Realizing Big Cost Cuts Requires a New Generation of Converged Infrastructure
by Ravi Chalaka on Oct 4, 2012
If you are thinking of deploying a converged infrastructure (CI) stack, you are among the fast-growing group of IT professionals in enterprises and cloud service providers. The promise of CI, – which integrates server, network, storage, element management and in many cases – hypervisor software, is too attractive to ignore. The increasing popularity of CI is driven by the desire of organizations to find new ways to cut their fastest growing cost component – OPEX. Everyone buys hardware and software to benefit from advances in technology and to help their business to stay competitive. So why not pass the cost of integrating, testing and configuring the ever-changing landscape of new systems and applications to the vendors? Surveys show that this can amount to a quarter of IT resources and time. Highly optimized CI solutions can also lower capital expenses due to higher utilization, less cabling and fewer network connections. Some vendors are only too happy to embrace the cost of pre-testing complete infrastructure so they can offer a complete package, versus selling individual elements.
Organizations that have tried first-generation CI, which focuses mostly on hardware integration and validation, have seen a reduction in deployment time and related costs. But they have also seen less than stellar benefits in terms of automating the end-to-end infrastructure management. Most of these original CI architectures utilize multiple element managers due to the practice of bundling systems from different vendors, with no real orchestration to simplify the high volume and wide range of day-to-day tasks. Organizations have not seen an appreciable reduction in a substantial part of the cost of operations. IT professionals say processes like configuring systems, deploying virtualization images, provisioning storage or network to virtual servers, monitoring and troubleshooting end-to-end systems, is still complex, error prone and can take days or even weeks to complete. The big disadvantage of not having true unified orchestration is that IT administrators continue to spend a majority of their time on manual, low-value tasks rather than on value-add activities that streamline the data center into a service model. A few first generation CIs with so-called unified infrastructure management offer only basic integration and/or provide a “link and launch” to multiple device managers from a single GUI. Others have offered new integrated management tools that require IT professionals to learn new tools with lengthy training and/or new processes, but provide them with limited ability to truly automate and optimize the orchestration and management of the whole infrastructure. This is not an option easily embraced.
CIOs are requiring that their organizations re-architect data centers to include a migration to private clouds, with virtualization at the core. The focal point of infrastructure orchestration is moving to serve these virtualized environments. VMware vCenter and Microsoft System Center are becoming critical to managing and orchestrating the virtual environment, but their visibility into the physical elements is largely limited to the servers that host hypervisor images. The rest of the infrastructure -including bare metal servers, switches and storage – are mostly invisible to hypervisor-based management. To overcome this shortcoming, many products provide software tools that integrate and enable VMware vCenter or Microsoft System Center to perform some management functions, for instance storage provisioning or snapshot management, but again, these are limited to individual infrastructure elements and do not orchestrate the entire infrastructure from one source. First generation CI solutions produced real cost benefits in the pre-deployment phase but continue to be limited to traditional element management tools bundled together. The division of labor for virtual machines, physical servers, client networking, storage and storage networking produces management overlap and no labor-related benefits without optimized converged system management.
IT professionals at both enterprise and cloud service providers are clear about what they wish for in a solution. To truly realize the full benefits of CI solutions, a new generation of CI needs unified orchestration of the physical layer from the same software that manages the virtual. To achieve seamless and true orchestration of end-to-end physical and virtual environments, tight integration across all elements, including virtualization management software, is essential. The industry needs innovations in CI that support seamless infrastructure, virtualization and management integration in order to enable dramatic simplification via automating manually intensive tasks and reducing associated staff resource time. These innovations must also cut over provisioning of storage and network resources, and most importantly, maintain commitments for mission-critical workload SLAs. With these advancements, a new generation of CI can become the foundation for the migration to private clouds, and enable bigger reduction in operating costs. Savings will come from reduced labor requirements due to a simplified and automated data center management, and eventually drive enterprises and cloud service providers toward consolidating storage, network and server management teams into CI teams.
When will this day come? I’d be curious to get your thoughts.