Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, December 3, 2022

Quickening March Toward Convergence 

The need for capacity in enterprise IT is every increasing. Whether it’s compute, bandwidth, fabric, throughput, or even data, the march of growth only seems to hasten, a phenomenon that can prove to be exponentially expensive.

Attacking this march for increasing capacity are strategic trends to contain the costs associated with these increases, such as cloud computing and open source. Another trend to battle these rising costs, which has come in the wake of cloud computing, is the converged infrastructure.

While this concept can mean different things to different vendors, it ultimately amounts to a plug-and-play approach to the datacenter, where pre-configured servers, network, and storage can be dropped into a pool of shared resources, and is off to the races without the hassles of extended (and time-consuming) provisioning that a traditional set-up requires.

In a way, the converged infrastructure trend can be seen as hard iron’s answer to the cloud – dial it up, drop it in, and it’s off to the happy land of resource flexibility (or so one would like to believe). The benefits are certainly attractive, with the promises of a simplified deployment, increased automation, and improved cost/performance ratio. However, there are warts on the underbelly of this trend that one is forced to consider.

Joel McKelvy with NetApp describes one of the most critical ones discussing the NetApp/Cisco joint converged infrastructure offering. “When you virtualize into pools of resources (like with FlexPod), you’re putting all your eggs in one basket, and when you do that, you need a really good basket,” he warns. “You’re willing to invest more in that basket, so it needs to be non-disruptive, it has to be able to give you very good SLAs, it has to give you strength in security. It has to give you all these aspects that you’d expect from your datacenter, because at no time when you have one basket can you afford for that basket to go off line.”

While that’s sobering, the converged infrastructure trend remains attractive, especially when one considers that it’s a space that all of the major IT players, including Cisco, Dell, HDS, HP, IBM, NetApp, and Oracle have all staked out turf in this arena. While all of this uber-vendor attention provides a level of comfort, it also adds a corresponding level of mystification as they all jockey to differentiate their offerings, with options on everything from sizing to software.

While McIvey will certainly be happy to sell the NetApp/Cisco FlexPod flavor of the converged infrastructure, he does offer some advice to the confused shopper. “My recommendation to people who are buying,” says McIvey, “is to buy one that is too small, which sounds sort of counter-intuitive… Start with something that is too small, start deploying on it and as you find you need more resources, add to it gradually to meet your specific business needs.”

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