Thursday, August 12, 2010

Converged Infrastructure, Part 3

Converged Infrastructure: What it Is, and What it Isn't

In my two earlier posts, I first took a stab at an overview of converged infrastructure and how it will change IT management, and in the second installment, I looked a bit closer at converged infrastructure's cost advantages. But one thing that I sense I neglected was to define what's meant by converged infrastructure (BTW, Cisco terms it Unified Computing). Even more important, I also feel the need to highlight what converged infrastructure is not. Plus, there are vendor instances where The Emperor Has No Clothing -- e.g. where some marketers have claimed that they suddenly have converged infrastructure where the fact remains that they are vending the same old products.

Why splitting hairs in defining terms? Because true converged infrastructure / unified computing has architectural, operational, and capital cost advantages over traditional IT approaches. (AKA Don't buy the used car just because the paint is nice)

Defining terms - in the public domain
Obviously, it can't hurt to see how the vendors self-describe the offerings... here goes:
Cisco's Definition (via webopedia)
"...simplifies traditional architectures and dramatically reduce the number of devices that must be purchased, cabled, configured, powered, cooled, and secured in the data center.  The Cisco Unified Computing System is a next-generation data center platform that unites compute, network, storage access, and virtualization into a cohesive system..."

Egenera's Definition
"A technology where CPU allocation, data I/O, storage I/O, network configurations, and storage connections are all logically defined and configured in software. This approach allows IT operators to rapidly re-purpose CPUs without having to physically reconfigure each of the I/O components and associated network by hand—and without needing a hypervisor."
HP's Definition
"HP Converged Infrastructure is built on a next-generation IT architecture – based on standards – that combines virtualized compute, storage and networks with facilities into a single shared-services environment optimized for any workload."
Defining terms - by using attributes
Empirically, converged infrastructure needs to have two main attributes (to live up to its name): It should reduce the quantity and complexity of physical IT infrastructure, and it should reduce the quantity and complexity of IT operations management tools. So let's be specific:

Ability to reduce quantity and complexity of physical infrastructure:
  • virtualize I/O, reducing physical I/O components (e.g. eliminate NICs and HBAs)
  • leverage converged networking, reducing physical cabling and eliminating re-cabling
  • reduce overall quantity of servers, (e.g. ability to use free pools of servers to re-purpose for scaling, failure, disaster recovery, etc.)
Ability to reduce quantity and complexity of operations/management tools:
  • be agnostic with respect to the software payload (e.g. O/S independent)
  • fewer point-products, less paging between tool windows (BTW, this is possible because so much of the infrastructure become virtual and therefore more easily logically manipulated)
  • reduce/eliminate the silos of visualizing & managing physical vs virtual servers, physical networks vs virtual networks
  • simplified higher-level services, such as providing fail-over, scaling-out, replication, disaster recovery, etc.
To sum-up so far, if you're shopping for this stuff, you need to
a) Look for the ability to virtualize infrastructure as well as software
b) Look for fewer point products and less windowing
c) Look for more services (e.g. HA, DR) baked-into the product.

Beware.... when the Emperor Has No Clothes...
In closing, I'll also share my pet peeve: When vendors whitewash their products to fit the latest trend. I'll not name-names, but beware of the following stuff labeled "converged infrastructure":
  • If the vendor says "Heterogeneous Automation" - that's different. For example, it could easily be scripted run-book automation.  This doesn't reduce physical complexity in the least.
  • If the vendor says "Product Bundle, single SKU" - Same as above. "Shrink wrapped" does not equal "converged"
  • If the vendor says "Pre-Integrated" - This may simplify installation, but does not guarantee physical simplicity nor operational simplicity
 Thanks for reading the series so far.  I'm pondering a fourth-and-final installment on where this whole virtualization and converged infrastructure thing is taking us - a look at possible future directions.