Fitting the pieces together

Converged infrastructure is changing the way enterprises buy storage solutions.

Read time 5min 10sec

South African organisations are starting to shift away from buying discrete storage, server, virtualisation and networking solutions towards purchasing 'converged infrastructure' offerings that tie the pieces together in a single, pre-integrated solution.

Converged infrastructure solutions are available from most enterprise computing infrastructure vendors, including the likes of HP, IBM, Oracle, Dell, Cisco, EMC, NetApp, VMware, VCE, Microsoft and Intel. They're meant to be more efficient to deploy and easier to run and manage than solutions made up of elements bought separately from multiple vendors.

Market researcher IDC forecasts that overall spending on converged systems in the data centre will grow at a compound annual rate of 54.7%, from $2 billion in 2011 to $17.8 billion in 2016. It estimates that converged infrastructure will account for 12.8% of total storage, server, networking and software spending by 2016, up from only 3.9% in 2012.

Jiaqi Sun, IT systems analyst at IDC, says the challenge of an increasing volume of unstructured data from voice, data, and video communications will prompt South African mid-market enterprises to deploy pre-integrated solutions to store, compute and network their IT systems via a single platform. "These pre-integrated solutions enhance business agility and minimise total cost of ownership - both capital and operational expenditure," he says.

"With increasing demand for cost-effective IT solutions, the majority of mid-market enterprises in South Africa are expected to migrate their SANs and other IT systems onto converged infrastructure and platforms in 2013," he adds.

According to an IDC white paper prepared for IBM, the market for converged offerings is being driven by three major factors: the need to improve performance; a focus on reducing the time spent by IT staff on provisioning and maintenance tasks; and a requirement to cut the time taken to develop and deploy.

IDC argues that integrated systems bring benefits to companies by reducing the capex and opex associated with system deployment through consolidation, virtualisation, and automation technologies.

Demands of big data

"We're seeing a big growth in converged infrastructure," says John Rollason, director of product, solutions and alliances marketing for EMEA at NetApp, adding that the trend is being driven by the rapid growth of data in the average enterprise. With their CEOs demanding they deliver on the demands of big data, CIOs are needing to grow storage capacity quickly and efficiently.

Given that most organisations spend up to 75% of their budgets keeping the lights on, they are eager to simplify operations and cut running expenses using tactics such as converged infrastructure, says Rollason.

Bevan Lock, PureFlex product manager at IBM South Africa, reports similar trends. IBM has sold more than 4 000 of its PureSystems converged solutions around the world, and claims to have shipped around 40 in South Africa to date.

Pre-integrated solutions enhance business agility and minimise total cost of ownership - both capital and operational expenditure.

Most companies lack an integrated view of their environments and optimise servers, storage, and networking in silos, says Lock. This is an inefficient approach that prevents them from taking full advantage of the benefits of standardisation and consolidation.

With the demands of the cloud, analytics and a growing volume of data from sources such as sensors and social media, end-user organisations want to manage their environments in a more integrated fashion, he adds. This is driving the demand for converged infrastructure, and storage is often the starting point of the conversation.

Lock says IBM's converged platforms include virtualisation and compression technologies that allow for better storage utilisation. "A lot of the integration work is done upfront. Customers are able to reduce costs through one view of the environment."

Best of both worlds

One benefit of converged infrastructure is that it allows organisations to combine the benefits of working with innovative specialists with the advantages of working with end-to-end platform providers, says Rollason. They can, for example, buy pre-integrated solutions based on technology from Cisco and NetApp without needing to do the integration work themselves.

Of course, specialist vendors will face tough competition from the companies that position themselves as complete solution providers. Dell, for example, is investing heavily in taking ownership of its complete technology stack, so that it can compete more effectively with the likes of HP and IBM.

A lot of the integration work is done upfront. Customers are able to reduce costs through one view of the environment.

In late 2011, Dell terminated a decade-long reseller relationship with storage specialist EMC, a partnership that saw it sell midrange and entry-level storage products worth more than $1 billion. All the while, Dell has been snapping up storage and software firms such as Compellent, Gale Technologies, Quest Software and EqualLogic to beef up its own integrated solutions portfolio.

Dell has spent billions of dollars building its storage business, at the expense of EMC. The $1.4 billion EqualLogic acquisition brought Dell into iSCSI storage, while the purchase of Compellent brought the company a midrange block storage system that supports the alternative storage protocol fibre channel.

Dell has also bought software companies such as Gale, which provides a comprehensive management, automation and orchestration platform for simplifying end-to-end provisioning across heterogeneous infrastructures.

The result of this change is that Dell now generates 98% of its storage revenue from its own intellectual property, says Brett Roscoe, Austin-based executive director at Dell. "The great thing about this direction is that we have a broad portfolio. We're able to develop a converged architecture," he says.

Converged systems are not without their challenges. IDC warns that converged technology demands more "interaction among business divisions of previously siloed organisational structures such as business units, IT departments, and external customers". But adoption can improve communication among business units, and reduce company-wide opex through a single management interface, adds IDC.

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