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Reference Architecture: The Most Secure Route To The Cloud?

From the experts | Posted on September 26, 2012 by Elliott McWhirter

Confusion and questions about reference architecture abound! This is partly to do with being wrapped up with the cloud and partly because it’s not as simple as 2 + 2 = 4. Following our mandate of simplifying complex IT solutions, we recently sat down with an expert on the topic. What we also found is that reference architecture is poised to become the most secure path to the cloud.

Adam Catbagan is the Manager of Pre-Sales Engineering for Arrow Enterprise Computing, EMC partners in North America and was kind enough to share his expertise with me.

Elliot McWhirter: How would you describe what reference architecture is?

Adam: RA is like a blueprint. The analogy I like to give people is to picture yourself flipping through the latest copy of Dream Homes Magazine when you find exactly the home you want. Well, almost exactly the one you want. The problem with the dream house is that instead of having 5 bedrooms, it only has 4. Or, the kitchen is on the left instead of the right. So, you take those notes into your architect and they make the modifications to the blueprint so you can present that to your builder and they can start laying the foundation.

In essence, this is the beauty of reference architecture; it is a guide offering a flexible solution that you can make changes to. Changes that meet the needs of the application or the infrastructure that’s already in the user’s environment.

EM: What’s the biggest obstacle or pain that RA helps customers overcome or address?

Adam: It has to be time to deployment. The biggest challenge I had as an IT manager was getting my solutions to market in a timely fashion. And that is because of the interoperability testing that needed to be done. The research between different vendors to make sure Vendor A would play nice with Vendor B. Reference architectures largely eliminate that as the integration work is already done. It’s this element that makes the reference architecture route to the cloud very secure.

SA: Why should organizations pay attention to RA? Where is the value in it?

Adam: We’re starting to see this convergence that started with VMware and the idea of virtualization to pool assets. This innovation that virtualization created has sparked some creativity and ingenuity within the other layers of the infrastructure stack.

As organizations begin to look at what’s right for their infrastructure, they really start to make a shift from seeing IT as some mysterious black box to really delivering IT as a service or as a business enabler. Reference architecture is a tremendous accelerator to that. It’s this acceleration that is also driving value.

EM: It sounds like it speeds up that process and provides organizations to make a bit of a quantum leap.

Adam: Yea, a little bit. As a former IT manager myself, it would have been great if I had some kind of piece of paper or backing by my suppliers to say that the infrastructure that I chose to put on the floor is proven and authorized; essentially guaranteed to work. That’s another factor that brings a ton of value to organizations. Reference architecture takes the interoperability testing out of the hands of the end user and replaces it with solutions that speed time to deployment.

EM: Where do you believe the confusion lay with reference architecture and what do you think people are struggling to understand about it?

It is definitely the association with the cloud and the nomenclature used to describe it. Reference architecture is a relatively straightforward concept but it gets confusing as soon as the cloud is added to the equation. To simplify, the approach we believe in is to focus on the organizations true infrastructure or application needs, the actual business needs, and then use that as the guiding principles to back in the infrastructure solution. If a customer has a VMware, Cisco and EMC shop then there is a reference architecture to help with a solution. The same can be said if the client is running Hyper-V, HP at the compute layer and Brocade in the network.

The high-degree of flexibility could also be contributing to the confusion precisely because it’s not a prescriptive approach. Think of it like you’re ordering at a fast food restaurant. Before value meals, you would have to specify the type of burger you want along with the different toppings, which size and type of French fry and the same with your drink. Then it all got wrapped up so you could just walk in an order a #4 meal. So, Mr. Customer says ‘Hey, I need something that’s going to fit a VDI deployment for 1000 seats. What do you have? Oh, perfect! I’ll have a #4.’ The reference architecture allows for that type of simplicity.

EM: What type of organization is RA a fit for?

Adam: Every organization. Whether you’re the small two guy IT team or a large Fortune 100 company. That is the beauty of reference architecture.

EM: Is there a minimum infrastructure that needs to be in place?

Adam: The answer is really no. Let’s say you were deploying  a virtual desktop infrastructure and you wanted to stand up net new infrastructure to support that initiative, the reference architecture themselves contain the recipe to build out that entire infrastructure. Now, where it gets interesting is if I have an investment in compute or an investment in network and I simply need to add to that or perhaps I have the required ports or processing power then it’s just adding the other components from the reference architecture to my existing architecture.

Through our experience working with organizations across North America we know that developing and executing virtualization strategies can be time consuming, laborious work when it is done in isolation.

This is why Softchoice offers a range of data center advisory services – to help organizations assess their existing physical environment in advance of a virtualization implementation so you can reduce the burden on your IT team and your time to market.

Read more about Softchoice’s Data Center Advisory Services, or leave your questions below in the comments. Our team is standing by.

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