A surprising amount of spending is happening on IT infrastructure at the moment, driven by companies preparing to bounce back in 2021.
While many firms have staff working from home and on furlough, that doesn’t mean that all future planning has stopped. And some services companies are currently enjoying a busy period helping their customers reposition themselves for a new style of IT deployment.
Take hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) as an example. This technology allows IT departments to combine all the elements of a traditional data centre – storage, computing power, networking and management – and virtualise them on a single server. This is proving to be attractive for companies looking to streamline management and reduce costs, but it’s not without its drawbacks.
Ronan Carey, senior manager for enterprise customers with Dell Technologies Ireland, said: “We’ve been extremely busy for the last few months, mostly helping organisations that are lucky enough to be able to work from home to do just that.
“Not every company in every sector has been able to adapt and that’s really awful. It’s a horrendous time for the tourism and hospitality industries in particular.
“Companies that are able to, though, have done their best and many are investing in technology for a post-Covid world. There were share price spikes, for example, on the stock exchange when the news of the two main vaccines broke from Pfizer and Moderna in the pharmaceutical sector and also in the travel sector.”
One of Dell’s customers, according to Carey, is an airline that is currently investing heavily in technology so that it can come out the other side of the Covid period as strong as possible.
“At the moment they’re totally decimated, as you’d imagine, but their focus is on being able to deliver a really good customer experience when things go back to normal. They’re using this period as an opportunity to fine-tune things,” he said.
“That’s not uncommon for companies that know they’re temporarily experiencing a quiet period. They’re using the time to improve their IT systems and to focus on their infrastructure and on the automation layer which is facilitated by hyperconverged infrastructure.”
Facilitating automation is a big driver for companies to use HCI. Carey points out that Dell Technologies also works with a payment-processing company that has just seven people managing two data centres in different locations, servicing more than 50 countries.
“Pretty much 80 per cent of financial transactions for those countries go through those two locations, and yet they can do it with just seven people because their automation systems are driven by HCI,” he said.
“The next stage for us, and where it gets really interesting, is where HCI is going in a multi-cloud world. That’s all about how you can have common orchestration and management layers across multiple clouds, be they big hyper-scalers or more specialised clouds set up for things like SAP HANA. Common architectures and common interfaces that mirror what you’ve got in the data centre create a really agile way to manage your business.”
Patrick Merrigan, a sales engineer at Rubrik Ireland, has had a similar experience in recent months, as many organisations look for new ways to streamline the way they do things.
“With a lot of people moving away from the office due to Covid, that’s prompted a rethink from many companies about their technology,” he said.
“They’re looking to do things better and with HCI, the management of a legacy system can take a lot of time and resources and in the area of data protection there can be a requirement for hands-on management. But that’s hard to do right now – those hands aren’t necessarily in the office.”
Driving this move towards cloud-based virtualisation is the fact that companies are not just looking for a more simplified deployment and an increase in flexibility, they also want lower costs.
“There are some great multi-cloud solutions out there and customers are beginning to look for alternative ways of doing things. Because we’re a data management and protection platform, we enable them to manage all their data through a single pane of glass, regardless of where that data resides. That can all be done through a single user interface,” said Merrigan.
When Covid first hit in March, and companies were forced to send their staff home, many had a mixed experience in terms of how well their IT systems adapted to the change. According to Kevin O’Loughlin, chief executive of Nostra, most found that cloud applications such as Office 365, Saleforce and Xero worked extremely well, but others didn’t.
“A lot of the applications companies had in their office, whether on hyperconverged infrastructure or not, tended to be more complicated to remotely access. On top of that, they provided limited performance for remote users, depending on the application they were using,” he said.
“A hyperconverged server is just a server that takes all the elements of a cluster of servers, a storage area network and storage and puts it on one box, but that box still has to sit somewhere. And if your users aren’t physically near it, they don’t necessarily have great performance.”
The result, O’Loughlin said, is that Nostra has seen a lot of interest from companies in expanding the cloud infrastructure they already have.
“We’ve seen a huge uptake in interest in line of business applications that are pure SaaS (software as a service) such as Oracle NetSuite, Microsoft’s Business Central, Xero and Accounts IQ.
“Companies are realising that applications like these worked really well over the last ten months and if there is ever a pandemic again, or anything like one, these are going to be very important,” he said.