Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dispelling Myths about Blade Infrastructures

Of all of the myths surrounding blade infrastructures, the most common one is that they are more expensive. In fact, blade infrastructures actually reduce the total cost of operation (TCO) in the long run. The key is to determine what savings the hardware will provide over its lifetime, and not just the initial investment. Some of the long-term savings that blade infrastructures provide are the result of reduced physical space, reduced administrative and management costs, and reduced power and cooling costs. Typically, the breakeven point for an organization making the transformation to blade server is 7-8 servers. After that, the savings become increasingly apparent.

Another common misconception is that blade infrastructures are not as redundant as traditional rackmount infrastructures. This is inaccurate because blade servers support the same CPUs, memory, and disk capacities as their rackmount counterparts. Additionally, blade servers can be clustered using clustering software, as well as offering many high availability (HA) features and hot-pluggable components. All blade servers within a blade chassis also benefit from the redundancy that the chassis provides, without incremental costs.  All chassis have multiple power supplies and multiple cooling fans, plus they may (and should) be configured with redundant management modules and redundant switches.

Additionally, many hold the incorrect assumption that blade infrastructures provide slower performance than rackmount servers. This myth can be dispelled for the same reason.  Blade servers are just as redundant as their rackmount counterparts. The performance of the blade infrastructure can easily be enhanced by configuring the blade servers with multiple Intel or AMD processors with multiple cores as well as high-speed RAM or fast SAS or SATA disk drives.

Another reason that organizations may have previously dismissed blade infrastructures is due to the misconception that they are only intended for large organizations. Since many SMBs face similar challenges to large organizations when it comes to management, blade infrastructures benefit them as well. Furthermore, blade infrastructures free up the limited IT resources that SMBs have through simplified, consolidated web-based management.

Blade infrastructures are also inaccurately perceived as requiring more power consumption and having higher cooling expenses. In actuality, blade infrastructures often cost considerably less to power and cool due to their common midplane that allows for shared power and cooling resources amongst all of the server blades housed within the blade chassis. The shared infrastructure of the blade chassis allows for fewer fans and power supplies, resulting in reduced power consumption and cooling expenses. 

Last but not least, there is the myth that blade infrastructures are more complicated to set up and manage than rackmount servers. In fact, blade infrastructures are actually less complicated because the power, cabling, cooling, network and administration are all integrated within the blade chassis. As a result, deploying a blade infrastructure is quite simple. First, the blade chassis must be racked and plugged in, then configured with the management software. The management software must then be used to provision the server blades. The blade infrastructure is now deployed. Once the blade infrastructure has been implemented, provisioning additional servers is very fast, easy, and efficient.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Overcoming Blade Server Complexity Issues

Many organizations have not yet implemented blade servers into their IT infrastructure because of their perceived complexity. Consequently, they do not feel that they have the expertise to implement, let alone to make an educated decision to purchase the right configuration for their environment. In order to overcome these obstacles to adopting blade servers, which could actually be a cost-effective technology investment for your company, we are going to break down exactly what comprises a blade infrastructure.

A blade infrastructure can refer to either an IT infrastructure that is entirely made up of many blade enclosures, or a complete blade server solution in a single blade chassis. The unit would include servers, storage, data protection, networking components, etc.  We will be referencing the blade server solution in a single blade chassis.

Blade servers cannot be independently deployed into an environment; they require a blade chassis. A blade chassis is an enclosure that holds the blade servers and includes cooling, power, and networking components that are shared among the blades. Selecting a blade chassis is the first step in configuring a blade solution for your environment.

Each blade server housed within the blade chassis shares a common signal midplane and power backplane. The enclosure also holds Local Area Network (LAN) and Storage Area Network (SAN) interconnect modules, including Ethernet, Fiber Channel (FC), and converged network switches. Communication is enabled between the blade server and the LAN and SAN interconnect modules by means of the shared common signal midplane. Up to 8 interconnects will need to be selected for a complete blade solution, depending on the blade chassis.

The blade chassis is connected to the rest of the environment by means of network switch modules that are housed within the chassis. These switches or modules can be connected to the network core via a number of different available protocols, which allows them to carry all of the network traffic from the blade servers within the chassis.

All components within the blade enclosure are designed to support the server blades. Up to 16 AMD or Intel-based server blade models will need to be selected, and the number will vary depending on the chosen blade server or chassis. Blade storage can also be added to expand the available storage capacity within the blade chassis. By integrating all of these components into one solution, elements such as cabling, rack or floor space, required manpower, and heat are all reduced, while simultaneously improving power consumption and redundancy.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Impact of Meaningful Use Phase 2 on Healthcare IT

For starters, what exactly does meaningful use mean? Meaningful use is the set of standards defined by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Incentive Programs that governs the use of electronic health records (EHRs). This kind of governance is made possible by The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The HITECH Act provides the Department of Health & Human Services with the authority to establish programs that improve healthcare quality, safety, and efficiency with changes to health IT.

One such program currently being established by the Department of Health & Human Services is the Meaningful Use Program. Having already made changes in accordance with Meaningful Use Phase 1, there are several new criteria requirements of Meaningful Use Stage 2 that will result in either practice changes or IT infrastructure changes for many healthcare organizations. Many of these requirements deal with structured data.  For example, demographics must now be recorded as structured data, clinical lab test results must be incorporated into EHR as structured data, and permissible prescriptions must be generated and transmitted electronically as structured data. 

Placing an emphasis on empowering patients, Meaningful Use Stage 2 will require health organizations to provide patients with an electronic copy of their health information upon request, as well as providing patients with electronic access to their health information within 4 business days after the healthcare provider receives it. These specific requirements result in a change of IT infrastructure because of provisions such as 45 CFR 164.312 (a)(2)(iv) and 45 CFR 164.306(d)(3), which require data at rest to be encrypted and secured.

Patient portals, PHRs, or other stand-alone secure messaging applications are defined as the type of data that health care providers need to encrypt for secure messaging. Luckily, IBM offers a product that can help meet Meaningful Use Phase 2 demands. 

The IBM System Storage DS3500 addresses data-at-rest encryption requirements by offering continuous data security through 300GB and 600GB Self Encrypting Drives (SEDs). The SEDs provide the IBM DS3500 with full drive-level encryption that can be easily managed through the DS Storage Manager.  As a result, IBM Total Storage DS3500 systems can also provide the data-at-rest encryption required by Meaningful Phase 2. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

IBM TotalStorage DS3500 Controller 7.84 Firmware Release

In the technology world, if you aren’t constantly improving, then you will quickly be left behind. One company that has done exceptionally well at staying relevant and ahead of the curve is IBM. Not only have they evolved into a truly social business, but IBM has kept their eye on what is truly relevant, and continues to keep their technology evolving.

The new Controller Firmware (CFW) 7.84 release is just one example of their evolving technology. IBM System Storage DS3500 now offers more powerful premium features and easier premium feature ordering. These new, free-of-charge features include full disk encryption, up to 128 partitions, up to 32 enhanced FlashCopies, and up to 256 VolumeCopies.

(Oh, and did we mention that if you have a current support contract, you are entitled to a FREE UPGRADE to CFW version 7.84?)

The CFW version 7.84 for the IBM System Storage DS3500 can also include IP Mirroring and Super Key, which enables all of the functionality for performance read cache, disaster recovery options, and backup and restore options. Plus, all of the previous options (such as Turbo Performance Option or 96 to 192 Drive Enclosure Expansion keys) will remain available and functional with the CFW 7.84 upgrade.

There are other CFW version 7.84 features that are definitely nice-to-have if they fit your environment. In addition to optional AIX/VIOS Host Kits, HP-UX Host Kits, Linux on Power Host Kits, and Mac OS Host Kits, you now have the option of a Solaris Host Kit.  This new kit will provide entitlement and support for servers that host Solaris operating systems and are used with IBM DS3500 disk systems.

The new premium features offered by the IBM TotalStorage DS3500 disk system takes its performance to a new level.