How to find the perfect network switch

network switchThe perfect network switch is elusive. Organizations want a cost-effective option, as well as one that supports the majority of protocols, from RFCs to IEEE 802.1 standards. But the perfect switch must also be smart, simple to implement and maintain, and primed to adapt to new technology, all of which are more difficult to find. It must also be capable of providing an overall data center network topology that solves the organization’s need.

Here are five aspects of the perfect network switch that avoid the common challenges that network administrators typically deal with when implementing and maintaining network switches.

  1. Uses a command-line interface you’re used to. Most admins don’t want to relearn another command-line interface. The perfect switch offers an interface that’s similar enough to what you’re using and doesn’t require you to relearn anything. A gentle learning curve is an important requirement.
  2. Has a flexible product portfolio. Work with vendors that offer not one solution, but many different types of solutions. Organizations have different requirements based on what they’re trying to do with their network — cloud switches are different from data center switches and workgroup or office switches, and each type of switch has different needs. By working with a vendor that offers a variety of switches within a product group — from 1GB to 100GB — organizations can more easily support current and future requirements.
  3. Supports future technologies. You must identify new ways to connect switches to take advantage of all the connections they can support. For example, Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) has been widely adopted across most data centers by networking engineers, but there’s also a new one called TRILL that provides advantages with a greater number of links across all the switches, creating a fabric. And then there’s software-defined networking (SDN) — a topic suitable for a complete book. By supporting future technologies, the switch prepares for future requirements and enhancements to the overall network.
  4. Commits its configuration across the entire environment. When adding another switch to a network, the perfect switch should be able to download the current configuration for the network and apply only the parts that the switch needs for its own use within the topology. This includes VLANs, default settings, route tables, and other applicable networking settings. In a sense, the perfect switch eliminates the need to update every switch in the network. The network fabric does this work for the administrator instead.
  5. Integrates with and understands the hypervisor’s view of the network. There should be integration between the switch and the virtual hosts and virtual machines (VMs). When a VM moves among the various hosts, it can bring its VLAN or have its VLAN ready for it to use. The perfect switch is smart enough to do that for the administrator. This eliminates the time an administrator has to spend configuring all of the VLANs necessary on every switch or supporting changes.

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The hazards of ad hoc data centers

SHI PSO data center case studyIf I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. Organizations start out by installing a few small-scale servers to back up and restore network data. Then as the business grows, storage needs increase, leaving IT departments to stitch together temporary solutions. These brief bandages often end up becoming long-term solutions and create a patchwork infrastructure that can leave organizations overspending time, money, and resources to manage their growing data stores.

This is exactly what happened recently to a point-of-sale and management software provider. The company’s ultimate decision on how to update its environment underscores every organization’s responsibility to proactively design its systems rather than take an ad hoc approach.

Unmanageable infrastructure

The company was quickly outgrowing its data center as business expanded, and it needed a cost-effective way to revamp its storage solution. Instead of updating its current servers, which would have cost thousands of dollars, the company opted to add on two EMC VNX storage systems, three Lenovo RD640 rack servers, and four Brocade ICX6610-48 switches from SHI. While the new servers were a step in the right direction for its data center refresh, the company had no plan for implementation. Instead, they asked us to step in and handle the update. (more…)

How to find the perfect storage array

server rackIf your organization is like most, your storage array is one of your most valuable assets and also one of your biggest headaches to manage. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In a perfect world, there would be an ideal storage array, one that not only solves the most common problems in maintaining storage but also makes it easy and simple to get the best performance out of the system.

Here are five of the most common issues that limit how quickly and how effectively organizations can use their arrays, and how the perfect array might solve them: (more…)

Beat the heat: How to keep your data center cool this summer

thermostat - cool your data centerWe’re entering the heat of summer, and that means we’re all thinking about one thing: cooling down. For data centers in particular, this is a huge concern. Overheated data centers can cause big problems for organizations large and small.

While servers typically shut down when they hit their 99 percent heat limit to prevent serious damage, these shutdowns can corrupt vital information or wreak havoc on revenue. For the typical organization, unplanned downtime costs $7,900 a minute on average. For a larger company like Amazon, it can be as high as $66,240 per minute. Additionally, years of overheated data centers can cut equipment longevity, forcing an organization to replace servers every two years instead of every five. These costs add up. As data continues to grow, both in volume and importance, it’s more vital than ever for organizations to take data center cooling seriously.

Most organizations have some cooling systems in place to keep their servers running, yet few systems are perfect. Many companies settle for good enough, but this can put information and revenue at risk. Instead, organizations should look into ways to ensure data center health that range from the quick and simple to the inexpensive and impactful to the robust and long-term. (more…)

Ghost assets are scarier than you might think: Part 3

This post is part of a three-part series on ghost assets.

Ghost serversIn my last two posts, I told the frightening tale of ghost assets, the once lively pieces of an IT department’s infrastructure that eventually expired. Yet instead of burying these dead devices, many organizations leave them to haunt their IT departments, and they end up threatening a business’s bottom line and compliance. In the final portion of my tale, I’ll discuss how organizations can finally lay these ghosts to rest.

Exorcizing the specter
Tools are not the answer — they’re only an element of eliminating ghost assets. There is no such thing as a one-shot, out-of-the-box, perfect configuration and inventory management product, though many manufacturers claim to provide such a solution. These products are open-structured and highly configurable, but require tremendous time, effort, and expertise to set up and maintain. Many customers find that they can’t fully leverage the capability of these products without hiring a dozen or more subject matter experts or paying exorbitant rates for long-term, on-site consultants.

IT asset management (ITAM) should be thought of not as a tool, but as process — one that encompasses tools, personnel, expertise, and procedures. Here are some of the best ways to return ghost assets to their graves and eliminate the risks they pose. (more…)

Ghost assets are scarier than you might think: Part 2

This post is part of a three-part series on ghost assets.

Ghost serversIn my last post, I discussed the ghost asset epidemic many organizations unknowingly face. These assets were once productive test systems, but have since dropped out of focus. They are rogue machines, falling outside the spectrum of active management and are often effectively invisible to daily IT operations, yet these assets present serious monetary and compliance risks for organizations. In this post, I’ll explain how organizations conjure these ghost assets.

Abandon all hope, assets who enter here
If there is so much value in these assets, how are they so easily lost? From sepulchral server farms to phantom PCs and laptops entombed in storage closets and desk drawers, there are countless ways assets become ghosts. One of our customers calculated that ghost assets were costing them $1.7 million per month! How can more than $20 million a year just vanish? Here are some of the most common scenarios we see every day. (more…)

Ghost assets are scarier than you might think: Part 1

Ghost serversThis post is part of a three-part series on ghost assets.

The vast majority of IT environments are haunted. Large-scale infrastructures, by virtue of their operational requirements, value high capacity and high availability over asset management. This inevitably means there are ghost assets lurking in most environments — devices whose purpose withered and passed on some time ago, but were not removed or repurposed. Still plugged in and probably connected to a network, they serve no material business purpose. They simply absorb space, power, and resources. A recent article on InfoWorld rightly points out that decommissioning ghost servers saves money on utility bills and datacenter space. However, these wraiths also embody a much more serious risk: software and regulatory compliance exposure.

Ghost in the machine
This post will refer to ghost assets rather than just servers. This term encompasses hardware, software, maintenance value, as well as any supporting systems that might be needlessly consumed by assets that no longer make a meaningful contribution to an IT environment. Power management, facilities maintenance, middleware, storage, backup, and disaster recovery are all secondary resources consumed by a ghost that add to its overall cost. But when ghost assets negatively impact compliance, the cost they represent increases exponentially. (more…)

SHI grows first quarter revenue 12 percent

This morning SHI released first quarter financial results of $1.12 billion in revenue, a 12 percent increase over our record first quarter in 2013. This growth was driven in large part to the many customers that took the quarter, and the deadline for the discontinuation of Windows XP, to take inventory of their technology and upgrade their software and hardware.

Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of organizations decided to stick with the Windows platform. This was clearly evidenced by the revenue growth we experienced with many of our partners, including: Microsoft, up 35 percent; Dell, up 44 percent; Lenovo, up 95 percent, and HP, up 8 percent year over year.

Our press release contains more details on SHI’s technology lines and manufacturers that exhibited the most growth in the first quarter.

SHI International Corp. Posts Record First Quarter

As always, thanks to our loyal customers and partners for helping us kick off 2014 with another record-setting quarter!

SHI receives 2 Cisco Partner of the Year awards

Cisco presents SHI International with Partner of the Year award. From left to right: Brian Marlier, Cisco SVP, US Enterprise Sales; Hal Jagger, SHI Vice President/General Manager – Corporate Sales; Brandon Farrell SHI Director of Strategic Partners, Corporate Division; Key Byrnes, Cisco Director Operation Sales

At the Cisco Partner Summit 2014 in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago, Cisco presented SHI with two Partner Summit Global awards: Meraki Partner of the Year, Americas and New Break Away Partner of the Year, Americas.

Cisco is a large growth area for SHI, especially as we reinforce our focus on data centers, networking, and collaboration. In 2013, we grew our Cisco business 119 percent among corporate and small and medium-sized businesses, and 244 percent in Meraki.

In addition, growth spanned all of Cisco’s architectures:

  • Collaboration revenue increased 55 percent in 2013.
  • Data center revenue increased 137 percent in 2013.
  • Enterprise networking revenue increased 33 percent in 2013.
  • Security revenue increased 55 percent in 2013.

SHI has stepped up to meet the growing demand for Cisco products. In the past year, we doubled our investment in dedicated Cisco pre-sales resources by adding Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)-level solution architects, pre-sales engineers, and SMARTnet management specialists and training each of them to provide the world-class customer experience that SHI has become known for during the past 25 years.

We’re proud of our relationship and growth with Cisco, and are proud to accept these awards in recognition. As always, thanks to our customers and employees for working with us to make this possible.

HP changes availability of firmware updates for HP ProLiant servers: Here’s what you need to know

HP ProLiant serversHP recently announced that, effective immediately, it will only provide firmware updates to HP ProLiant server customers that have a valid warranty, Care Pack Service, or support agreement. The announcement set off a firestorm online among HP customers concerned that these changes would either force them to invest more money in their HP products or expose themselves to security risks. We’ve received many questions from SHI customers about these changes, so we decided to break them down for you here.

First, it’s important to note that these changes apply to HP ProLiant servers only, and more specifically to ProLiant system ROM and complex programming logic devices (CPLD) firmware. The entitlement requirements do not extend to HP Integrated Lights-Out (iLO), I/O, or controller firmware. In addition, HP will continue to provide security and safety updates to all server customers, regardless of entitlement or warranty.

What HP’s firmware availability change means for you

For organizations that have HP ProLiant servers under warranties or HP-branded support entitlements, the only change is the location where updates are housed. Firmware updates were previously available via the HP IT Resource Center, which has been retired. Now customers can now obtain the latest firmware updates through the HP Support Center (HPSC) for no additional cost.

Customers without an HP-branded support contract or HP Care Pack agreement, or whose server warranty has lapsed, will have to invest in HP-branded support to ensure continued access to firmware and Service Pack for ProLiant (SPP) updates.

What you get with HP-branded support (more…)