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Five IT infrastructure projects to tackle in 2015

The right upgrades are essential to the ongoing, timely delivery of critical IT services -- if the infrastructure falls behind, so does the enterprise.

IT upgrades aren't just a nicety, they're strategic improvements to the technological foundation of a business...

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Your IT infrastructure projects for 2015 will ultimately depend on the available budget for hardware, software and staffing. With budgets riding a favorable economic trend, many businesses are green-lighting reasonable projects.

About 47% of IT leaders report an increased hardware budget this year, according to TechTarget's IT Priorities Survey. Of those surveyed, 48% say there's more money for software, and 41% note added funding for cloud projects. A smaller percentage, 32%, sees an increased IT staff budget for 2015.

The survey shows 42% of enterprise IT respondents in North America are planning some kind of data center infrastructure upgrade in 2015. What's on the list?

1. Move to Windows Server 2012 R2

Windows Server updates rank high on the to-do list for 2015: 39% of IT leaders surveyed plan to deploy Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 now that the OS has had time to prove itself in production.

The justifications driving this server OS upgrade project vary. Some worry about Microsoft's ongoing support strategy, and see Windows Server 2012 R2 upgrades as a means of ensuring support over the long term. Others want a server-side platform that best supports Windows 8.1 (and eventually Windows 10) on endpoint systems.

Still more are motivated by the spate of new and improved features in Windows Server 2012 R2, including command-line and scripting updates in PowerShell, as well as Active Directory Administrative Center enhancements such as an AD Recycle Bin, granular password control and a PowerShell history viewer. Server Message Block has better performance, event messages, virtual machine (VM) file support and more. Windows Server 2012 R2 also caters to Remote Desktop Services with session shadowing, online data deduplication, improved RemoteApp operation and support for DirectX 11.1.

Windows Server 2012 R2 makes additional inroads into virtualization and the cloud, touting features like shared virtual hard disks, storage quality of service capabilities and automatic VM activation. Improvements to Hyper-V Replica allow VM replication as often as every 30 seconds, with more recovery points. Hyper-V Live Migration was streamlined to enhance performance with a greater variety of protocols. Better integration with cloud platform Microsoft Azure simplifies public cloud for Windows shops.

2. Less is best: Data center consolidation

The push to consolidate data centers -- optimizing resource use by packing more workloads onto fewer servers -- is far from over: 33% of enterprise IT leaders plan IT infrastructure consolidation projects in 2015.

When IT teams tie consolidation projects into hardware refresh cycles, business leaders see the value of reducing physical infrastructure before paying for a new fleet. Ideally, using fewer, more reliable physical systems means a smaller overall capital outlay with fewer server maintenance contracts and lower recurring power and cooling expenses for the data center.

Consolidation initiatives can also accompany IT architecture optimization. For example, if an IT organization restructures related workloads onto the same physical server, these VMs can exchange data without releasing to the general network. Such internal data exchanges are much faster, and alleviate network traffic and congestion.

Comprehensive management processes and tools must accompany consolidation tasks to help with VM provisioning and resource allocation, application performance monitoring, workload balancing, VM lifecycle management, data center infrastructure management and other tasks.

Expanding workload virtualization and mastering the art of consolidation also set an important foundation for cloud initiatives, another hot IT infrastructure project in 2015. These actions allow the business to shave hardware costs while maintaining a full suite of workloads.

3. Improve virtualized environments

IT leaders appear poised to update or adopt an ever-expanding range of service platforms.

Updating the server-side hypervisor is popular in 2015. A new hypervisor can mean more VMs on fewer servers with better workload performance, availability, mobility and protection, aiding consolidation.

A quarter of surveyed IT leaders plan to upgrade VMware vSphere to version 5.5 -- though it might make sense to skip 5.5 and move directly to vSphere 6.0, released in February 2015. VMware vSphere 6.0 promises a wealth of new and improved features in vMotion, Storage DRS and SRM, vSphere Replication, vSphere Data Protection and others. Scalability reaches 64 hosts per cluster, 8,000 VMs per cluster, 480 CPUs per host, 12 TB of host memory, 2,048 VMs per host, 128 virtual CPUs per VM and 4 TB of memory per VM.

Virtualization is quickly extending into the network. Network virtualization, such as VMware NSX, allows IT to treat the physical Ethernet network as a pool of transport capacity allocated to VMs along with security and network services. A significant 9% of survey respondents plan to deploy VMware's NSX platform in 2015, eliminating long, error-prone configuration headaches traditionally associated with physical network architectures.

Development, deployment and management of business applications has always been clunky and inefficient. The move to DevOps and the introduction of software containers from Docker and its ilk sparked a new look at application development in 2014. Containers allow IT teams to build, distribute and run applications quickly and on multiple platforms -- server, laptop, cloud -- leading 5% of survey respondents to deploy container deployment in 2015. Containerization is still in its infancy; by comparison, 32% of IT leaders report a mobile application initiative this year.

4. Move to the cloud

Cloud technology builds on a foundation of virtualization for faster and easier workload deployment and management, often by end users without direct intervention from IT. Cloud enables utility computing, where IT is the service provider to the enterprise.

Private clouds bring self-service and automation to virtualized and consolidated data centers; 19% of survey respondents plan to build a private cloud in 2015. In addition, 22% of IT leaders intend to build a hybrid cloud to support many kinds of business workloads.

A business might initially test a new application on a private cloud, but eventually deploy the app from a public cloud provider; it mitigates IT capital costs by moving some routine tasks onto the cloud and frees in-house data center capacity for mission-critical workloads.

There are still management and security concerns with cloud, such as controlling resource use, monitoring workload performance and generating chargeback/showback usage data. It's no surprise that 18% of survey respondents want to deploy hybrid cloud management, and 25% of those surveyed plan to use cloud security tools in 2015.

5. Work with mobility

The corporate workforce is increasingly mobile, using laptops, tablets and smartphones to access business apps. Many of these endpoint devices are user-owned, pressuring businesses to support bring your own device (BYOD).

About 31% of IT leaders surveyed report mobility-related IT infrastructure projects for 2015. While 42% are planning for BYOD support, another 32% of respondents will not support BYOD, instead issuing corporate-owned mobile devices.

IT staff must change architectures to accommodate a broader base of mobile devices, while also securing sensitive business data.

Mobility is a multifaceted issue that requires a multipronged strategy for proper implementation. For example, 45% of respondents plan to deploy mobile device management; while 44% plan to use apps or application development platforms capable of supporting mobile endpoints. And 26% plan an identity and access management project in 2015.

Regardless of the project, support for mobility always comes down to worker comfort and productivity balanced against security.

Approach any IT infrastructure project confidently

Justify expenses without IT speak

Understand the complete data center budget

Write the right RFP

Editor's note: The TechTarget IT Priorities Survey was conducted in late 2014, with 2,212 IT workers surveyed. Respondents to the survey work in IT for companies of an average size of 16,870 employees. Results from the prior year are summarized here and 2013 conclusions are here.

About the author:
Stephen J. Bigelow is a senior technology editor at TechTarget, covering data center and virtualization technologies. He's acquired many CompTIA certifications in his more than two decades writing about the IT industry.

This was last published in February 2015

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IT Priorities Survey: Pros' 2015 tech plans, projects and concerns

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I look forward to upgrading our servers to MS 2012R2 and our vSphere cluster to 6.0. I have needed the new vMotion available in 6.0.
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There should be a "add automation skills and processes" to the list. It's at the core of all these technology migrations. 
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