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

No vendor lock-in fear with converged infrastructure

Converged and hyper-converged infrastructure is often built by one vendor. So, where's the corresponding vendor lock-in fear?

Converged infrastructure users have come to terms with vendor lock-in, and a majority of them don't have a problem with it, thanks in part to a combination of turnkey products and highly automated infrastructure.

That's according to a recent study by 451 Research called, "Voice of the Enterprise: Servers and Converged Infrastructure."

For the past three to five years, there has been a lot of hype about avoiding vendor lock-in, said Christian Perry, IT infrastructure research manager at 451 Research. Today, survey results show that customers are not overwhelmingly fearful of vendor lock-in. That is especially true when the product works well.

College of the Ozarks has run Cisco Unified Computing System blade servers and EMC VNX 5300 -- a setup that, by definition, helped avoid vendor lock-in. Now, 98% of the college's environment is on VMware VxRail hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), but there is still little fear of vendor lock-in, said Frankie Youngblood, systems and security administrator at the Point Lookout, Mo., college.

"Having one phone call for support was a big selling point, but I haven't had to use it," Youngblood said.

Previously, if there was a problem on VNX with the host bus adapter failing on Fibre Channel, he would call EMC and also log a call with Cisco.

"We would have to keep chasing it up into the hypervisor and get VMware on the phone," he said.

That meant three different vendors all trying to work together, often blaming each other as the source of the problem.

When users don't have to call a vendor for support, it is easy to dismiss the fears of being restricted to one vendor. Perry cites 451 Research's survey findings for Nutanix, for example, that had high satisfaction scores for the vendor. Many Nutanix customers have purchased multiple Nutanix boxes, Perry said.

Software-defined allays vendor lock-in fear

More software-defined infrastructure has also helped to alleviate concern about vendor lock-in, according to Perry. Many platforms run on either a VMware or Microsoft hypervisor, he said.

"We are still running on something that is industry standard," he said. "If you are locked into proprietary software, that's where the concern is."

In most enterprises, 80% to 90% of the environment runs on servers purchased from one vendor. IT pros don't care because servers are highly standardized, Perry said.

The data center at City Harvest Inc. uses all Cisco hardware, and that doesn't bother James Safonov, IT director at the New York-based company. City Harvest has always had Cisco networking and firewalls, and, last year, the company bought Cisco HyperFlex hyper-converged infrastructure.

"I really like it because we consolidated support in so many ways," he said.

Recently, there was a problem with the PC over IP (PCoIP) connections for remote virtual desktop infrastructure users, which were unable to display Windows machines. Safonov said he worked to troubleshoot the problem by opening a ticket with Cisco. He figured the problem might reside in the firewall, a Cisco switch or within the HyperFlex HCI box.

Cisco reached out to all the appropriate experts, who joined in on a call. The problem resided within a software-based Trend Micro firewall. The firewall was deactivated, which resolved the PCoIP problem.

Before settling on HyperFlex, Safonov said he shopped around. He got three quotes from hyper-converged vendors and three quotes for more traditional architectures, including all-flash arrays. While his paramount concern was price, Safonov was still worried about managing servers, storage and networking gear from different vendors.

"We would still have to troubleshoot across all the vendors," he said.

Perry said the reduced concern about vendor lock-in may not last forever. It could change if server software and management tools head down an increasingly proprietary path.

There has been a growing number of open APIs, but not as many as he would expect to counter user concerns about vendor lock-in.

"It really seems like something vendors would invest in to be more open," Perry 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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