Converged infrastructure (CI) is about to make a big push in the enterprise channel. Sitting directly at the crossroads of Big Data, the cloud, energy conservation and dynamic data architectures, converged or modular systems are viewed as the next, and probably final, major change in physical-layer infrastructure.
But while most people agree that converged server-storage-networking systems are cheaper than traditional IT platforms and easier to deploy and maintain as well, it seems that few are considering the broader implications behind the technology. In what way will converged topologies alter the way we consume IT, and will it be for the better?
The first thing to understand, according to solutions provider Logicalis, is that convergence affects more than just data and data environments – it reaches deep into business processes and the relationships between individuals and business units. In fact, it has been said that the biggest obstacle to converged infrastructure is not technology, but politics. After years of silo-based architecture in which key people and applications enjoy one-to-one relationships with dedicated resources, shifting to a shared-use model can be rather unnerving. But shedding legacy systems is a necessity if the organization hopes to achieve the broad scalability and highly dynamic requirements of rising virtual ecosystems. Plus, migration to a new converged platform is a great time to shed unpopular and unproductive systems and processes.
And while most discussions surrounding convergence center on its scalability – Need more resources? Just plug in another module! – its true value is data acceleration, according to tech consultant Bill Kleyman. With processing and storage (usually Flash) closely linked by a high-speed interface, a converged architecture will be able to handle Big Data jobs and mission-critical functions with much greater alacrity, and it can be deployed much more rapidly and with a lot less complexity than traditional infrastructure. Kleyman is rather high on Cisco’s recent acquisition of Whiptail as a key driver in this movement, but it’s fair to say that Cisco is not the only top platform vendor aggressively pursuing a converged strategy.
Still another advantage that CI brings to the table is resilience, says Tatu Valijakka of power management firm Eaton. With fleets of identical modules deployed throughout the data center, managing loads across hot and cold infrastructure becomes much simpler, and failed components can be easily removed from the available resources pool and new ones reinstated with little or no impact on data operations. This isn’t to say that power management and other hardware-facing tools won’t be necessary in the future. Rather, they will become increasingly important both as means to drive peak efficiency and to head off potential trouble before it becomes imminent.
And let’s not overlook the benefits convergence brings to branch offices and remote locations, says Riverbed’s VP of Product Marketing Raj Mallempati. Space is already at a premium at many off-sites, and CI is a great way to place greater computing power and key applications close to users. Be careful, though, to maintain sufficient connectivity to centralized storage and other resources over the wide area to provide the branch with the same level of functionality that headquarters enjoys.
Is convergence, then, the future of the data center? Judging by the numbers, it’s hard to imagine a CIO choosing traditional infrastructure over CI if given the choice. However, long-standing organizations have invested serious amounts of time and capital building the data infrastructure they have now, imperfect though it may be, and they aren’t likely to give it up on a whim.
In that light, it seems reasonable that CI will take more than the lion’s share of the expanded infrastructure the enterprise will deploy for virtual and cloud architectures, but the core data center will continue to draw its fair share of capital investment for a while longer.