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You Want To Do Converged Infrastructure, But What About Your Existing One?

Last time, we discussed converged infrastructure and how new data centers could take advantage of them. And what I've proposed so far may seem like you're going to need to immediately rip and replace components of your data center.

Surely, no one -- including me -- is suggesting simply taking all your existing hardware and doing away with it in favor of a converged infrastructure. What we are suggesting is as this hardware reaches end of life and it is time for it to be replaced, take a serious look at how you acquire and build your data center.

That being said, using existing servers, storage and networking infrastructure is absolutely possible while keeping in mind the manual, intensive nature of such a task. Of course, with this approach you will miss out on the centralized administration and monitoring capabilities of converged infrastructures.

Network Virtualization
Going down this route however will require that you at least entertain the idea of converging the different types of fabrics in your network.

Today, you likely have at least Ethernet and Fiber Channel. Many organizations will also have 10GB Ethernet and some may also have FCoE. Managing them can be cumbersome, expensive and difficult, even if we get down to the minute details that may seem irrelevant, such as the different types of cables that have to be managed, the different types of adapters in each server, etc...

There are technologies that alleviate the process. Companies like Xsigo, which specialize in virtual I/O, allows you buy a sort of insurance policy against any type of future fabric that you might introduce later in the network. Xsigo has an appliance that you install between the servers and all the different types of fabrics available. Xsigo will accept all these fabrics as inputs and will then output them in a standard format, which means if a new technology is developed tomorrow, you can simply virtualize that behind the Xsigo appliance and maintain the same cabling and the same adapter in your servers.

This type of technology will obviously be included in most converged infrastructures, but you can also purchase it stand-alone for specifically these use cases.

Storage Virtualization
We have been talking about storage virtualization through products like NetApp V Series, HDS USP-V (Universal Storage Platform-Virtualization) and IBM SVC (SAN Volume Controller) for several years now. These platforms are very flexible in terms of integrating various storage provider platforms behind their front-end controller and use the native virtualization features of these controllers to enable flexibility, elasticity and ease of use.

There are still environments where storage is bought and managed by different business units based on business requirements. The most logical approach will be to start consolidating all storage purchases, storage management and operations into a single, island-based approach.

While you venture into the private cloud and enable automation, you are absolutely not killing your legacy environments on day one. Approaches to run virtualized environments in parallel to legacy environments are typically the way customers have found success and adaptability of private clouds.

The end result with a complete virtualized stack of these layers, will enable an easy flow of information plus cut down extensively on the operational expenses including migration and management of these assets bring forward automation into datacenters.

Custom Hardware, Custom Software
You might consider custom hardware, which includes networking, host and storage environments, custom software that includes orchestration and management layers that enable the same end result. It's absolutely not necessary to purchase the converged stack, but management and orchestration might require custom programming and development of tools for deployment and provisioning.

If you were a service provider like Google, Amazon, SalesForce and many others out there and IT services is your business, taking the customized hardware and software route to build your next-generation data centers is possible. But if IT is not your core business, you might want to look at predefined solutions available in the market.

There are private clouds built today with Supermicro, HP or Dell Blades, coupled with Xsigo, HP Virtual Connect or Cisco virtualized network. On the backend, storage is provided by HDS, EMC, NetApp or others, and virtualization is provided by VMware, Microsoft, Citrix or others. The problem you'll run into is providing centralized management and orchestration of all these disparate assets from various vendors. Though it is not impossible to custom-create your management tools and orchestration tools, this approach can be costly and time-consuming.

The End Game!
The private cloud concept is a stepping stone, a necessary hop towards organizations embracing complete public clouds. In the technology world of tomorrow, no longer will organizations build data centers, no longer will we worry about acquiring hardware and software. We will simply use technology the way we use our electrical and water utilities today. Pay as you go for what you use. Once all the security and regulatory compliance have been met, once the communications pipes are capable of supporting the traffic and I/O, organizations will be at a point where public clouds are their data centers and they provision their resources accordingly.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 02/15/2011 at 12:49 PM


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