Panel: Converged infrastructure will require compromise

All-in-one IT environments have pros and cons over the best-of-breed approach, so companies must map their own requirements and decide which model makes more sense.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

SINGAPORE--There inevitably will be some tradeoffs when companies implement converged IT infrastructures, so they need to decide whether this model meets their requirements and map their options.

From the end-user perspective in data centers, for instance, organizations want "everything under the sun", noted Gary Teo, director of campus IT services at SIM University (UniSIM). The IT infrastructure should be easily deployed, flexible, agile, scalable and secure, said Teo, who was speaking at the ZDNet Asia panel discussion here Friday to highlight the benefits, and challenges, of adopting converged infrastructure.

Touted to enable faster deployment time and help simplify IT management, converged infrastructure streamlines compute power, storage, servers and networking into a single framework. This is integrated by a single vendor, giving companies a single point of contact--and accountability--for all their IT needs.

Vendors which currently offer converged infrastructure products include Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Cisco Systems, Dell and Oracle.

According to Stan Nguyen, Dell's director of server platform and enterprise solutions for Asia-Pacific and Japan, growing adoption of virtualization and IT consolidation is also driving demand for converged infrastructure.

Also a panelist, Nguyen noted that the need for physical infrastructure is unlikely to go away, so companies are asking for converged infrastructure to have the ability to easily manage the environment with a "single pane of glass".

Teo pointed out that converged infrastructure enables simplicity and speed, but a lot of it depends on the range and capability of product offerings from the selected vendor. And this vendor may not be able to provide all the capabilities or products that are adequate to support a more complex data center, he noted.

Another panelist, Lyon Poh, partner of management consulting at KPMG Singapore, said converged infrastructure will be a "very good sell for greenfield deployments" where the IT environment is built from scratch.

For organizations with preexisting infrastructure, however, it means the task of integration will be more complex than the promise of simplicity touted by converged environments, Poh noted.

Fellow panelist Frederic Giron, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, said defining converged infrastructure is simple enough--a single stack of computer power, storage and networking, and the overall management layer on top. And all of this is built, integrated and tested by a vendor, instead of the end-user.

Less customization, flexibility
Yet, Giron said, while this means easier deployment and management of a more efficient and flexible IT infrastructure, converged infrastructure will not suit everyone since there are tradeoffs.

In the IT marketplace, the fact remains certain vendors are stronger over others in certain areas, the analyst said.

"So if you're looking at the best-of-breed approach...converged infrastructure is not for you, and that's not [necessarily] a bad thing," he said. "Converged infrastructure won't replace every [IT system]. The point is to know your requirements and map your options."

For instance, converged infrastructure makes sense when a company needs an IT infrastructure that just works, for instance, in scenarios when the business is expanding rapidly and IT needs to keep pace, Giron said.

But while it provides management simplicity and efficiency, organizations cannot do much tinkering in a converged IT environment because they rely on the vendor to choose the components, he said.

From the customer's perspective, a shift in mindset also is necessary with regard to infrastructure ownership, he added.

Poh said the limited scope for customization also means companies have to be conscious of potential gaps in addressing certain business requirements and decide if they can tolerate these holes.

He called on companies to study the architecture blueprint beforehand and understand how it affects their "flexibility". Any tweaks they want to implement along the way is like "trying to change the box [of converged infrastructure]" and may result in the vendor removing it from its warranty or scope, cautioned the KPMG partner.

Poh said this highlights a common concern about vendor lock-in with converged infrastructure, adding that CIOs are generally advised never to over-rely on one vendor.

Giron pointed to reference architectures from vendor-led consortiums such as VCE (VMware, Cisco and EMC) as a good alternative for companies keen on adopting converged infrastructure but want to avoid vendor lock-in.

Nguyen agreed, noting that not every customer will want a converged infrastructure. He said these organizations instead deploy their IT infrastructures based on blueprints or reference architectures that Giron highlighted.

He said Dell supports these open standards. Rather than be a "closed vendor", it provides its customers the option to choose components from their preferred vendors--which products are supported by Dell. This, he added, is exemplary of the vendor's "building blocks" approach to converged infrastructure as opposed to a "big bang".

He reiterated how enterprise IT environments are becoming virtualized, making application management and capacity provisioning more complex. A more efficient and unified management of the infrastructure means manpower such as the storage administrator and network administrator are freed from such mundane tasks, he added.

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