The trend towards converged infrastructure

Despite fears of vendor lock in or single point of failure, the ease of use and performance benefits of converged infrastructure will mean increased adoption of integrated systems in future, says Swapna Subramani of IDC.

Tags: Converged infrastructureIDC Middle East and Africa
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The trend towards converged infrastructure Some organisations are embracing converged solutions, but they need to be aware of the different deployment processes and skills required to run these systems, says Subramani.
By  Swapna Subramani Published  September 14, 2014

The enterprise market in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region has matured in recent years following an evolution within the data centre and a shift in focus towards efficient infrastructures. With its four key technology pillars of cloud, mobility, social business, and big data/analytics, the so-called Third Platform is reshaping the data centre and stressing the optimum utilization of resources while simultaneously driving down operating expenses. This has accelerated the rate of business change within organisations and necessitated a more rapid transformation of the data centre.

A key emerging technology fuelling this rapid transformation is converged infrastructure. IDC defines converged infrastructure as pre-converged, vendor-certified systems containing server hardware, disk storage systems, networking equipment, and basic element/systems management software. Converged infrastructure provides all the essentials for running a data centre with the certification and service of a single vendor, hence ensuring more straightforward deployment and troubleshooting.

One of the key benefits of a converged system is the efficiency objectives that are achievable through its deployment. Whether pre-configured or assembled on site, these systems are ‘tuned to task’, which means they are well balanced and aligned with the requirements of the organisation. This improves performance and eases management as the IT capacity requirements can be dynamically controlled and monitored through a single platform that provides a complete view of system resources. Converged systems also contribute to the efficiency bottom line by being not only easy to deploy but also easy to manage.

In the MEA region, the key growth drivers for converged systems are VDI, mobility, complex databases, and cloud. Each of these drivers introduces a range of complexities in terms of computing, connectivity and storage making it essential to simplify troubleshooting and management. Also, verticals dependent on heavy mission critical applications such as Banking, Telco, Government, Retail etc. could largely benefit from the simplification and agility induced by converged systems.

Most server, storage, and networking vendors have introduced converged systems within their product portfolios. While some converged offerings have all the pillars of the system (servers, storage, networking, and management) offered by a single vendor, other vendors have formed strategic alliances bringing their core competence into a converged system branded and sold by a single vendor but with multiple vendor associations.

There is also a difference in the deployment methods employed by different vendors. While some vendors have reference architecture of converged systems that are customisable and can be deployed onsite, others provide fully preconfigured systems with only plugging, testing, and knowledge transfer done onsite. With mixed approaches towards converged systems, the MEA region is divided on the adoption of converged infrastructure, with some organisations embracing the technology while others are delaying adoption for fear of vendor lock-in and incompatibility.

IDC, however, expects these systems to find mainstream use, with organisations gradually deploying their mission-critical Tier 1 applications on converged systems. The growth in converged systems within the region has been indicative of IDC’s expectations. According to the IDC Worldwide Integrated Infrastructure and Platform Tracker, the MEA region posted year-on-year growth of 102% in 2013, while the worldwide growth rate averaged out at a little over 50% for the same period.

There is tremendous scope for converged systems adoption within the region’s key verticals, including BFSI, oil and gas, telecommunications, and government. Converged systems can also be extremely valuable to the region’s booming small and medium-sized business (SMB) segment. The SMB segment can avail the computing benefits of a functional data centre through the deployment of a single converged system with plug-and-play capabilities. The system provides the scalability and agility required by growing SMBs. The various Smart City initiatives springing up in the region are also expected to go down the converged route because of the huge, complex infrastructure requirements that are part of these massive build-out plans.

Like any emerging technology, converged infrastructure also comes with its own set of challenges. While some of these are perceived, some are real issues based on previous use cases. Aligning technology replacement cycles can be a challenge across the server, storage, and networking areas for organisations that plan to introduce converged systems during their refresh cycles. Furthermore, some CIOs have encountered problems while integrating converged systems with existing infrastructure and management processes.

There is also a perception among enterprises that converged systems pose a single point of failure, thereby raising concerns around reliability. One of the real challenges faced by organisations in the region is a shortage of skills within their IT staff. Converged systems bring about a change in the typical responsibilities of the IT team. While the overall management is simplified, the routine tasks require technical know-how in managing a suite of systems under a unified management console. Many converged vendors are now offering training and certifications on managing their converged systems.

The data centre continues to evolve, with business demands and technology enhancements placing increasing importance on efficient infrastructures. Server, storage, and networking vendors have created a set of offerings that resonate very well with data centre operators looking for the next level of infrastructure efficiency within their highly virtualised environments. Ultimately, IDC expects the benefits that converged systems can bring to organisations in terms of agility, productivity, flexibility, and cost savings to foster increasing adoption of these systems across the Middle East and Africa.

Swapna Subramani is Senior Research Analyst, IDC MEA.

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