Breaking Down Barriers in Mixed Environments

Arthur Cole

It goes without saying that while the cloud is coming on strong as the next major advance in IT infrastructure, not everyone will embrace wholesale conversion any time soon. Particularly among large organizations, the need to leverage legacy infrastructure will run strong for a few more years at least.

But that doesn't mean infrastructure will remain locked in its current configuration. Indeed, as users become accustomed to the flexibility and dynamism of the cloud, pressure will mount to add those same capabilities to in-house services.

That's part of the reason we're seeing a mad dash of sorts among top IT vendors to break down the barriers that exist between major platforms, particularly in storage. Going forward, it appears that if a new system does not lend itself to heterogeneous environments, it will likely have only limited success in the channel.

Take Cisco, for example. The company has been front and center in the drive to consolidate network fabrics onto Ethernet infrastructure. But that still leaves any number of incompatible services and architectures on the edge. In response, the company recently unveiled a new line of network cards for the MDS9500 storage director that moves services like encryption, FCoIP and data migration onto the fabric where they can more easily be transported to outlying arrays. Putting that kind of intelligence on the network not only frees up CPU resources, it also opens up more physical ports and provides for easier transport of data from one storage system to another.

For companies like Dell, heterogeneous capability is a must considering the majority of the data center universe is already populated with equipment from IBM, HP and other top vendors. To smooth the way into these environments, the company has turned to Virtual Instruments to bring SAN integration and virtual optimization onto the platform. Key components of the deal are VI's NetWisdom SAN performance system and VirtualWisdom I/O intelligence system, both of which provide the means to troubleshoot the rough spots between Fibre Channel SANs and VMware environments.

Anyone who has any hope of expanding their reach into the data center needs to keep multi-platform functionality in mind. One such case is RAID manufacturer Dot Hill Systems, which recently bought out Cloverleaf Communications, developer of storage-management technology that spans across various environments. That kind of cross-compatibility is crucial if you plan on competing for multi-petabyte installations.

Even underneath major platform-integration efforts, like the one just announced between Microsoft and HP, there lies a need for heterogeneous compatibility. As the companies seek to develop their infrastructure-to-application model, a top priority will be an integrated management structure, most likely consisting of HP's Insight Software and Business Technology Optimization system and Microsoft's System Center. That puts it on track to deliver a wide range of automated provisioning and management functions across numerous legacy platforms.

In a way, the coming wave of heterogeneity represents most of what the open source community has been looking for all these years: cross-platform compatibility and an end to the technical fiefdoms that have plagued the enterprise for so long. Proprietary systems will still be prevalent and the integration between various platforms will still have to take place in the factory rather than in the data center itself. But in the end we wind up with a more or less cohesive environment that provides greater flexibility when matching resources with data requirements.

If it's good enough for the cloud, it should be good enough for your in-house infrastructure.

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