This content is part of the Essential Guide: Data center convergence and the role of storage

Customized converged infrastructure fills data center middle ground

A new batch of converged infrastructure looks to deliver many of its benefits to IT pros while still offering customization for specific workloads.

Enterprises want it all in their IT infrastructure -- but can they really get it?

IT pros like the quick deployment of converged infrastructure (CI) systems that are confirmed and approved by their hardware vendor, but they also yearn for more flexibility and customization based on their needs.

"A lot of the CI vendors [offer] rack-level products that are locked down and optimized for a given workload, which is great, until that optimization doesn't meet your specific needs," said Gina Longoria, analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy in Austin, Texas.

Another challenge with vertically integrated CI is losing the ability to make independent choices about each hardware layer, said Jason Anderson, Chief Architect at Datalink Corp., a data center services provider in Eden Prairie, Minn. Offerings from single vendors, such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Oracle, typically have strengths in one area, but not in all. Users are more likely to run into deficiency in one layer, and they can't simply swap out a piece to get the best breed in all layers.

Anderson, who works with many Fortune 500 enterprises, said he sees this most often with the Oracle Exadata Database Machine, which is beneficial for running Oracle databases, but doesn't have the top of the line for storage and compute, and the software often makes storage look better than it is.

A majority of customers want out-of-the-box unified management from a single pain of glass versus individually provisioning storage, compute and networking to create a platform that competes with public cloud, he said.

Finding a common CI language

Converged infrastructure buyers typically choose between reference architecture, where they buy all of the components and build it themselves, or buy prebuilt CI, agreed Jim Ganthier, vice president and general manager of engineered solutions at Dell EMC. "The good thing is that it was converged; the bad thing is that they picked and chose all of the components for you."

A lot of the CI vendors [offer] rack-level products that are locked down and optimized for a given workload, which is great, until that optimization doesn't meet your specific needs.
Gina Longoriaanalyst at Moor Insights and Strategy

Dell EMC is seeking a middle ground with its new customer-built Validated Systems to give IT pros the quick deployment of CI with the flexibility they would get from more traditional, three-tier architecture. The aim is to "right-size" the hardware based on a customer's goals and workloads, instead of choosing hardware based on "bits, bytes and blinky lights," Ganthier said.

Last month, Dell EMC made available the Dell Validated System for Virtualization, which is optimized for VMware, and released one earlier this year for SAP HANA. This week, in conjunction with the Microsoft Ignite event, Dell EMC released Validated Systems for Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SQL. Eighty percent of enterprises still run Exchange on-premises, or in a "private scenario," for several reasons, including control, security and infrastructure agility, Ganthier said.

The Validated Systems are customer-built versus converged infrastructure from Dell Technologies' VCE, which is "highly curated and highly opinionated," and it's mostly Cisco-led, he said. With those products, which include the widely known Vblock, customers pick what they want and then rack and stack a ready-to-go system with a "full-curated, software-delivery vehicle."

Dell EMC is attempting to bring its "built to order" mantra from the client side to data center hardware, Longoria said, and the use of Active System Manager for Dell EMC's Validated Systems has similarities to Hewlett Packard Enterprise's Synergy.

"When you talk to Dell and HPE, they use a lot of the same language," she said.

Still, Longoria said the Validated Systems fill a spot in the market by providing workload-optimized CI that is still flexible.

The Exchange system is available now and starts at $1 per user, per month for a mailbox size of 20 GB. For example, an organization with 1,000 users would pay $36,000. The Validated System for SQL will be available in the first quarter of 2017 and will start at $100,000.

With Validated Systems for SAP, Virtualization, Exchange and SAP, Ganthier said there could be a more middle-of-the-road CI to come.

Without giving specifics, he said other major workloads in the data center may be next, including big data, high-performance computing and artificial intelligence.

"That's just some of potential things that could be coming shortly," he said.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at [email protected].

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