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Matching applications to the right converged technologies

Users in the data center share how the converged technology they chose -- from hyper-converged infrastructure to appliance -- meets the needs of a given application.

Successful implementations of converged technologies depend on choosing the right architecture to match different IT tasks.

For branch office deployments, distributed scale-out computing and other scenarios in corporate data centers, interest is rising in converged infrastructure (CI) and its siblings reference architectures, hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) and appliances.

"Converged infrastructure is ... going into larger environments with different lifecycles for servers, storage, network -- all different lengths for depreciation schedules and upgrade paths," said Camberley Bates, an analyst at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm.

For Tapad, a cross-screen content delivery specialist in New York City, converged infrastructure augments two-year-old standard rack servers in a distributed computing model.

"Converged infrastructure gave us a minimal fault domain, was cost-effective and let us go denser for power and cooling," said Ryan Tennant, vice president of technical operations at Tapad.

Tapad's IT team evaluated vendors for hardware- and appliance-based converged infrastructure and software-defined CI, and found the appliance model wasn't right for the amount of open source technology in its data center.

The company adopted the Dell PowerEdge FX2, a 2U chassis that holds up to four FC630 sleds: Each hosts two-socket Intel Xeon E5 processors with hard disk and solid-state drive options for storage.

"CI lets us reduce a lot of waste infrastructure," Tennant said. He added that FX2 is flexible, with more options for server and storage growth than in traditional data center hardware.

The hyper-converged option

Hyper-converged infrastructure has a "strong purpose" in the data center, Bates said. It enables flexible scaling and is often sized to take on entire branch offices, the IT duties of small or medium-sized businesses and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployments.

Organizations need to know what they want before implementing converged, hyper-converged or appliance infrastructure.

"There's no getting around local compute if your branch office is big enough," said Scott Miller, data center director for World Wide Technology Inc., a global systems integrator. Branch-in-a-box offerings eliminate many of the problems of non-centralized IT: local IT management and support at each office, nonstandard components and disparity from one deployment to another.

For a large enterprise with a tightly centralized data center infrastructure, an appliance could help achieve continuity across the IT domain. Miller said one example of this is EMC's VSPEX Blue, which consists of a 2U, four-node package of x86 hardware, VMware's EVO:RAIL management, and additional features that include EMC RecoverPoint for VMs and VMware vSphere Data Protection Advanced software.

"This is a natural extension of that deployment federation," Miller said, with "the same management software all under one big umbrella with low risk."

Miller anticipates a future generation of converged technologies that might include a router, wireless access and voice systems to truly centralize IT management while boosting local compute capabilities.

An appliance for some jobs

Another CI option is the dedicated appliance: a tightly integrated package of hardware, management software and applications that perform a specific task. We're accustomed to these products for databases, like Oracle's Exadata, and now they're getting a converged spin.

For Secure-24, a managed hosting and IT services provider in Michigan, the appeal of Oracle's converged infrastructure offering is having one vendor from top to bottom in the stack. The company moved from a fleet of x86 servers with VMware virtualization and EMC and NetApp storage onto two Oracle Virtual Compute Appliances, with Oracle Linux supporting Oracle VMs for its e-Business Suite, Hyperion and other Oracle applications.

The Oracle Virtual Compute Appliance (VCA) also meant easier licensing with Trusted Partitions for VMs. "This allowed us to take Oracle databases -- just about every app has one -- and put them in our private cloud and still be licensing compliant," said Sean Donaldson, Secure-24's CTO. He noted one business that saved $150,000 in licensing costs when Secure-24 hosted the customer's Oracle apps on the VCA instead of a heterogeneous hardware and cloud stack.

This tight integration also changed how Secure-24 organized its staff, with a smaller sub-team of unified engineers focusing only on this stack.

With a greater focus on applications, Donaldson expects more companies will follow suit. "Even internal teams need to look at the infrastructure as one holistic unit," he said.

Plan for growth

Organizations need to know what they want before implementing converged, hyper-converged or appliance infrastructure.

"Let's say [you] have a branch office that needs 50 virtual desktops. [You] could have bought a dedicated appliance for VDI, but who only needs VDI? Nobody," WWT's Miller said. The branch has other IT needs and goals, and a hyper-converged box could run the VDI deployment as well as the additional IT tasks at the location.

In the same vein, hyper-converged infrastructure might offer the simple scaling that small businesses and branch offices rely on, but isn't necessarily the best way to run a core enterprise data center for large companies, he added.

In such a new class of data center IT, growth is an important criterion for deployment. Early CI adopters are getting to the point where they need to refresh or increase capacity, the Evaluator Group's Bates said. "It's suddenly a million-dollar transaction."

Reference architectures might have an edge on CI because they don't include as much vendor lock-in, which eases the refresh process, she said. However, a reference architecture also means more involvement from the IT team and/or outside experts to design, deploy and manage infrastructure. The best approach is to understand your deployment's specific needs and goals, along with its limitations, and then test products' viability.

Meredith Courtemanche is the senior site editor for SearchDataCenter. Follow @DataCenterTT for news and tips on data center IT and facilities.

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