Converged infrastructure brings management ease but technical limits

Converged infrastructure offers easier management and advanced automation, but high costs and limited flexibility have hurt adoption.

Converged infrastructure products have been getting a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. Today's innovative products are more than just a pre-packaged collection of hardware, they're offering easier management and advanced automation. These products are often seen as a natural fit for virtual infrastructures, but they are not a magic bullet and may not be right for everyone. This month, we're asking our Advisory Board members about the advantages and disadvantages of converged infrastructure products and when a converged approach fits best.

Brian Kirsch, Milwaukee Area Technical College

The goal of converged infrastructure is a one-stop solution to address data center needs by providing seamless integration of multiple technologies or vendors and automation to provide a cost effective business solution. VCE is a great example of combining VMware, Cisco and EMC into a single data center product. By having this one “throat to choke” a business can avoid the classic finger pointing of which vendor is to blame when issues arise. This can reduce outage times, streamline the support process and possibly even lead to price breaks and discounts on maintenance agreements.

This converged infrastructure can be great for customers who prefer the single vendor approach for both simplicity and cost benefits. However, while some larger vendors have extensive experience in multiple technologies through internal development or acquisition, it is still not a "best of breed" approach and customers can find limitations in some of technologies within the converged product.

Of course, many businesses have elected to pass on the converged infrastructure and have gone à la carte with multiple vendors and technologies. The result is often multiple management interfaces, higher costs and more complex support situations. However, this approach brings one key benefit: a lower cost over the converged infrastructure options. While the single pane of glass for the converged infrastructure offers improved management, the additional cost can be difficult for business of all sizes to justify.

While a converged infrastructure is ideal for a new data center, it often does not fit with existing data center infrastructure, and requires a rip and replace strategy, which can be too costly and complex. Converged infrastructure has its place, but if it means ditching your existing infrastructure, your data center might not be the correct place for a converged product.

Bill Smeltzer, Focus Technology Solutions

Many believe that next generation data centers will be software defined and not rely on proprietary hardware. The success stories of this approach are plentiful (Google, Amazon, Facebook are a few examples). The goal of a software-defined data center is to give companies more agility and automation, but the ideal of the software-defined data center is still not within reach for many companies. Converged infrastructure solutions allow companies to get agility and automation today by using a tightly-coupled hardware and software product.

The advantage of a converged approach is that automation and advanced functionality is possible today.  A company can achieve very quick results with an "off the shelf" or "shirk wrapped" product. However, converged products remain expensive because of the proprietary hardware and software need to operate it.

There are a few converged approaches worth mentioning: VCE, FlexPod, and VSPEX use existing manufactures' technologies and wrap automation and functionality around these vendors to provide a converged product. SimpliVity and Nutanix take the "appliance" approach and use their proprietary hardware and software to deliver a turnkey appliance. Both approaches promise the same advances of agility and automation but the appliance approach tends to be less expensive because they are pushing for more market share and do not rely on hardware from big-name vendors.  The VCE approach offers the benefit of name brand products with the convenience of one support organization.  

Maish Saidel-Keesing, Cisco Video Technologies Israel

Converged infrastructure has been a lifesaver for many enterprises, saving on rack space, cooling, cabling and electricity, just to name a few.

On the other hand, there are downsides as well, including limited flexibility. With converged infrastructure products, you have a standard form factor with a standard maximum number of disks, CPUs and RAM, and there is no way to deviate from this.

Before investing in a converged product, you should ask yourself what will happen if a need arises to deviate from that standard. A good example of this scenario would be VMware's new VSAN. Because VSAN requires a substantial number of hard disks in each node,  most converged infrastructure products would not be suitable candidates for VSAN. If you have already heavily invested in a converged product, then you will have to decide whether to not to use this new technology or to deviate from your current standards.

Similar to most things in life, converged infrastructure has its advantages and disadvantages. As a technical decision maker, you will have to perform the analysis of how and when it is worth your time and money.

This was first published in April 2014

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