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The Politics of Data Center Unification

In my recent cover story for InformationWeek on Data Center Unification, one of the challenges that space did not allow me to discuss was the people and political issues that will certainly engulf a data center unification kickoff meeting.

Unification, as discussed in that article, is leveraging FCoE to create a single fabric that will carry both network and storage traffic over a common set of Ethernet cables. The overall goal is to reduce capex and opex by reducing network card counts in the servers as well as cabling costs.

My larger concern over unification is the people and the politics of the process. In almost every IT meeting I have been involved in, there are at least three groups of people -- the network guys, the storage guys, and the DBAs. So far, the most unification I have seen from those groups is if they all decide to have lunch together. In most cases, they all get along, but there are almost always clear lines of demarcation between the groups, and it is not uncommon to hear "I have to get the ____ guys to do that" or "those darn _____ guys are driving me crazy."

Infrastructure unification is almost certainly going to cause the network and storage groups to be merged into a single entity. While I have known storage guys that are equally adept at networking, and networking guys that are adept at storage, the specialization of the last five to 10 years has caused less crossover knowledge between those two camps than there was in the late 80s and early 90s. An exception may be in smaller companies where smaller IT staffs and smaller IT infrastructure has already caused the wearing of many hats.

In reality, unification may not happen at the people level. Storage may still be managed by one group and the standard network stuff by the network group. Companies will still get the cost savings of reduced cards and cables, but that seems like a lot of work to go through for not much savings. Cross-training the groups and then combining the groups may also be an option, but training is not cheap -- in fact, FCoE training is going at a premium now.

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