Considering more hardware to beef up an IT infrastructure that’s hitting the wall? In the age of virtualization, cloud computing and software-based systems it should go without saying that buying more boxes is only one of many ways to extend your IT capacity – and probably not the best one at that.

“Data centre, cloud, and infrastructure optimizations don’t always require hardware,” is how a recent article in Network Computing puts it. Software-based systems can have a huge impact on the amount of resources needed to accommodate users, and deploying virtual servers or a software-defined layer can be just as efficient as adding hardware, not to mention a lot less expensive.

Bill Kleyman suggests five cost-effective ways to build out infrastructure without getting in trouble with the folks in financial. The first is to look to software-defined technologies, such as networking, compute, storage and even the data centre layer. “Software-defined technologies help abstract the physical layer for better management and direct optimization.”

Next up is software-based WAN optimization. In the old days you needed a hardened appliance for this – now a hypervisor is all that’s required. Admins can now deploy WAN optimization from a software appliance platform, which can reside at any number of locations. They aren’t resource-hungry and they can optimize specific traffic types and data points.

Then there’s “clientless computing.” Applications, desktops and resources can be supplied without a full client. Kleyman’s examples include VMware Blast and Citrix Receiver for HTML5. And, he says, admins can boost security with clientless VPNs.

Fourth on the list are virtual security services. Virtual security appliances and services can fill in the gaps left by standard threat management platforms. Virtual security systems are also adaptable and can meet the security demands of smaller offices, or the need for targeted security solutions like IDS/IPS, DLP or an application firewall without the cost of a physical appliance.

Finally, there’s the cloud. A pay-as-you-go cloud model is a great alternative to new equipment. Logical orchestration and automation tools enable enterprises to flow over into the cloud on an efficient, as-needed basis. And hybrid cloud is getting easier and easier to deploy

The data centre model is evolving rapidly, and many organizations are reversing the paradigm and pinning their business models to their IT capabilities. “As you build out and enhance your infrastructure,” Kleyman advises, “make sure to look at optimizations which won’t break the bank, but will directly improve your business and data centre model.”