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Hyper-converged appliances will spur job changes

Hyper-converged infrastructure isn't a major technological evolution, but it will radically change job descriptions.

Hyper-converged appliances have been making a lot of noise in the data center with cost savings and ease of use. Bringing together compute, storage and networking in the same enclosure is not an easy task, but when it's done right, it can shake the data center to its core.

When VMware announced the software-defined data center it changed the way resources were thought of and allocated. It shifted the mindset from a hardware resource model to a software-defined one. However, this didn't have a large impact on data center roles and personnel. Sure, a few changes did occur, but many of the traditional groups and IT silos remained. Hyper-converged infrastructure doesn't introduce huge technological changes, but it is shaking up the traditional job roles.

Storage jobs

One of the first roles to be affected is the storage or fiber teams. Bringing shared storage to the infrastructure platform without the need for a storage area network (SAN) and fiber infrastructure is revolutionary. Comparing the local storage of a converged infrastructure to an external storage frame, such as an EMC vMAX, is not simply apples to apples -- or even oranges.

Shared storage, such as VNX and vMAX, were often used to support VMware and core enterprise applications. While the larger storage frames will always have a place in the enterprise to support the core enterprise applications, there are many other uses for a converged platform.

Traditional infrastructure virtualization, VDI and file servers are all required in the modern data center. However, they don't always need the true enterprise class storage scale and performance of a SAN. A modern data center that strikes an 80/20 split between enterprise class storage and a converged platform will achieve a sizable reduction in the need for zoning, LUNs, fabric and SAN administration.

While our storage consumption only continues to grow, it's where we are keeping this storage that is changing. Hyper-converged appliances won't make the storage teams disappear completely, but look for a reduction or a shift in duties.

Effect on network teams

Network administrators have been the backbone of the data center and responsible for much of the growth today. However, with the introduction of the virtualized platform, the physical data port count has dropped. Much like server hardware vendors and the reduction of physical servers being sold, network administrators have had to face the reality that virtualization continues to reduce port counts. Even before software-defined networking (SDN), the physical hardware sales of networking gear changed. Instead of selling large amounts of lower tier hardware, the trend has become more powerful (but less) hardware geared for virtualization.

Today's data center no longer needs groups of network administrators configuring and cabling up racks of equipment. Data centers have been moving to fewer administrators, working on less physical gear and more in software. This trend is going to continue with the emergence of hyper-converged infrastructure and SDN. The network administrator's role is going to be a software-defined position, but will also continue to change.

With the increased role of automation and incorporation of hyper-converged appliances, more organizations will have the ability to create micro-network segmentation without the same need for the network administrator. While this thought may send a few network administrators into shock, it does not mean the end of a network team or the network admin job. This is about transition rather than reduction. System administrators lost the hardware support aspect to virtualization years ago, and many are thankful for it. They now work more on automation and applications; the same thing will happen with the network administrator as they continue this transition. Instead of cabling, setting up switches and routers, they will be more focused on micro-segmentation rules and configurations.

Virtualization, and now hyper-converged infrastructure, has changed the way we design, build and support the modern data center. As IT personnel, we have to keep up with these rapid changes. Unlike virtualization (which was a left turn for the x86 world), hyper-converged infrastructure is still based on many of the concepts and technologies that administrators are familiar with. However, it may have a larger impact on data center staff and will require them to retool their skills for this new world.

Next Steps

How the hyper-converged infrastructure market stacks up

Tackling server and storage strain

Hyper-converged appliances help VDI scale

Is hyper-converged storage a threat to SAN/NAS in the datacentre

Land a job in the converged infrastructure sector

This was last published in July 2015

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