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Pros and cons of bundling hardware and software together

Members of our Server Virtualization Advisory Board discuss the Virtual Computing Environment coalition and ponder the value of bundling hardware and software together.

Buying hardware and software together for virtualization will save organizations time and money, according to Cisco Systems, EMC and VMware.

The three vendors have formed the Virtual Computing Environment coalition, through which they will sell prepackaged bundles of servers, networking equipment and software for virtualization, storage, security and management. Key components of the bundles include the Cisco Unified Computing System and VMware vSphere.

As more vendors consider selling hardware and software together, members of our Server Virtualization Advisory Board tackled the issue by answering this question:

What are the pros and cons of bundling hardware and software together for virtualization, and will this approach have success in the market?

Jack Kaiser, GreenPages Technology Solutions

The pro of this VCE coalition is that it will enhance partners' ability to recommend and implement preconfigured, tested and validated solutions with one support organization. This should accelerate the adoption of virtualized solutions and move toward the goal of 100% virtualized environments. Partners of these companies will have advanced training and expertise in implementing the solutions.

The con is that it is creating a lot of confusion in the marketplace at this time. There are some worthy competitors to this coalition, and they will not go down without a fight. As consultants, we need to recognize our customers' needs and substitute another technology if it is appropriate for our customer. We have been designing and implementing best-of-breed virtualized solutions for years and will continue to do so.

I believe the venture will untimely be classified as successful, but not without challenges as the competitors offer their own solutions.

Rob McShinsky, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center

Large-scale, prepackaged bundles like the Virtual Computing Environment will have a tough time gaining influence in large, established datacenters. Bundled hardware and software may not be in line with my established vendor standards or administrative skill sets, and that could reduce operational efficiency.

Where I see prepackaged server virtualization bundles succeeding -- at least until the external cloud offerings mature -- is in the small and medium-sized business category, where disparate hardware is not as much a factor, and support staff may have lower skill levels. By offering preconfigured bundles, administration becomes the focus -- not architecting the virtual environment. There would be money to be made in support contracts in this area as well.

Isn't the concept of a hypervisor supposed to be that it is hardware agnostic? My fear is, by creating these types of targeted alliances with hardware or software vendors, there will be polarization of supported configurations.

Greg Shields, Concentrated Technology

Prepackaging hardware with software can only have a positive effect on the market. Consider the possible situations:

Environments with no experience and no virtual infrastructure can easily purchase a single SKU and immediately get started. What arrives is a hardware/software combo that guarantees them a certain level of pre-tested service. For this group, much of the risk of implementation failure is transferred to the manufacturer in exchange for a slightly increased "integration" cost.

Mature environments with greater experience and existing infrastructure also benefit. For these groups, smart prepackaging enables modularization. Need more horsepower for virtual machines? Buy another single SKU and scale your environment by a known and predefined unit of additional resources.

This future is an obvious evolution of how we already buy server hardware today. No one builds their own servers anymore. Instead we select from slightly more expensive, pre-engineered server specs that have been designed for a specific use. As virtualization becomes more mainstream, we'll see just these kinds of hardware plus virtual software combos from our existing and trusted manufacturers.

Rick Vanover, Alliance Data

Virtualization is at the heart of abstraction in most technology circles. Prepackaged offerings that include virtualization come in two flavors and may introduce dependencies. The recent formation of the Virtual Computing Environment coalition (VCE) can be a good fit if the requirements for each environment match the VCE offering.

Another type of prepackaged virtualization offering is from Avaya with the Aura System Platform. In this situation, the virtualization technology delivered is a customized hypervisor that will not fit within a mainstream virtualized infrastructure. While these scenarios are different, they have these same attributes.

Pros of these offerings include:

  • They potentially create a one-stop shopping experience for sales, integration and support.
  • For installations that match the prepackaged offering, there can be a seamless fit.

Cons of these offerings include:

  • Possibly higher prices or over-provisioned infrastructure;
  • Limited flexibility for design and component selection.

The ultimate answer, of course, is that it depends, but weighing these pros and cons can aid the decision process.

Have an idea for a future Server Virtualization Advisory Board question? Email Colin Steele, Site Editor.

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