Is Converged Infrastructure the Future of the Data Center?
If the term 'converged infrastructure' (also called integrated systems or unified computing) sounds like a mix of grid, cloud, utility, on-demand and shared computing services, you're right. However, this complexity doesn't seem to bother customers, especially small and midsize enterprises. But will this trend continue?
Tue, March 19, 2013
CIO — Ten years can seem like 10 lifetimes if you're a little kid trying to catch up to your big brother or a writer considering the history of the Internet.
If you work in IT networking, however, the last 10 years hasn't changed much. You still have to deal with siloed legacy infrastructure that takes time to manage, requires multiple teams to provision and deploy, eats up too much power and, thanks to sunk costs and scarce budgets, is hard to upgrade.
Virtualization and automation were supposed to relieve some of this burden. However, those two technologies sit higher up the data center layer cake. Basic block and tackling must still be done more or less by hand when new services, storage and servers are being provisioned.
This is where converged infrastructure (CI) comes into play.
Converged Infrastructure: Share Resources, Deploy Quickly
Hewlett-Packard coined the term three years ago. Gartner calls it integrated systems, while Cisco Systems calls it the unified computing system (UCS). Regardless of the lingo, the idea is the same: Roll compute, storage and networking into a self-provisioning pool of shared resources that can be pre-configured to drop into your data center. That way, it's up and running in hours or days, not weeks or months.
Add single-pane-of-glass management consoles and reference architectures, including HP Cloud Maps and Flexpod, a joint NetApp-Cisco offering, for common applications such as SAP, Siebel, Oracle and Microsoft SharePoint, and you've got an approach to adding services and applications that's attracting attention.
"Customers are wild about it," says Andrew Neff, a Gartner vice president and investment analyst in the Technology and Service Provider group. Converged infrastructure represents about 6 percent of data center spending, he says, "but it's growing at about a 50 percent clip over the past year."
In three-and-a-half years, this growth has propelled Cisco into the No. 2 blade vendor spot in North America (behind HP). Prior to the introduction of its UCS offering, Cisco didn't even sell blades, says Satinder Sethi, vice president of the company's data center group. Cisco now claims 20,000 blade customers, a $1.6B run rate, and a 23.5 percent market share that it says it took from competitors such as Dell, IBM and HP.
"Our conception of UCS almost five years ago was based on a very specific need we were seeing in the data center at the time," Sethi says. "Customers had the network, compute and storage, but any time they had to deliver a service, it took…sometimes months to get that server-provisioned, network-connected, storage-connected application deployed."