Converged data center infrastructure promises to banish IT silos

Vendors are promising to eliminate data center infrastructure management headaches by hooking together one-stop solutions. Will enterprises take the bait?

One of the biggest data center infrastructure challenges that IT executives face is the management of disparate technologies and standards. For decades, they've implemented various parts of the puzzle -- servers, routers, storage and management -- only to wind up with IT silos. Emerging converged infrastructure technologies could alleviate this management challenge and connect those silos for on-demand resource sharing.

"Way back when, convergence was voice and data," recalled Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director of ThinkStrategies Inc., a consultancy in Wellesley, Mass. Today's convergence "is around centralized control of a traditional data center environment, while at the same time permitting self-service provisioning around authorized end users," he said.

Enterprises can build their own converged data center infrastructure, but the hassle is a hurdle, according to experts. Hence the arrival of third-party converged infrastructures: essentially, plug-and-play virtual computing parcels from such vendors as Hewlett-Packard Inc., with its BladeSystem Matrix; and Cisco Systems Inc., with its Unified Computing System (UCS), which combines Cisco servers and networking with VMware Inc.'s vSphere and EMC Corp. storage.

These software products are integrated, tested, optimized and supported with no finger-pointing -- a big plus, according to Geoff Woollacott, engagement manager and senior analyst at Technology Business Research Inc., in Hampton, N.H.

"It is a compelling value proposition," Woollacott said. A converged infrastructure increases the efficiency of what's been built over time, he said. "The old CIOs were builders. New CIOs are architects. This is the blueprint."

Who would use a converged data center infrastructure?

Joe Onisick, technology solutions architect at World Wide Technology Inc., a systems integrator in St. Louis, has worked with clients to design and implement converged infrastructures using products from both Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard.

Typically these projects are either new build-outs, where a converged data center infrastructure will be used from square one; or the migration of an existing infrastructure to a converged environment, utilizing as much as possible of the legacy investment, Onisick said.

"Large organizations already have a lot of infrastructure in place," said Greg Shields, senior partner and principal technologist at Concentrated Technology LLC, an IT education and strategic consulting practice in Denver. "As they roll out the old hardware, they'll replace it with 'virtualization-in-mind' converged infrastructure hardware."

A converged infrastructure increases the efficiency of what's been built over time. The old CIOs were builders. New CIOs are architects. This is the blueprint.

Geoff Woollacott, engagement manager and senior analyst, Technology Business Research Inc.

This "sunset" process would allow enterprises to build a converged infrastructure in phases, adding on modular products to what's already there. Rather than repeating the silo mistake with new equipment purchases, "converged infrastructure tends to sidestep that by elevating ourselves away from do-it-yourself," Shields said.

Converged data center infrastructure extends a private cloud

At first glance, a converged data center infrastructure appears similar to a private cloud, which many IT executives consider to be a network of servers providing on-demand services "with a hypervisor, management studio and business practices to wrap around that," Shields said. But it makes more sense to think of a converged infrastructure "as a mechanism by which IT executives can add to a private cloud."

"The idea is modularity," Shields said. "I'm a business owner. Wouldn't it be nice for me to look at a screen and see that I need more compute, memory and storage; and then go to [a vendor's] website and say, 'I need X more capacity,' and have it show up in a box?"

The promise of that kind of convenience is getting the attention of such large enterprises as G&J Pepsi-Cola Bottling Inc. The distributor of PepsiCo Inc. and Dr. Pepper products in Ohio and Kentucky plans to use Hewlett-Packard's converged infrastructure to eliminate network bottlenecks among its corporate headquarters, 10 warehouses and a separate disaster recovery site.

Still, enterprises will have to weigh the benefits of a converged data center infrastructure from a third-party vendor -- the main one being that there's one throat to choke -- with the drawbacks of relying on a single vendor for the majority of your infrastructure needs.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.

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