What is IT Infrastructure?

What is IT Infrastructure?

Information Technology (IT) infrastructure refers to a foundation or framework composed of virtual and physical resources that support a system or an organization; resources supporting the storage, flow, processing and data analysis. Furthermore, IT infrastructure can also be termed as a cluster of hardware, software, network and facilities that are used to develop, monitor, test, control, deliver and support IT services. Infrastructure can be centralized within a data centre, or it may be decentralized and spread across several data centres which are controlled by an organization or third party facilities and providers.

Similarly, enterprise IT infrastructure is the collection of various components required for the existence, operation and management of an enterprise IT environment. This infrastructure can be deployed within the organization’s facilities, deployed within a cloud computing system or a combination of both.

How is an IT infrastructure created?

To build a data centre, organizations usually follow a formalized process starting with analyzing and assessing business goals and making architectural designs eventually leading to the building and implementing the design and optimizing the infrastructure. This entire process requires detailed expertise in quality construction techniques, component section, and data centre building design.

With the world advancing with each passing year, the way IT infrastructures are created is improvised. The manual traditional methods require enormous optimization, integration and management effort. Today’s infrastructure consists of pre-integrated and pre-optimized storage and network equipment that enables a person to deploy the IT hardware and virtualization platforms into a single system. Moreover, this hyper-converged infrastructure is an advanced approach that can be deployed, expanded and managed easily without the need to hire more workforce.

Layers of an IT infrastructure

IT infrastructure consists of a set of layers that enable it to work smoothly. A common feature of each provided layer is that it completely depends upon the proper and timely operation of the layer available beneath it. For example, an application might depend on the proper operation of a remote service availed by a person but it also depends on the condition of the operating system used by the person.

  • Hardware layer:

    The components in this layer include hard-wired circuitry, cables, mechanical switches, non-programmable discrete components, physical memory, disk drive controller circuitry and other infrastructure which is either non-programmable or provides volatile storage. User interaction with the hardware layer is limited to physical manipulation of buttons, audio and video I/O and power switch.

  • Firmware layer:

    The firmware layer consists of various hardware components that are field-programmable. The components of this layer consist of boot configuration parameters stored in Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS), field-replaceable microcode and boot loader code. The proper operation of this layer depends on the hardware layer.

  • System layer:

    The system later consists of various software required to communicate and control with the firmware layer. This layer provides a common set of standard and publicly documented system calls for the further layers to build upon. The components in this software layer consist of device drivers, configuration files, kernel and the disk-resident boot loader code.

  • Service layer:

    The service layer consists of various central and backend services that provide computation and data storage for the application layer. The components of this service layer include database, web, directory, mail, compute and file servers.

  • Application layer:

    The application layer consists of various software components that users predominantly interact with. For instance, this is also called the operating system layer in a real-time environment. The application layer consists of various components including compilers, office productivity tools, mail readers, shell command interpreters, web browsers, network control utilities, file system and file manipulation programs.

  • Infrastructure management

    Regardless of how an IT infrastructure is created; it must provide a suitable platform for all the necessary functions and applications as per the requirement of an organization or an individual. The software tools available in the infrastructure must enable IT, administrators, to view the entire lot as a single entity as well as access and configure the operating details of the devices available in the infrastructure.

The infrastructure management is divided into multiple categories like Building Management System (BMS) and system management. The BMS provides tools that enable a person to report on data centre facilities parameters including efficiency, temperature and cooling operation, power usage and physical security activities. System management consists of tools that enable a person to configure and manage servers, network and storage devices. Proper management of the IT infrastructure enables a person to not only optimize resources for different workloads but also easily understand and handle the impact of any changes on interrelated resources.

Challenges to the future of IT Infrastructure

With each passing day, the need arises to stay relevant to the technology-driven and highly competitive business environment. Organizations need a flexible and robust Information Technology (IT) infrastructure that enables them to predict and respond to the requirements in a timely manner. IT infrastructure is a combination of multiple resources including software and hardware services needed to host IT workloads for efficient operation, management and deployment of IT environment in an organization. Managing such a strategic framework to define an organization’s success is quite challenging.

The outlook of an IT infrastructure

The uniqueness of an IT infrastructure lies in its capability to facilitate the life support network in an organization to ensure the smooth functioning of technological applications. Advancing towards a digitalized world, highly sophisticated technologies including robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and network communications continue to redefine the way businesses interact with each other. Building and managing an efficient framework provides the possibility to support the transition to next-gen technologies including the cloud.

Challenges faced by IT infrastructure

With information technology gaining more prominence with each passing day, new business processes and models are developed and built around emerging technologies. This emerging environment opens up a plethora of opportunities for individuals and businesses. In order to leverage such vast potential, organizations need to make sure that their IT infrastructure is well-equipped with technologies that enable them to identify and address the upcoming challenges.

Here are a few challenges to the future of IT infrastructure:

  • Security:

    As data access is becoming easier, a problem arises wherein there are chances that it might be exploited by cyber-criminals and intruders. Eventually, security becomes a major concern for an organization which continues to increase its operations around the latest technologies including cloud computing. A proactive setup involving backup and recovery solutions as a part of an overall security protocol might keep an organization in a safe zone.

  • Data acquisition:

    Organizations need access to high-performance computing resources with larger data sets and a means of collaborating with experts. The firewalls that protect web browsing, email and other applications cause packet loss in TCP/IP networks, eventually showing data speeds to the point where data collaboration becomes unviable. Moreover, routers and switches lacking high-speed memory to handle large bursts in traffic can lead to similar problems. A simplified and cost-effective structure with efficient software and commodity processors would redefine the data acquisition approaches in businesses.

  • Virtualization:

    Moving forward, there are chances that modern infrastructure might comprise of high-end software-defined networking, which aims to make the network as flexible as virtual servers. Using compelling technologies such as virtualization requires a more dedicated security protocol. Unlike physical servers, virtual servers can easily be accessed and exploited. Securing a virtualization environment still stands as a major challenge to organizations, especially when it comes to information control, identity management and application access.

  • Computing platforms:

    Another huge challenge faced by most organizations in their IT infrastructure is the massive amount of space and energy required to power supercomputers. However, this can be solved by exploiting multi-core platforms or new general-purpose graphical processors but the existing software must be optimized and redesigned to handle it.

  • Cloud computing:

    Most businesses who are shifting towards cloud computing platforms in order to address their storage and computing tasks face a unique set of challenges. Businesses integrating cloud infrastructure with the existing IT infrastructure require staff with considerable software and hardware expertise as it needs to be constantly monitored for likely errors in hardware performance. Their further concerns also include performance, customization and security.

  • Network and connectivity:

    Organizations require a reliable network to support its functionality on a daily basis. However, optimization of data transfer requires a new software-based approach to network architecture design. For instance, the ability to migrate public IP address allows application services to be moved to other hardware. Moreover, adding intelligence to both Wi-fi and wired networks might increase the possibility to optimize traffic delivery, improve service and reduce costs.

  • Mobile devices:

    The extensive use of mobile devices not only poses a major challenge but also threatens an organization’s IT infrastructure. The concepts such as “bring your own device”, which is used to empower workload and increase productivity ends up as an additional burden on the infrastructure. However, future concepts demand solutions to deal with the methods employees access company data. An enterprise’s IT infrastructure needs to adapt to new challenges including the ability to accommodate more clients demanding access, high network capabilities, a huge volume of data and computing speed.

Types of IT infrastructure

Information Technology (IT) Infrastructure is termed as a collection of software, hardware, data centres, networks, facilities and equipment used to test, develop, monitor, operate, support and manage information technology services.

In this digitalized era, business needs and technologies are advancing on a daily basis. In order to keep up the pace and meet business goals, organizations use a more diverse assortment of data centre infrastructure.

Given below are a few types of infrastructure –

  • Immutable infrastructure:

    Immutable infrastructure is an approach where the servers are not modified like mutable infrastructure, instead of when something needs to be modified, fixed or updated in any way, new servers are built to replace the old ones. Moreover, after the new servers are validated, they are put to use and the old ones are decommissioned.

    The benefits of using an immutable infrastructure are that it is not only more consistent and reliable but a lot simpler with a predictable deployment process. It eliminates the issues that are frequently experienced in mutable infrastructures. Furthermore, using an immutable infrastructure provides faster server provisioning in a cloud computing environment, comprehensive deployment automation and solutions for handling ephemeral and stateful data.

  • Mutable infrastructure:

    Mutable infrastructure is where the same servers are frequently updated, modified and tuned to meet the ongoing needs of the purpose it serves. This traditional infrastructure extends to every switch and server that is unique. The IT staff handling this type of infrastructure spend countless hours in order to search for the source of any problem they face. Moreover, this is considered to be faster and takes less effort compared to building a new server to serve their needs.They also can upgrade and downgrade packages manually, deploy new code onto the existing servers directly and tweak configuration files on a server-by-server basis.

  • Composable infrastructure:

    The composable infrastructure is a framework where physical compute, network fabric resources and storage are services. Various resources are logically pooled into the servers so that the staff does not have to be physically present every time to configure hardware to support a specific software application.

    It enables the staff to logically pool the resources which reduces both over-provisioning and under-utilization to create a more cost-effective and agile data centre. This infrastructure is used by organizations utilizing critical legacy applications that need to remain on-premises.

  • Dynamic infrastructure:

    The dynamic infrastructure is a collection of various data centre resources including, networking, storage and compute that enables it to automatically provision and adjust itself depending on the demands. This infrastructure mostly relies on software to identify, classify, virtualize and track data centre resources. Multiple resources are grouped into pools irrespective of their physical location within one or more data centres. Furthermore, by classifying these resources, IT staff can establish and monitor multiple service tiers in order to meet the increase in demands. Apart from this infrastructure using software to manage resources, the IT staff can also choose to manage it manually.

  • Critical infrastructure:

    The critical infrastructure is a collection of operational assets that are essential to ensure the security of a nation including, its economy and the public’s health and safety. Despite the critical infrastructure being similar in most nations owing to the basic requirements, the infrastructure under this category can vary based on a nation’s needs. The concepts listed under high availability and resilience are essential; including remote data centres and cloud resources to support workload redundancy.

  • Cloud infrastructure:

    The cloud infrastructure is a framework composed of hardware and software components that support the computing requirements of a public or private cloud storage service. It consists of an abstraction layer that virtualizes the available resources and logically presents them to users over the internet with the help of application program interface (API), command lines and graphical interface. Moreover, its additional capabilities include user automated billing, self-service, charge-back, and user-side reporting in order to enable the user to avail and deploy the services.

  • Dark infrastructure:

    Even though the dark infrastructure is important for the continued operation of the documented infrastructure, it consists of an active software or service that is undocumented and whose existence and functionalities are unknown to the user. The user may discover the dark infrastructure on searching for the source of a problem and attempt to correct the issue. Its existence is revealed only when something stops working or when the user inspects how the software is operating. In case it is left undetected, it might cause additional problems while troubleshooting and become serious security or compliance vulnerability for the organization.