There are three forms of converged infrastructure systems emerging:
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- A converged bundle of otherwise disparate solutions
- Hardware and software that is truly integrated
- Software only
Converged bundle solution
Converged bundle solutions are typically the result of a partnership among major vendors: a server company, a storage company and a networking company will join forces to offer a turnkey solution. In reality, an IT professional could easily buy each of the components and assemble them. But the value of one of these solutions is that it's essentially a preconfigured and certified complete environment.
This type of converged solution may save implementation time, but it usually won't reduce costs. Also, it's rare for the hardware or software to be specifically tweaked to take advantage of the converged offering, which means the components aren't specifically optimized to take advantage of each other. There may be some sort of unifying management GUI that eases provisioning of storage and virtual machines, and aids in overall systems management. But much of the management can be done by the hypervisor itself. Again, the primary value is the pre-assembly; an organization should be able to quickly uncrate the solution and get it into production.
Integrated converged solution
The truly integrated converged solution generally uses server, storage and network hardware from a single vendor. It essentially becomes a platform instead of an amalgamation of parts. In most cases, the unifying software is unique to the vendor's solution. While much of this hardware is commodity, "off-the-shelf" products that may be OEMed from another supplier, an IT organization is not typically exposed to this. Also, in most cases the compute, storage and networking are all handled by the same physical hardware on a per-node basis -- as more servers or nodes are added, the compute, networking and storage all scale in lockstep. The storage capacity of each node is aggregated into a single virtual pool that is then presented to the rest of the infrastructure. This type of product bundle is a more turnkey and unique solution.
The advantage to this more integrated approach is that the cost of the hardware components can be reduced and the vendor can custom-design or specify hardware that better complements the solution. Also the software, again often provided by the vendor, can be customized to specifically take advantage of the hardware that is part of the converged offering. In many respect, this approach is similar to a commodity mainframe.
The third type of converged infrastructure is a software-only approach. Essentially, an IT professional buys the software and then selects all the hardware required to create a converged solution, including servers, storage and networking. The software also aggregates the storage capacity within each server, presenting that capacity as a shared virtual pool. This option is often the most cost-effective route to convergence, assuming the IT team has the skill and time to go through the process of identifying and assembling each hardware component. It should also be the most flexible, since IT has near-complete control over what components are integrated into the solution.
As mentioned earlier, the biggest challenges associated with this type of implementation are the time needed to integrate it and the high level of integration skill required.
As a result, this third type of converged solution ends up appealing to organizations where IT is a key component of the product offering, such as cloud providers and application-as-a-service providers. In some cases, smaller businesses may find this approach attractive, as the integration can be more easily managed because of a relatively modestly sized environment, and the dollars saved on IT are more visible to the rest of the organization.
About the author:
George Crump is president of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on storage and virtualization.
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