As we got past the Mayan Apocalyse day and as 2012 comes to an end, a question to reflect upon is if this has been the year of the Converged Infrastructure Solutions. Incidentally, use of these solutions by data centers was a topic of discussion on a panel moderated by Jim McHugh last month.
Just so we are on the same page, Converged Infrastructure Solutions are those which have integrated servers (CPU & Memory), server virtualization (hypervisor) and storage with the necessary network access into a single entity or logical unit. Examples are the VCE Vblock, NetApp FlexPod, Hitachi Data Systems UCP, IBM PureFlex System and HP CloudSystem (all names are trademarks of the respective companies). Even Dell has started marketing converged systems. The term pre-integrated has to be dissected carefully. In some cases the precise choices on server, storage array and the hypervisor have already been made by the vendor. In others, there is a choice on these infrastructure components and the solution is a reference design with tested scenarios. For instance, the Vblock is a fully integrated and tested solution with Cisco UCS for servers and network access, Cisco MDS 9148 storage switches, EMC VNX series storage and VMware virtualization. The misunderstanding on converged solutions is deep enough that an IBM PureFlex video goes on to compare the UCS Manager (manages only the UCS components) to the PureFlex management software, when in reality it should be compared with the Vblock management software.
The VSPEX, FlexPod and Hitachi UCP are reference architectures which provide validated and tested designs for typical use cases. Customers now do not have to experiment with the individual infrastructure elements. They can choose any of the validated designs depending on needs.
The advantages of integrated solutions are
a) Faster initial deployments
b) Reduced integration and maintenance efforts for IT departments
c) Better vendor support and tools for management
d) Ability to standardize on infrastructure
e) Better understanding and documentation of scaling options
The disadvantages of integrated solutions are the following:
a) Infrastructure choices limited to tested configurations
b) Very unique applications needs may not be factored in
c) May not be suitable for very small compute environments
Cisco UCS is the foundation of any of the choices a customer makes with respect to Converged Solutions. As shown in the slide above it can be used as the basic computing system, in reference architectures such as VSPEX or FlexPod, or in fully integrated solutions such as the Vblock. With so many choices and unveiling of new solutions by the major vendors, I do think this was the year of Converged Infrastructure Solutions. We will need to closely track adoption of these solutions in the new year.