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Understanding the many facets of infrastructure convergence

Converged Infrastructure seems to be a popular product play right now. So exactly what is infrastructure convergence, and why should you care? The advantage of a converged infrastructure for vendors is obvious, but sometimes a converged infrastructure means a simpler, more efficient environment for IT pros. Let's take a look at the different types of converged infrastructure and the benefits they can offer.

Converged storage and networks

Block storage collided with file storage when

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storage area network (SAN) vendors realized that the Ethernet ports that were added to their Fibre Channel (FC) storage arrays to carry iSCSI could also carry Network File System and Server Message Block. Some storage arrays collided in another way, adding iSCSI and the FC to existing file storage arrays. Suddenly, customers could choose a single storage platform for both their block and file needs.

Ethernet and FC had their own collision in Fibre Channel over Ethernet. The collision occurred when Ethernet got to be lossless for the hop out of the server and faster than FC. Now a single cable carries storage and access networks out of a server to a switch. This allows for much simpler cabling when we want dozens of servers in a single rack and lots of software control.

Blade enclosures and integrated stacks

Putting the servers and network switches into one enclosure sounds like a pretty big collision. This is partly the progression of servers getting smaller as they get more powerful, moving from large rack servers to slim rack servers and now to even slimmer blades. A single blade enclosure has the entire infrastructure that a rack of servers had five years ago (or a row of racks 10 years ago).

More on infrastructure convergence:

Improve energy efficiency with converged infrastructure

HP's converged infrastructure for big data

Converge management, not infrastructure

Today, infrastructure convergence has progressed to the idea of an integrated IT stack. Some vendors ship huge infrastructure appliances designed to run virtualized workloads. This is the VCE Vblock or Hewlett-Packard CloudSystem idea, a massive collision of technology at a very large scale yet with tightly defined outputs.

Not all types of converged infrastructures are additive; collisions don’t just add one thing to another. Some collisions are transformative and produce a wholly different product from the pieces that came in. One transformative collision is Nutanix, where blade servers collide with tiered local storage and clever virtual storage appliance technology. This is where converged infrastructure becomes a whole new way to do something. While storage vendors are making more of the x86 servers as storage controllers, Nutanix does away with the dedicated SAN and makes a scale out mesh SAN out of a series of blades.

How does converged infrastructure help?

For the most part, vendors perpetrate and promote these collisions. Additive collisions allow vendors to enter adjacent markets and grow their footprint. This is how large vendors develop converged infrastructure products. The transformative collisions tend to happen with start-ups, a small group that wants to do something better. Ultimately, it is the consumer that decides whether the collision is successful. If the collided technology makes a better infrastructure, I'll buy it, not because it's integrated, but because it helps. Converged storage allows me to use the same investment in a storage platform to satisfy needs based on their requirements rather than being constrained to one storage access method. Collided networks undoubtedly lead to less cabling hassles and collided blades allow me to pack more computing power into the space I have.

Converged Infrastructure seems to be a popular tag line, but like all marketing terms it's there to get the conversation started. The features and benefits should be the deciding factor. What technologies are next to collide in your infrastructure?

This was first published in December 2012

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