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Converging hardware consolidates IT purchase power

As servers, networking and storage systems converge, the IT buying process is also consolidating.

IT pros say converging their IT purchasing decisions saves money on hardware and maintenance, while streamlining how many vendors they deal with.

It could also change the way such technology buying decisions are made and the number of people who make them.

While most data centers still run gear from several different vendors , some are moving toward a more converged infrastructure, also called unified computing. That often means dealing with a single vendor for server, networking and storage equipment.

In many cases, once purchasing decisions are consolidated, data centers' research on what to buy falls to one person. It's no longer the server guys buying the servers, the storage guys signing off on the storage gear and so on. That could mean fewer IT pros will be needed in the future. But for now, most companies moving toward converged hardware make decisions collaboratively.

Converged hardware means converged IT buying decisions
"Before, we had five separate data centers with five different managers making decisions," said James McGibney, data center lead for Tutor Perini Corp., a Sylmar, Calif.-based construction company. "Now it's just one group making that decision for the entire organization. It's a much more consolidated purchasing effort at this point."

Before, the company had different vendors' servers in each of its data centers. When Tudor Perini decided to consolidate, McGibney got the whole data center team together to talk it over. On the server side, they did a server count and figured out how much total memory they used per day. It came out to something around 1.7 terabytes allocated per day. They then used that number to determine how many blade servers they would need in the new facility. They then repeated the process with networking and storage. They ended up going with Cisco's Unified Computing System and EMC storage.

"We used to have maintenance contracts for each of those [vendors]," McGibney said. "We even had different blades at different data centers. We cut our maintenance costs probably by 50%."

IT purchases grow
As buying decision making power consolidates, the deal sizes are also growing. In a March report on Cisco's Unified Computing System, IDC said that it is "increasingly seeing a requirement for purpose-built systems that lower the burden of integration across server, storage and networking organizations for multiple workloads." This is evident in the introduction of unified computing systems, preconfigured server racks, and container-based data centers.

Brian Fuselier, the lead engineer at Lafayette, La.-based broadband services provider Abacus Data Exchange, became the point man for IT purchasing research at his company. He did most of the research, considering criteria such as speed, performance and price.

"Overall it was probably me pointing everyone in a certain direction," he said. "But we definitely all had a say in what we got."

Abacus was in a unique situation. Previously the company didn't have a data center per se. It was a broadband ISP reselling fiber systems with a server room and some colocation. But now Abacus has moved toward offering more managed IT services using an open source cloud computing platform called Enomaly, and it needed the infrastructure to support it. Fuselier said going with unified computing using a product called LiquidIQ from Liquid Computing has made it easier for them to manage their infrastructure and deal with one vendor.

The Dallas Cowboys had a similar situation, with Bill Haggard at the helm. As the director of enterprise infrastructure for the football team, Haggard oversaw a major technology refresh for the company when they moved into a new stadium. They chose HP blades and are moving toward HP's Converged Infrastructure, but Haggard certainly didn't make that decision as a one-man island.

"When it comes to those decisions, we make them as a group," he said. "I get my entire staff involved. None of these decisions are made by one person, and we talk about the pros and cons of everything."

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at

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