New enterprise architectures: is converged infrastructure the new disruptor?
In recent years the data centre has evolved to provide more than just rack space, power, cooling and connectivity, and so too has the technology housed within it. In particular, converged infrastructure (CI) has come a long way and for many companies, it is the backbone of their IT systems. Servers, storage, networking equipment and software designed to optimise IT infrastructure management have all come together, converging to deliver more reliability and more power per euro spent.
The benefits of converged infrastructure are unarguable — it is cheaper, faster to deploy and more reliable — and research from ActualTech Media suggests that while currently only a quarter of businesses leverage converged infrastructure, within the next five years that may rise to more than half.
This begs a question though, CI has been around for quite some time now so if it is that good, why isn’t everyone doing it?
“It’s an interesting question. If we look at what organisations like Gartner say, we find that they are predicting strong movement on this issue. For example, Gartner is saying that by 2018 probably about 40% of all deployments will be of a converged nature, either converged infrastructure or converged systems,” said Declan Hogan, head of enterprise group hardware for Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
“But I think that what’s happening at the moment is that people are looking at it but specific application areas are more attractive. So we’re seeing more SAP Hana, for example, as it is very popular for a converged piece of infrastructure because it’s more solution based. Companies are really looking at CI where there’s a solution requirement. The Microsoft Analytics Platform, MAP, that’s another one where we have actually sold converged systems.”
According to Hogan, it is significant that the state’s Office of Government Procurement recently listed converged infrastructure on its framework.
“When you see the Office of Government Procurement putting out a framework for that technology, it shows that things are actually gaining momentum. So from that point of view I think it’s fair to say that what we’re really talking about here is a matter of timing and I think also the rate of change of technology.”
The right time
This theory suggests that companies are looking at deploying converged infrastructure but are waiting for the right time and the right stage of their refresh cycle to do it.
“Converged systems have been around for a while and in the last couple of years we’ve seen hyper-converged systems coming out, where everything found in a converged system is housed in a single device. The original converged system concept was that you configure your server storage and networking tightly integrated to the rack, cables, software install — literally you delivered a rack to site and you switched it on,” said Hogan.
“Hyper-converged is about doing the same thing in a single box.”
Hyper-converged systems take the converged piece even further, hence the term ‘hyper’ and have proven to be disruptive in the market, where many companies who were looking at converged systems could not help but notice that hyper converged devices were typically cheaper.
For those companies looking to use such technology for specific, stand-alone applications, that is attractive.
“A converged solution tends to be bigger so a smaller hyper-converged solution represents lower risk on a first deployment, and if you feel that it will meet the requirements, you’ll go with a hyper-converged first.”
Risk and configuration
IT departments that deploy converged infrastructure remove huge elements of risk, when compared to the potential problems inherent in building a discreet system themselves. But there are other benefits, said Hogan.
“There’s the fact that you reduce the time to configure and deploy literally from hours to minutes. Some of these converged systems arrive, you power them on, they go through an initiation cycle and they’re good to go. Remember they’re preconfigured, pretested and built in the factory complete with software installed and integrated. So the speed of deployment is way faster.”
“On top of this, configuring them is also more straightforward. Then when you actually do the deployment they auto-provision when you configure them up front and they’re ready to go. For something like SAP Hana or the Microsoft Analytics Platform, you want to be able to roll it in, power it up, have it ready to go and then you basically do your own customisation on top of that at the application layer.”
Meanwhile, others in the business hypothesise other reasons why converged infrastructure has not quite fulfilled its promise yet. Nigel Moulton, chief technology officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for VCE, suggested that for many companies, cloud-based infrastructure has been too attractive.
“One of the things that we discuss frequently with customers of all sizes is whether you should buy infrastructure or whether you should build it yourself. Historically if you look at very large enterprise IT organisations, they have built it themselves but they had capital budgets that allowed them to do that,” he said.
“In some cases cloud services would have been relatively immature to maybe offer a replacement for whatever it is that they were building themselves. But we are at a point in the market now and have been for the last 18 months, where the argument is definitely swinging towards buying the infrastructure capability rather than building it.”