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Choose Your Dance Partner
There are several types of converged infrastructures from which to choose.
The first type of solution is one fully configured by a vendor to a customer's requirements, typically as determined by the solution provider, and then drop-shipped to the customer site.
HP is widely credited as being the pioneer of the idea of converged infrastructure. But among big-name IT vendors, the main example of a fully configured system is the Vblock from VCE, a joint venture of EMC, Cisco and VMware. VCE assembles the Vblock solutions from EMC storage, Cisco Unified Computing System servers and networking, and VMware virtualization technology to order before shipping to the customer.
At the other end of the fully configured converged infrastructure solutions are those from a number of startups such as Westborough, Mass.-based Simplivity and San Jose, Calif.-based Nutanix, which use software to define the compute, storage, and/or networking functions, all of which are run on industry-standard server hardware.
Also included in this category is Oracle's Engineered Systems, including the Exadata database platform and the Exalogic enterprise application platform. These are fully configured with both the hardware and the specific software application.
The second type of converged infrastructure solution is the reference architecture in which all the server, storage, networking or other resources are specified as a "blueprint" that solution providers can follow to build solutions certified by the vendor or vendors to specific customer requirements such as hosting a certain number of virtual machines or providing a required number of seats for a specific application.
This includes reference architectures built using components from a single vendor such as HP, IBM or Dell.
Other reference architectures are configured using components from multiple vendors. These include the FlexPod, built using NetApp storage and Cisco UCS servers and networking; VSPEX, built using EMC storage and Cisco UCS servers and networking; and Hitachi Unified Compute Platform, built using Hitachi Data Systems storage and either Hitachi or Cisco UCS servers and Brocade or Cisco networking.
Converged Infrastructure Vs. The Best-Of-Breed Approach
Converged infrastructure has become a much more flexible solution than the traditional "best-of-breed" approach under which solution providers pick the best hardware and software from multiple vendors to solve a problem, Enterprise Computing Solutions' Butler said.
"Best-of-breed gives great technology," he said. "But now you are dealing with individual personalities from all the products. Now I need to figure out how to manage it. With converged infrastructures, I get deployment from day one."
A properly deployed converged infrastructure based on a sound reference architecture prevents issues caused when adding multivendor hardware to a complex solution, Butler said.
For instance, he said, a customer with a converged infrastructure who needs a development environment for Oracle can drag and drop an entry-level, midtier or high-end infrastructure to access all the dedicated hardware and software required. "But the second you start swapping in third-party pieces, you start introducing limitations," he said.
At the heart of converged infrastructure is orchestration software with templates that can be set up ahead of time to quickly drop in new hardware and software resources as needed, Butler said.
"It can see if you need a real server or a VMware or Hyper-V virtual machine, what storage, what network bandwidth you need," he said. "If you buy an all-HP solution, I know it works together, and you get the best practices. If you want to replace an HP module with something from another vendor, it might work, but you don't have all the functions."
A solution provider such as eGroup can deliver solutions from fully converged and integrated Vblocks to the hybrid VSPEX to best-in-breed solutions, all based upon the customer's unique requirements, Flowers said.
"As all the technologies continue to evolve, cable specifications change, connectivity speeds increase, and virtualization adoption further increases, converged infrastructures offer some incredible administrative benefits while also avoiding continuous and costly cable infrastructure upgrades," he said. "Focuses are shifting more toward deeper operational efficiencies and automation of the infrastructure, and so the converged infrastructure push will surely continue in the years to come."
David Gottesman, principal at Gottesman Consulting, a San Francisco-based consulting firm and solution provider, said his company is not a fan of a best-of-breed product set if it can offer a converged solution that is supported with a single phone call/email.
"Every solution we prescribe is done with and eye on operational ease of use and simple supportability," Gottesman said.
With our eye on the vendors in the converged infrastructure space, here is a roundup of the major players' recent moves and how their respective channel partners are seeing the market shake out.