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Converged systems proliferation, consolidation will shape users' choices

Industry watchers hash out the future of converged systems, the best use cases for enterprise workloads and how IT pros should plan ahead for changes in the market.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The idea of convergence is compelling: Combine servers, storage, networking and software into a single, integrated product offering. When implemented well, the converged platform could eliminate most -- if not all -- of the integration, interoperability, management and performance challenges faced by typical heterogeneous data centers.

In the last few years, converged infrastructures have evolved and proliferated to offer powerful hyper-converged systems from a wealth of vendors. But what's happening now? Where is the technology going? And who are the key players? Philip Dawson, research vice president at Gartner, led a Magic Quadrant session here at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo to answer exactly these questions.

Let the workload dictate the system

While the goal of convergence is to bring subsystems together into a single product, the offerings available today are hardly ubiquitous -- hyper-converged products are proliferating to meet the varied demands of enterprise workloads, Dawson noted.

Gartner Magic Quadrant vendors: Fall 2016 -- Converged infrastructure








  Atlantis Computing







(Being absorbed by HPE)
















  Scale Computing



"I think it comes down to applications where an integrated solution makes sense, like a legacy monolithic app that wasn't a fit for your typical private cloud, but still needs a scalable platform to grow," said Pete Sclafani, COO and co-founder of 6connect Inc., a provider of network automation services in San Francisco. "In some of our lab testing, we used CI [converged infrastructure] to allow for more customization options that could let you tweak the environment based on the growth areas that your application needed."

For example, converged integrated infrastructure system products from Lenovo Converged Systems, along with Oracle and Teradata, bring together servers, storage and network hardware to provide a shared infrastructure. This type of converged system is ideal for general-purpose, online transaction processing/memory controllers (OLTP/MC) workloads, and typical server virtualization and data center consolidation projects.

Converged integrated reference architecture makes stronger use of the software stack to define features and functionality for more specific workloads. One example is NetApp FlexPod, where its configurations and workloads are designated as Cisco Validated Designs, including FlexPod Datacenter, FlexPod Express and FlexPod Select. These converged systems are also well-suited for general-purpose, OLTP/MC, and server virtualization and consolidation projects.

I like the concept of integrated solutions, but I still appreciate the flexibility that software-driven solutions can provide -- hardware not being a differentiator.
Pete SclafaniCOO and co-founder, 6connect

A hyper-converged infrastructure system (HCIS) reference architecture uses tightly coupled server, storage and network hardware -- often pushing storage from an array back onto the server and dynamically managed for scale-out operation through software included with the management stack that can handle backup, recovery, deduplication and compression.

Nutanix offerings are noted to embrace the HCIS approach, and they rank well for virtual desktop infrastructure and analytics workloads. HCIS systems can also be assembled into appliance-like products, such as Riverbed SteelFusion Hyper Converged Edge Infrastructure, for deployment to remote office/branch office (ROBO) or other edge locations.

Dawson noted another software-based, bring-your-own-system implementation for HCIS, though such offerings are relatively immature and don't rank well for any workloads, compared with other product types.

"I like the concept of integrated solutions," Sclafani said, "but I still appreciate the flexibility that software-driven solutions can provide -- hardware not being a differentiator."

A look ahead for converged systems

Dawson said he expects mergers to affect converged infrastructures. "What happens with Dell and EMC next year?" he said, noting that products like VCE may be affected well into the future. Hewlett Packard Enterprise is also acquiring Silicon Graphics International Corp. These acquisitions will lead to vendor roadmap and positioning changes that may affect current customers.

"I think the SDS [software-defined storage] movement was one of the drivers behind the Dell-EMC acquisition, as both companies saw the transition from discrete storage systems to server-based storage clusters coming," said Eric Slack, senior analyst at Evaluator Group Inc., in Boulder, Colo. "I think the VxRack products are an example of that same technology transition."

Converged systems may play a greater role in DevOps projects, where convergence offers the flexibility and scalability to support the dynamic nature of rapid development and deployment models -- especially in hyper-converged and ROBO product offerings. "The ROBO use case is the point-product use case," Dawson said.

More vendors should enter the marketplace over the coming year. Dawson said he sees the emphasis on pure software-based HCIS offerings that focus on software-defined capabilities for the enterprise. At the same time, Dawson said he anticipates more data center vendors and reference architecture -- software-focused -- startups to collaborate and compete for market share.

Systems vendors may work to develop next-generation hyper-convergence systems that enable a more modular and fabric-based architecture as a product differentiator. And Dawson said he foresees software-defined infrastructure running on serverless computing platforms -- essentially, HCI in the cloud.

Other analysts agreed. "SDS is the foundation for HCI and an enabler to its benefits," Slack said. "Specifically, it's the economics of commodity hardware, the flexibility of multiple hardware configuration options, the simplicity of a turnkey appliance, the scalability of a clustered architecture and so on."

CI moving forward

Now that the notion of hyper-convergence is ingrained in the IT vernacular, it's important to realize the technology is still evolving and specializing to meet a diverse range of needs. But no matter how you slice the convergence pie -- CI, HCIS and anything between -- the underlying goals of business agility and scalability always remain the same. As offerings proliferate and evolve, users can employ convergence to accommodate the needs of enterprise applications and meet business demands.

Stephen J. Bigelow is the senior technology editor of the Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected] and @DatacenterTT.

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