The Integration Conundrum of Unified Computing Systems

Loraine Lawson

Here's the ugly truth about integration: The best way to solve your integration hassles is to settle on one vendor.


Of course, it won't come without sacrifice. You might be trading the best-in-class solution for the good-enough option. And it might backfire. Business may not be really satisfied with the one-vendor approach, which in this day and age might mean a quick investment into the cloud without your permission. And that, as I've shared before, could lead to integration headaches down the road because there's a good chance that cloud purchase won't be from your chosen vendor.


But it is one way to solve the integration challenge.


And vendors are very willing to do what they can to make this option more and more appealing to you, the IT leader. Take, for example, what's going on in unified computing systems.


My IT Business Edge colleague, Arthur Cole-who knows this area far better than I-wrote an excellent post last week about what's happening in unified computing systems. In short, the news is that Cisco has entered the market, effectively making it a competitor against one-time partner, HP. Both are taking an approach that moves you toward vendor lock-in or, conversely, major integration headaches, Cole contends - depending on how completely you adopt their platforms.


Are you ready to go down that road? Cole seems to think that, in the near term, the answer is no.


There is another option: a unified platform based on open standards. Cole says this is the approach Dell is pursuing. While it increases your flexibility and options, even this approach is not without its cost, particularly in terms of integration. As Cole points out, "Open platforms have their own sets of issues, namely hefty integration costs and more complicated management stacks."


I think Cole's observations on this market are astute and a must-read. I'm not just saying that because he's a fellow ITBE blogger. Really, it's just an excellent piece by a veteran. He does a great job of summing up the integration question companies face in this situation, which happens to be an example of an ongoing, broader integration question:

So the question comes down to this: Have you had enough of the cobbled-together data center that you're willing to sacrifice some of your autonomy for a more cohesive environment? Or do you prefer to maintain a more free-wheeling environment that can be tweaked at a moment's notice? The collective answer will determine the future direction of the IT industry.

But recently, I read something that makes me wonder if there might be a bit more to the issue than that. In fact, it makes me wonder if maybe it's not really up to the collective answer of organizational IT shops.


I stumbled across it while reading a TechTarget article, "New Cisco Unified Computing System faces tough sell." It covers a lot of the same ground as Cole's piece, but as a more traditional news story, meaning it quotes all sides and strives to be objective. But what I found really interesting is this:

Cisco maintained that despite the all-in-one marketing message, UCS remains a good channel sale even for VARs used to putting together solutions incorporating HP servers, Cisco networking, EMC or other storage and VMware virtualization. 'An integrated system is made up of components, and those components have to be designed for a specific environment. The VAR still has to go in and do the full design configuration by pulling the separate elements together into one system,' said John Growdon, senior director of go-to-market Worldwide Channels for Cisco.

So, on one hand, we have assurances that this will solve a lot of integration troubles - if you commit to one vendor. And on the other hand, we see assurances that there will still be plenty of integration work. Hmmmm....Will the real integration story please stand up?


As a tech journalist, I've long been fascinated by the story vendors tell their consumers and the story told to the value-added resellers and system integrators of the tech world. It's unusual to find both audiences addressed in one story, and I think, in this case, the juxtaposition raises a question, at least in my mind: Are vendors only willing to integrate in so far as it doesn't hurt the tech market infrastructure that feeds their business?


And are you willing to pay extra for that?

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 14, 2010 1:39 AM Ken Oestreich Ken Oestreich  says: in response to Omar Sultan

Loraine -

Thank you for highlighting the hard questions in the industry.

Insofar as unified computing (Converged Infrastructure) is concerned, you should be aware of a 'middle ground' that Egenera has been offering for ~ 10 years:  A unified computing architecture -- but one that's based on software not hardware, and one that's being offered by an independent vendor not wedded to locking-into major HW platforms.

Our approach has been to offer this converged architecture across standard blades (like the stuff you buy from Dell) and standard Ethernet (like the stuff already built onto blades & switches).

This makes the integration, rip-and-replace, and network upgrade issues minimal.

And it also still permits "loosely-coupled" technology stacks, as well as tightly-integrated 'datacenter-in-a-box' configurations.

As always, the market always produces options

Apr 14, 2010 2:25 AM Omar Sultan Omar Sultan  says:


I would respectfully disagree that your choices are either vendor lock-in or integration headaches--at least when it comes to the options from Cisco.  I addressed the comments on open platforms and vendor lock-in a response to Arthur's post, so won't repeat them here.

As far as integration, I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all approach across customers or even within a single customer.  From a Cisco perspective, UCS serves as a midpoint for integration and automation.  Heading in one direction, almost all elements of UCS are available unbundled for folks that want to do their own integration, want a high level of control, and are willing to incur the associated expense--on the other end is VCE for folks who want even higher levels of integration and are willing to forgo some level of control for lower operating costs and less hassle.

I think that vast majority of data centers will have a mix of all three--the advantage being you still have operational and mgmt consistency across the three options.

At the end of the day, someone is still going to be on the hook for planning, design, integration etc to some degree.  The scope of this efforts is tied the options chosen, but they never completely go away.


Omar Sultan



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