As the enterprise continues to hunt for innovative ways to serve the twin masters of lower costs and higher performance, converged infrastructure is becoming harder and harder to ignore.
The dynamics at play here are fairly straightforward: Data environments have become highly distributed through virtualization and software-defined architecture, and this is eroding the traditional justification for large, silo-prone legacy infrastructure.
However, today’s CI platforms share one commonality with existing systems: They are usually deployed in response to immediate data requirements. Little thought is given to the long-term consequences of this shift in the data environment, particularly the effect it will have on work processes, productivity and overall enterprise cohesiveness.
To be sure, most of the news is good. Not only is CI cheaper and easier to deploy and manage, but it scales rapidly in support of cloud computing, Big Data, software-defined technology and all the other major forces affecting the data center. And the latest systems are starting to employ some of the same technologies that power high-performance computing (HPC) environments.
IBM, for example, recently added three new Power7-based models, plus a new x86 solution, to its Flex System family, intended to help the enterprise deal with virtual desktop and top-end database and business application requirements. The Power7 systems range from the p260 “entry-level” device to the mid-tier p270 and the upper-end p460, with each level adding to socket- and core-counts to accommodate larger workloads. As well, the company added new tools to the Flex System management stack designed to accommodate both remote mobile access and larger numbers of endpoints.
Convergence is also leading to new partnerships between what once were players in largely disparate markets. Extreme Networks recently tied up with EMC/VMware and Lenovo in a bid to broaden support for its CI reference architecture. Extreme will provide fabric technology and the network switching component in a converged environment that will feature EMC storage, VMware virtualization and Lenovo server technology. And now that Extreme is part of EMC’s VSPX Proven Infrastructure Solutions program, the company is on a more level playing field with rivals like Brocade and Cisco as the CI market heats up.
And the heat is most certainly rising. According to IDC, the CI market is expected to jump from today’s $4.8 billion to $17.8 billion by 2016, with many large organizations already budgeting $1 million or more for converged technology over the next year. Even more interesting, though, is the fact that, once deployed, CI is often diverted away from its intended workload – evidence that the technology is highly flexible and will likely play an increasingly large role in enterprise data handling as time goes by.
And this is where we get into the long-term consequences of CI. If the technology does, indeed, have a propensity to take on a life of its own after deployment, how long will it be before competitive and economic pressures force full infrastructure convergence on the enterprise? And what should the enterprise do now to prepare for that possibility?
According to the VCE consortium, a group consisting of EMC, VMware and Cisco, it isn’t too late to start preparing for a converged environment now. In a recent white paper, the group identifies several key initiatives for successful conversion to CI (registration required for download), including support for standardization across hardware and software components – preferably with backward compatibility for legacy systems – as well as centralized automation and management that shifts the focus from devices like servers, storage and networking to resources like databases, collaboration and archiving.
Of course, getting the buy-in from the front office will require the most important step of all: a meeting with the finance department to decide how all the extra IT money is to be allocated.