Top 13 Considerations for Converged Infrastructure
Converged infrastructure is one of the current buzz words in the IT lexicon. If you browse the web you’ll find a number of documents, articles, posts and vendor claims that tout the benefits of reference architectures, converged and hyper-converged infrastructures. Even though many would hail it as a new paradigm in computer platforms, I would argue it is an evolution that has been developing over the last 40 years.
Better Performance and Reduced Cost
IBM with 43XX series and the 93XX delivered integrated systems and supported virtualization with VM and VSE guests in the late 1970s. Digital delivered an integrated solution with the VAX and a number of other vendors have built on that concept. The idea being that many vendors have considered the benefits of an integrated solution with a single architecture, deployment strategy and an acquisition process. They promoted the benefits of reduced efforts to purchase, implement and place a system into production. The promise was a one box solution, simplified installation with physical planning and significant reduction in support requirements. However, many of the issues that existed with those systems are still around today.
The real question is not the technology. Technology will continue to advance at an ever increasing pace. Technology will always provide opportunities for improvement and (following Moore’s Law) better performance with reduced cost. The issues (in my mind) are openness (who else can you play with), flexibility (can you change course if circumstances dictate) and utilization (can I get value for the full lifecycle of the technology I acquire or does it reach “End of Life” earlier than I expected). The challenge is how do you acquire the technology, how do you incorporate it into your enterprise and how does your financial system consume the purchase.
All vendors say they want to be open and with the recent introduction of “Hyper-Converged” platforms some vendors have taken a real step forward. They allow the real options for some of the hardware components and some of the software components (VDI for example). However most vendors still have a very rigid definition as to hardware specs (closed platform).
What happens if business growth projection change or new technology enters the marketplace? What are my options to change direction? Even though many (hyper) converged vendors tout the ability to use the building block approach to build from small to large, they have different products with different starting points and different target use cases.
Projecting utilization of the system over the planned financial lifecycle of the acquired system is key. How often have you seen a system or architecture discarded after three four or five years because a new technology has created a new price/performance standard that has made the previous system obsolete for all practical purposes? This is frequently done in conjunction with a new management team, replacing the team that made the previous decision.
I think before a decision to move to a converged environment (even a reference architecture) is made, a number of questions need to be answered.
The Potential Buyer Must Consider These Top 13 Issues
1. First and foremost, do I have a 2-year, 3-year or 5-year technology plan, aligned with the company’s business plan? How does the converged platform compliment the technology plan?
2. Do I expect rapid growth?
3. Am I planning on acquiring other companies or entities?
4. Am I planning on opening new branches or locations?
5. Do I have a comfort level that the proposed solution is appropriate to support that plan today and 5 years down the road?
6. Do I understand the long term development plan for the converged environment?
7. What happens with existing equipment, SW, applications and leases in place today? Is it supported, can I integrate it, will the new vendor buy my equipment or buy out my leases?
8. Am I comfortable with the pricing leverage I’ll have in the future if I commit to a single vendor or group of vendors today?
9. Will I miss the opportunity to take advantage of new or developing technologies (possibly technologies that don’t even exist today? These future technologies will change the price performance paradigm and may not be compatible with a reference architecture or converged environment you comitt to today.
10. How does the price/performance of a converged environment compare with the option of having a business partner supply a customized solution? This would be comprised servers, storage and networking combined with the services to rack stack and implement. Is this an option to negotiate a lower TCO and a more flexible solution?
11. How does the price/performance of a converged system compare with a cloud solution? Will a pure cloud solution satisfy my requirements at a lower TCO?
12. How do I address performance problems? Now I have a tightly coupled package of hardware software and configuration parameters that was assembled by a third party. Are tools and diagnostic aids part of the converged package? Will I be dependent on the vendor to provide additional services to resolve performance problems?
13. Do I already have a talented and dedicated staff that is an integral part of my business organization? Staff reduction is almost always a benefit, but frequently IT professionals are an integral component of the organization that add great value to business operations and they can’t simply go away overnight. Don’t assume you can immediately eliminate headcount.
These are just a few of the many questions that need to be examined before making a decision on a technology acquisition.
Reference architectures, converged infrastructure offerings and hyper-converged infrastructures deliver real benefits with real value to end users. They allow IT to install an appliance and provision an environment (VMs, Desktops or applications) to end users in a matter of hours or even minutes. Even with all of these benefits you may find the compromises outweigh the benefits and value for your organization.
Careful consideration and evaluation will ensure you gain the benefits you desire without surprises.