No matter what your stance on the cloud and its role in supporting critical vs. non-critical workloads, it should be clear by now that any data infrastructure that remains in the enterprise will be dramatically different from the sprawling, silo-based facilities of today.
Retaining key workloads in-house will likely be a priority for some, but that does not mean the data center isn’t ripe for an upgrade that improves data-handling while lowering capital and operational costs. And the strategy of choice at the moment is convergence.
Interestingly, however, convergence seems to be an example of the tail wagging the dog as top enterprise vendors who typically drive infrastructure development appear to be reacting to the hyperscale architectures of the major cloud providers. These days, nearly all the top platform providers have a converged infrastructure (CI) strategy in place, and some are realigning their business models around the concept.
For example, HP is said to be reorganizing its Enterprise Group even before its split from the desktop unit is complete. According to CRN, the idea is to combine blade servers and the CI division in order to increase the pace of development and provide channel partners with more integrated solutions that help speed up the deployment and integration process. The unit will be led by Ric Lewis, currently head HP’s server unit. This should also give HP a more diverse portfolio by creating a mid-level solution to balance out the top-end Moonshot platform and entry-level solutions based on VMware’s EVO:RAIL architecture.
As well, Lenovo has teamed up with EMC to integrate the Flex System server with EMC’s new VSPEX platform to bring converged solutions to private cloud and VDI deployments. Initial releases will be in the form of reference architectures that can then be customized by channel partners to address specific needs. The solutions are aimed largely at smaller deployments of 1,000 virtual machines or less, relying on VMware virtualization to enable rapid deployment and a high degree of data and application flexibility. The companies are also at work on a similar architecture leveraging the Lenovo ThinkServer.
The key element in converged infrastructure, of course, is networking. The server and storage components function largely the same, although in closer proximity to each other. But networking will evolve more along the lines of a fabric architecture, which presents several challenges, says Information Age’s Ben Rossi. First, if virtual networking is on the table, a simple overlay may suffice for provisioning and setup, but it may become a performance inhibitor as scale increases. As well, the network will require a high degree of application awareness in order to optimize performance for key workloads. That means simple automation probably won’t cut it because it lacks the insight needed to deliver an optimal user experience.
It is also dangerous to think of converged solutions as replacements for general purpose data infrastructure, says Quantum’s Janae Lee. Today’s applications require highly tailored environments, and most vendor solutions are designed around preconceived notions regarding processing, storage capabilities and network performance. This is why converged platforms should be provisioned to address specific workloads, with an eye toward both present and future needs. At the same time, converged architectures need to support an overarching, integrated architecture that allows for easy migration and data connectivity. Otherwise, the enterprise runs the risk of recreating the same silos that currently plague traditional infrastructure.
Without doubt, however, a streamlined architecture is the wave of the future. Even for enterprises that value key data sets to the point that a local data center is warranted, the pressure is still on to deliver a solution that minimizes costs and maximizes flexibility.
Converged infrastructure won’t make that happen as a matter of course, but it can do wonders when the right design is delivered to the right application.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.