For enterprises looking to save money and increase efficiency through IT consolidation, one place they should focus on is the branch office, according to an analyst with Forrester Research.
In a recent report, analyst Chris Silva said branch offices can account for about 20 percent of the infrastructure of a company, and should be a prime candidate in a company’s consolidation plans. However, that hasn’t always been the case.
“The branch office is a latent pain point in the battle to streamline IT,” Silva said in his May 26 report. “While the data center has likely reaped the benefits of power, cooling, physical space and operating expense gains from the adoption of technologies such as virtualization, consolidation of storage and server infrastructure, and increased use of software as a service (SAAS), branch offices have largely been ignored.”
That’s going to have to change, because IT’s role within companies is changing, he said. No longer viewed as simply a group within the company that rolls out technology services and support, now IT is being tasked with helping to bring costs down and increasing efficiency throughout the company. This is all helping fuel the push for consolidation, and in “most large companies, the branch office is a source of considerable opportunity to consolidate,” Silva said.
Eventually branch office consolidation is going to take one of two paths, he said. One is what Forrester calls “branch office in a box”-or BOB-in which a base piece of networking gear, such as a secure router, is used as the foundation. Put on top of this are services such as file and print, as well as local identity management controls, remote access capabilities and WLAN management tasks.
The problem with the BOB model is that most offerings lack enough variation to suit a wide range of needs, Silva said.
Consolidation Approaches That Work Now
More promising is the idea of a cloud computing environment for the branch office, where a small device will offer wired and wireless connectivity to the central data center and handle the optimization of traffic across the WAN, and will be used for file sharing, as a print server and as a cache device. The WAN role is important because most services will be found on the WAN in either an internal or public cloud environment, he said.
However, the technology for such branch office IT environments currently is being beta tested and probably won’t become available to companies until 2010, Silva said.
“The future of the branch lies in a single box running multiple functions for branch connectivity,” Silva wrote. “Existing hardware such as the WAN optimization/application delivery appliance shows promise as a site for centralization of branch infrastructure. We will eventually get to a single box in the branch, and a new model of a cloud-based branch office box [will emerge] in 2010.”
In the meantime, there are a host of solutions that offer varying degrees of capabilities to enterprises looking to begin branch office consolidation now, he said. Those include such offerings as application delivery solutions, call management, local services infrastructures, remote management devices, secure remote gateways and routers, WLAN control planes, and unified threat management products.
One area that is ripe for consolidation now is local servers. Many branch offices have commodity servers that are used for such tasks as addressing, identity management, and file and print services, Silva said. The workloads on these servers already can be handled by virtual machines, and the systems are driving up companies’ power, cooling and space costs.
“Budget constrictions for capital outlay on infrastructure elements such as server hardware, the operational benefit of removing these devices from the branch and the added benefit of redeploying these servers where they can be more fully utilized are several reasons for consolidation,” he said. “As they enter the market, cloud offerings will focus first on providing the tools of these servers with a much more energy-efficient, unmanaged device.”