What’s New in the AHEAD Lab and Briefing Center

At AHEAD, we believe one of our greatest differentiators is our Lab and Briefing Center. We spend thousands of hours each year bringing the latest technologies in-house and evaluating them using real world constructs. We do this so we can provide our clients with the best recommendations and a proving ground to help accelerate their technology evaluation process.

We keep ourselves busy by constantly creating new briefings and demonstrations, welcoming new technologies, and beta testing bleeding edge solutions. Over the past several months, we’ve been working diligently to provide critical updates where they’ve been desired most in preparation for the new year. In 2016, our plan is to continue pioneering innovative technologies to deliver cutting-edge solutions to our clients and beyond.  

In the last six months, two themes have dominated most of the work we’ve completed:

1.  Automate everything

IT is expected to be leaner and more responsive to new lines of business, while maintaining more complex infrastructure with the same (or fewer) staff. In order to achieve these results, automation is a central unifying factor and outcome multiplier.

There was a time when writing scripts to help support IT infrastructure was the best option – that time is gone. Today’s environments are so big, complex, and dynamic that it has become commonplace on the infrastructure side to include programmatic interfaces as part of the software components of products.

APIs are here to stay, and we’re using them extensively across all infrastructure components to transform data center operations in multiple ways:

  • Storage: Most organizations’ storage platforms are the stronghold of their Tier 0 application data. We’ve enabled two use cases to accommodate this: programmatic data distribution to development environments from production databases, using Tintri SyncVM APIs, and automated recovery of storage devices using data protection solutions like EMC ProtectPoint and Data Domain.
  • Network: Because policy-based security enables workload mobility, simplified operations, and VM-level granularity for traffic control, we’ve created security policies on both our VMware NSX and our Cisco ACI deployment.
  • Data Protection: We’ve been automating the creation of backups using Rubrik and EMC Avamar. Actually, the Rubrik plug-in for vRealize Orchestrator was created by our very own Nick Colyer and Eric Shanks. 

Modern organizations require flawless execution of complex processes, involving multiple components at various locations across the world. Such challenges can be addressed by automating those processes into a well-orchestrated workflow.

  • We’ve seen such complexity in the storage field, particularly around disaster recovery and data protection with multi-site, Active/Active architectures. We recreated the use case within our lab leveraging the RecoverPoint MetroPoint topology automated with ViPR Controller.
  • We’ve also seen this level of complexity when controlling the security policies for disaster recovery data centers. The perimeter firewall configuration is traditionally completely independent from the software-defined networking abstraction layer, so NSX and the integration with Palo Alto Networks firewalls shines as the configuration can be created from a single management point and distributed from the virtual layer to the physical layer seamlessly.

We also introduced new products:

  • Rubrik: They made backups cool again! Rubrik is a new disruptive player in the backup space. They took a hyperconverged hardware approach and stitched a software-defined solution in a market dominated by software or hardware-only solutions. We’ve been testing an r300 block with great success and, during this short testing time frame, we’ve already created vRealize Orchestrator plug-ins for programmatically operating the appliance.
  • VMTurbo: VMTurbo’s position in the marketplace is misunderstood, primarily because almost no one clearly grasps the product’s niche. VMTurbo is not a monitoring solution like vROps or SolarWinds software. Instead, they operationalize performance management. They also help organizations transform the way IT operates: shifting the focus from monitoring services to monitoring services/VMs/infrastructure performance and automating actions at the hypervisor level. VMTurbo excels at performance and capacity management for virtualized environments.

2.  Tighter integration between our Enterprise Service Management, Cloud Management and Automation, and Mobility solutions

We’ve built our lab to simulate a real-world environment, so we take extra care on the integration histories and work tirelessly on integrating multiple pieces of technology as solutions. During the past two quarters, we’ve spent the most time working on our Hybrid Cloud and Mobility solutions.

  • Hybrid Cloud:
      • We believe that no two hybrid clouds are the same, which is why we’ve developed the capability to design, deploy, and operate any cloud with the right tools based on our clients’ experience and acquisitions. Our hybrid cloud can use either Cisco UCS Director or VMware vRealize Orchestrator for the cloud management portal. We can demo the integration with Puppet or Chef as a configuration management tool. The SDN leveraged for automating the network and security can be NSX or ACI. We can deploy VMs from our unified catalog to AWS, Azure, or other cloud end points and operate them either with an infrastructure focus with vROps or with a performance focus with VMTurbo.
      • Our hybrid cloud is fully capable of complete server and application builds leveraging any of the multiple configuration management tools and fulfill network-as-a-service requests. We expanded the integration on the VMware side and are trialing Photon, a light weight Linux distribution designed for running containers and multi-VM applications routed and load balanced by NSX. 
  • Mobility: 
      • The work we’ve done on the End-User Computing, Mobility, and Virtual Desktop spaces makes me proud. Our subject matter experts authored an architecture for presenting applications in a meaningful way either to BYOD devices, VDIs, or tablets while simplifying the management of the solution. They then deployed the solution twice! The first instance leveraged the VMware stack, and the second leveraged the Citrix stack. There were some areas like user environment management, operation management, and SSO where additional integrations made sense; Liquidware Labs, RES Software, and AppSense technologies are leveraged based on the capabilities our clients need, making our solutions truly vendor independent.
      • Enterprise File Sync and Share can be demonstrated by showing the Okta integrations we built with ShareFile, Box, and the native integrations with Salesforce and Office 365.
      • Our Mobility team completed the deployment and integration of all the related pieces ahead of schedule, and they’re working now on automating pool deployment service catalog integration.
  • Beta testing:
      • Our NDAs impede us from speaking explicitly about the technologies and solutions we beta test. But we’re pleased to say we enjoy great partnerships and relationships with product management for all flash arrays, virtual replication technologies, converged and hyperconverged platforms, cloud management portals, and data center operations software. Please do not hesitate and send me a quick note if you want additional information regarding our beta testing programs as we may work with your team on this endeavor.

We welcome you to come visit the AHEAD Lab and Briefing Center anytime. You’ll have access to test and assess all of these technologies, as well as work with our resident subject matter experts.

To view a complete list of our briefings and technologies, download our lab catalog

AHEAD Lab and Briefing Center