Converged Infrastructure: What Advantages Does It Offer?
When a company has decided to choose hardware and software to deploy new IT infrastructure, it has two options: to opt for one of new hyper-converged solutions or to build its own system based on components from different vendors.
The first argument in favour of the first option has already been repeatedly mentioned in discussions about hyper-converged structures: the solution will be supported from a single source. Corporate users who prefer the second option are often faced with a problem: in case of emergency situations, failure or malfunction of the IT system, each vendor tends to shift responsibility to another one. However, the true value of hyper-converged infrastructure is associated with simple deployment, centralised control and optimisation of the system. In other words, we are talking about a significant simplification and more rational organisation of the IT infrastructure management, which allows IT administrators to focus on more important tasks. Performance improvement in this case is of less importance.
To understand why everybody is so attracted to the simplicity concept, it is enough to remember how IT infrastructures have been developing in recent times. Traditional systems implied independent control of heterogeneous components of a data centre. Due to this, a company has to keep a considerable staff of system engineers with sufficient skills and experience to understand the intricacies of different lines of equipment and their compatibility. Over time, it had become such a headache that there appeared a need to change the current unproductive approach to something completely different.
The purpose of the converged infrastructure is to minimise problems of compatibility between system components and bring them to a single form factor. Eventually, this makes the operation of IT infrastructure much simpler due to the centralised control of all elements. Currently, the market offers a variety of configurations for converged solutions, among which four main groups can be identified:
- Reference architecture It possesses such characteristics as flexibility, template-based configurations, certified architecture, self-assembled solutions.
- Converged solutions Dealing with a single vendor, unified technical support, pre-assembled solutions.
- Hyper-converged architecture Simplified, software-defined, aggregated resources.
- Rackscale architecture Flexibility, pooled resources and disaggregated components, modular structure.
In case of the reference architecture, a set of measures to select suitable equipment and solve compatibility problems have already been taken, and the relevant recommendations have been developed. In fact, these recommendations are sufficient to create a reliable, proven infrastructure. Solution templates is an excellent tool for the creation of IT systems. However, all components of such a structure are still operated independently.
Converged infrastructures can be divided into two subgroups: general-purpose and special-purpose ones. Regardless of the type, the customer receives a ready-to-use solution assembled by a vendor. The Vblock platform is one of the most well-known solutions of the first type, but some special-purpose solutions, such as Exadata, are highly competitive with it. As a rule, the main difference is about the questions “how much?” and “how soon?”, and the answers may be different for different customers.
The next step in the development of the convergence concept is the hyper-converged infrastructures that use software tools for integrating all components under common control. Such systems are easily scalable, but, as usual, their data storage and processing systems cannot be scaled independently.
Finally, the Rackscale architecture should be mentioned. A combination of disaggregated resources of different components is pooled. Using the Rackscale architecture, administrators can maximise the performance of corporate storage systems based on a mix of servers from little-known manufacturers by integrating them into a single pool. And this is a significant difference from the hyper-converged infrastructure, since compatibility of servers and storage devices is not required.
The simplified control is a key advantage of converged infrastructures, and there are many ways to achieve this goal. Being a rapidly rising trend in the industry, the convergence concept is attracting more and more vendors. With the appearance of more capacious data storage arrays equipped with an integrated hypervisor, the introduction of native applications into conventional enterprise-class data storage systems is only a matter of time.