Why the Remote Office / Branch Office Isn’t a Data Center


Why the Remote Office / Branch Office IsnLike most people I subscribe to vendor and channel newsletters to keep up to date with what’s new on the menu, and a recent pitch I read using Microsoft’s software defined stack and server grade hardware for the remote branch office got me thinking.

Now this isn’t a competition bashing post, far from it, so I won’t be referencing the vendor or any specifics of the design, but highlighting the salient points and my thoughts on them. 

Bash the competition and all hail SteelFusion?

Nope. What I want to do is highlight why data center (DC) architecture and thinking is not for the remote office / branch office (ROBO). 

Think (generally) about the difference between a DC and a ROBO;

  • Fully resilient vs. Partial (if any)
  • Well-connected 10Gb+ vs. WAN connected
  • Close to technical resource vs. Remote access
  • High level SLAs vs. Low level SLAs
  • Constantly supervised vs. Best effort

…and the list goes on. While trying not to overly paint the differences between DCs and ROBOs, there’s clearly a recognized difference between what’s expected and delivered at a ROBO and that of a DC. So why is DC tech being pushed into the ROBO?

Tried and trusted tech

‘We use it every day, we trust it, we know it’s good and bad points, why change?’ 

The last time I checked a pad of paper didn’t reboot unexpectedly, need a memory upgrade, or need a reboot if you got to the end of a page too quickly. A sarcastic reply (and a little silly), but I think it demonstrates how old arguments can hold a business back. 

There is nothing wrong with tried and trusted technology, but when you’re applying that methodology in the ‘wrong’ places it can add layers of complexity that aren’t necessary and are certainly not welcome. 

A ROBO needs physical architecture that suits remote and potentially isolated sites, resiliency in case of WAN outage, and a constant deployment (compute and storage) model that can be tailored per ROBO workload. Using a rehashed server infrastructure with a load of disk that still relies on local backup and solid network (WAN) connections is not the answer. 

Can a purpose built Remote Office / Branch Office Hyper-converged Infrastructure do the job?

Can a purpose built remote office / branch office hyper-converged infrastructure do the job?

So why SteelFusion? It’s just another server with some disk. SteelFusion is the only branch HCI offering designed specifically for the branch. Its cached storage operations allow data to be projected from the DC storage array to the ROBO and used at LAN speed. What if there’s a WAN outage? The data can be configured to be fully available and working until the WAN is restored. 

So the only difference is that SteelFusion caches data compared to a server? No, SteelFusion not only caches the working set, no need for a full copy of the data lowering the amount of disk capacity needed on site, it continuously synchronizes the changed data back to the DC without user intervention. So if you lose the ROBO for any reason, a copy of the data is housed securely in the DC. 

Still doesn’t lower my hardware footprint at the ROBO, it’s just a clever data play. With all the data housed in the DC the SteelFusion Core can make use of storage array native snapshot technology and orchestrate the ROBO data to be available in the DC (a copy) which can be backed up. This removes the entire backup infrastructure from every ROBO site. 

And the servers that need the data? SteelFusion is a HCI and by using the built in hypervisor is able to host VM’s inside of the physical SteelFusion appliance on a totally separate hardware partition. 

SteelFusion HA? SteelFusion runs storage HA and hypervisor HA in any combination of failover scenario all automatically. And if I lose the ROBO itself? Because the data is untouched by SteelFusion it can be booted in the DC! 

Plan hard to perform easy

You don’t plan a party like a business meeting, but if you look at the leading facts, what’s the difference; invites need to be sent, there will be people, some refreshments, and some kind of focus. It’s not until you start to look at the detail and the reasons do you realize that the wrong kind of planning could be disastrous. 

But this is exactly what businesses are doing when it comes to planning IT strategy for the remote branch office. You’re not going to put a server farm in a cabin, but the major building blocks are governed by the DC models and not the remote branch office needs. 

Just like a party isn’t a business meeting, it is also that a remote branch office isn’t a DC. From a 30,000 foot (or 9.1 meters) pass they may look the same, but when you get down and into the details they are very different and need to be approached accordingly. Of course there are similarities and overlaps that can be taken advantage of, the key is knowing where these stop and the unique ROBO business needs to be accounted for. 

SteelFusion is designed from the ground up for the remote branch office. To find out more visit the Zero Branch IT site. 


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