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Assimilate converged IT infrastructure into the data center

With the hype around converged and hyper-converged IT infrastructure, resistance seems futile. While your IT organization will likely be a mix of converged, dedicated and cloud-based resources, convergence is moving into new areas.

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I feel like the Borg from Star Trek when I proclaim that "IT convergence is inevitable."

Converged IT infrastructure, the tight vendor integration of multiple IT resources like servers and storage, is a good thing, a mark of forward progress. And resistance to convergence is futile. It is a great way to simplify and automate the complexities between two (or more) maturing domains and drive cost-efficiencies, reliability improvements, and agility. As the operations and management issues for any set of resources becomes well understood, new solutions will naturally evolve that internally converge them into a more unified integrated single resource. Converged solutions are faster to deploy, simpler to manage, and easier for vendors to support.

Some resistance to converge does happen within some IT organizations. Siloed staff might suffer -- convergence threatens domain subject matter experts by embedding their fiefdoms inside larger realms. That's not the first time that has happened, and there is always room for experts to dive deep under the covers to work through levels of complexity when things inevitably go wrong. That makes for more impactful and satisfying jobs. And let's be honest -- converged IT is far less threatening than the public cloud.

Unlocking hyper-convergence

Early converged infrastructure was attractive to larger enterprises hoping to eliminate deployment risk, speed time to value, and reduce management operating expenses (OpEx). Some enterprises were willing to pay a premium to just reduce the number of vendors they work with. Racks of simply converged infrastructure, such as the VCE vBlock, however do not present much of a "start small and grow as you need" option, and we've long heard rumors about such converged systems being "unconverged" back into silo-managed infrastructure as needs, features and applications diverge from original plans.

If virtualization was a key enabler of converged IT infrastructure, then software-defined has unlocked hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). Somewhere underneath software-defined resource X, there is still a real processor core, a persistent storage bit or a network cable. But with software-defined resources, we've moved a lot of functionality up out of hardware and into mutable, fungible and dynamic software. This takes advantage of growing compute density and the shrinking cost of compute.

Once we had software-defined capabilities, start-ups such as Nutanix and SimpliVity started to bake everything -- servers, storage, hypervisor and more -- into modular appliances. Generally, HCI adopters find great value in building up IT unit by unit as needed, in fine-grained amounts. Additionally we've validated that there is even more OpEx savings with HCI than with simple converged IT, freeing up staff to focus on solving business needs rather than architecting components.

In 2016, we'll see converged infrastructure enter new areas:

  1. Data protection: We'll definitely all hear more about how data protection is being converged into traditional storage, software-defined storage and HCI solutions. We already have cloud gateways and fully hybridized cloud-enabled storage, such as Microsoft StorSimple. Expect to see increasingly complete converged IT infrastructure offerings that span data ingestion (i.e., data lake platforms) through operations, analysis, archive, backup, and BC/DR.
  2. Edge computing: Keep an eye on the edges of the enterprise too, whether remote office/branch office, regional office or Internet-of-Things things. Riverbed's SteelFusion Hyper Converged Edge is a good example of edge hyper-convergence combining remote computing, wide-area network optimization and projected data center storage into stateless remote appliances.
  3. Data center: VMware is leading the charge in the data center with their software-defined data center portfolio and EVO:Rack. Look for more flexible ways to build out full data centers using not only HCI but also integrating in software-defined networking and cloud operations.

We will soon see hyperscale convergence in a ready-to-consume package for the rank and file IT organization -- cloud-like hosting architectures that leverage containerized resources and applications where it's hard to discern what's virtual and what's real. The data center of the future will be able to span transparently across discreet and converged IT infrastructure options -- public, private, colocated, shared, dedicated -- as application service goals and cost optimization opportunities dictate.

What's still needed is automating IT predictive intelligence across the whole spectrum of infrastructure. Each bit of virtually hosted, software defined, containerized micro-served resource represents a new management challenge. But if computers can now drive our cars and play the ancient game of Go at the master level, it seems that convergence is inevitable. May we all live long and prosper!

This was first published in March 2016

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Essential Guide

Complete guide to server-based storage in its modern forms

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