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Will Converged Systems Disintermediate Consultants?

Alan Radding

Alan Radding

Alan Radding, Big4.com guest blogger

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Remember integrated systems? They proved a boon for consulting firms. Integrated systems were those for which companies bought expensive, complex middleware and hired some pricey consultants to make it all work together as intended. Those were good times for consultants.

Now you hear less about integrated systems but more about converged infrastructure. The converged infrastructure is oriented to the increasingly virtualized environments that characterize modern enterprise data centers. Still, when you look closely at what they actually do, the results eerily resemble integrated systems.

Advanced Systems Group describes data center convergence as the latest consolidation trend for IT departments that have begun moving away from their siloed IT architectures and are starting to pool their physical server, storage and networking devices into a family of shared resources. As a result companies are now looking at buying a complete converged compute platform that combines networking, storage, servers, and usually some type of software management. These typically are delivered by one vendor with, maybe a selected partner. They are factory-built, pre-integrated, and pre-configured. What’s left for the consultant?

Tympani Inc. comes to a similar conclusion. To Tympani converged infrastructure and virtualization allow companies to dynamically enhance their IT performance by pooling their key resources — computing, storage, networking, management solutions and business applications — in a manner that enables a new generation of IT services. These new services are made available on demand and delivered economically, without compromising security or functionality. These typically require implementing a virtual infrastructure that provides immediate, tangible and quantifiable cost savings through the consolidation of server and desktop hardware, reducing the physical infrastructure footprint, as well as capital and operational expenses, while minimizing any potential lost revenue associated with downtime. Again, it’s provided by one vendor as a complete package. So, what’s the role of the consultant?

Today it seems every systems vendor is offering or preparing to offer a converged infrastructure product.  IBM’s response to the demand for converged infrastructure is its PureFlex Systems. Dell’s offering is the Dell PowerEdge FX architecture, which delivers compute, storage and I/O modules in just 2U of rack space, enabling the enterprise to build a software-defined converged infrastructure that scales quickly.

Not to be left out, Oracle offers the Virtual Compute Appliance, which it describes as an integrated, wire-once, software-defined converged infrastructure designed for the rapid deployment of both infrastructure hardware and application software. In Oracle’s case it can run any Linux, Oracle Solaris, or Microsoft Windows as a Virtual Compute Appliance converged server, network, and storage stack.

You can bet that HP, NetAp, Cisco, EMC, and more are ramping up similar offerings.  Plus, a host of young startups are bringing their own special sauce to the converged infrastructure banquet. The only role left for you, the IT consultant, seems to help your client to select the right converged infrastructure.

The challenge is to pick one and only one provider. Remember, the entire rationale of converged infrastructure to simplify the client’s otherwise complex, costly enterprise data center infrastructure with a single, factory-built, pre-configured, and tested converged infrastructure that can handle the full range of tasks they need. Picking, say, three defeats the purpose.

But before you start recommending converged infrastructure, a new variation, the hyper-converged infrastructure, has emerged with a different approach and new set of vendors. Hyper-converged systems take the idea of converged infrastructure even further, beginning with a built-in hypervisor. They are intended for highly virtualized enterprises and are typically designed around storage and compute on a single x86 server chassis interconnected by 10 GB Ethernet.

Hyper-converged solutions leverage improvements at the controller software layer to allow these systems to scale out. The more appliances you add, the greater the performance and capacity. They also add intelligent system-aware management that lets the organization administer the entire system from a single console.

As a result hyper-converged systems avoid the typical situation where one group manages the storage, another handles virtualization, another server hardware, and on and on. Instead, one small group can manage the entire hyper-converged stack, both the physical and virtual infrastructures, in a federated manner. Again, not much for the IT consultant to do.

Here the early leaders are startups, Nutanix and SimpliVity, which were first to stake out the hyper-converged infrastructure market but newcomers like Stratoscale already are jumping into the market. And don’t forget the big enterprise players. Last year EMC announced it was joining the hyper-convergence fray. Others are sure to follow.

For IT consultants who have built their practices around systems integration, it is time to rethink their business model in light of converged and hyper-converged infrastructure.  Get to know the players and find the ones that are best for your clients.

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