Converged infrastructure (CI) is an approach to data center management that seeks to minimize compatibility issues between servers, storage systems and network devices while also reducing costs for cabling, cooling, power and floor space. A converged infrastructure can be implemented with a CI reference architecture, with standalone appliances or with a software driven hyper-converged approach.
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With a CI reference architecture approach to converged infrastructure, the vendor provides the customer with pre-tested recommendations for how best to use hardware components in the data center to meet requirements for specific workloads.
With an IT appliance approach to CI, the vendor provides the customer with a single box that houses tightly integrated compute, storage, networking virtualization resources from the vendor and perhaps the vendor's partners. Should the need arise, additional appliances can be purchased and added, a concept known as horizontal scalability.
With a hyper-converged approach, the vendor abstracts compute, networking and storage resources from the physical hardware, bundling virtualization software with their CI offerings. Hyper-converged vendors may also provide additional functionality for cloud bursting or disaster recovery and allow administrators to manage both physical and virtual infrastructures -- whether on-site or in the cloud -- in a federated manner with a single pane of glass.
As the CI market continues to grow, the terms converged and hyper-converged are often used by marketers as synonyms and distinctions between the ways converged infrastructure can be implemented have become blurred. It is important, therefore, that customers who wish to embrace a converged infrastructure design ask the vendors they are working with to explain exactly how they define "converged" or "hyper-converged" so the customer understands whether or not the vendor's product allows servers, storage systems and network devices to be separated back into discrete components.