular: they’re simple to own and consume, you don’t have to worry about the underpinning platform from a life cycle perspective, and they’re pay-as-you-grow.

The pay-as-you-grow model is now commonplace even with on-premises solutions like HPE GreenLake, Dell Flex on Demand and Pure as-a-Service.

The days of a fixed life cycle refresh are also gone, as with hyper-converged solutions, the older nodes are replaced with new ones. You’ll never have a point in time when you’re stuck with a data migration or large-scale refresh.

Finally, if you choose to invest in solutions outside the flexible as-a-service model, you can now opt for up to seven-year support and maintenance options.

You can calculate your TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) over seven years, substantially reducing your yearly cost as you spread the Capex investment over this period.

It’s an industry PFH has seen grow throughout its lifetime. In business since the mid-1980s, it employs over 350 people. More than 270 of those work in a technical capacity, including over 30 senior consultants and architects.

Its practice teams are composed of some of the most experienced and accredited engineers and consultants in the country, across key enterprise technologies including AWS, Azure, Check Point, Citrix, Commvault, Dell Technologies, HPE, Pure Storage, Splunk and VMware.

The company has the necessary size and breadth to specialise in all major technologies while retaining the personal touch necessary to build deep, long-standing relationships.

“You can have your cake and eat it after all,” said O’Herlihy. “You can opt for everything as a service, the full cloud consumption model, secure on-premises or co-location, and a hyper-scale public cloud, with the flexibility of less lock-in.”

“At PFH, we always assess your requirements with a hybrid cloud view, working with you on what makes sense for your business in terms of where the workloads should reside, whether it’s Azure, AWS, or on-premises. We also provide a single point of management, reporting and control".