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Data Center Convergence: Fact or Fiction?

Recently, IT departments have had trouble keeping pace with growth in their data centers. In many cases, each time that a new application was built, they had to deploy a new server, storage system, and network switch. With IT becoming a key business enabler and the number of applications swelling, a plethora of devices resulted.

To ease the burden, vendors, such as Brocade, Cisco, EMC, HP, and IBM have been building a new generation of data center devices. These products (which go by various names, such as converged systems, converged infrastructure, and unified computing systems) consolidate autonomous products (servers, storage systems, network devices) into single systems. This model promises to reduce costs, speed up deployments, and simplify maintenance.

While there are potential benefits, these products also have some shortcomings. The market for these devices is still developing, and customers may find holes in the infrastructure. "To implement these systems, companies will need to make a significant capital investment, usually one starting in six figures," notes Galen Schreck, principal analyst at Forrester Research. In addition, deployment of these systems often requires that companies revamp their IT operations dramatically. Consequently, a slow rather than rapid ramp-up to these systems is expected.

Since the turn of the millennium, IT departments have been under stress. As companies deployed new applications, the underlying infrastructure expanded - often quite significantly. Even small and midsize businesses found themselves working with tens, hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of network switches, servers, and storage systems.

Improvements in automation, semiconductor technology, and virtualization enabled vendors to build more powerful, cohesive devices. One big potential draw to collapsing server, network, and storage systems into a single chassis is cost reduction in areas like physical infrastructure. Companies no longer have to string cable to connect a server or a storage system to a switch, a change that could reduce cabling by as much as 40 percent. (Estimates are that as much as 15 percent of a data center's IT budget goes into the cabling.) In addition, fewer devices mean less use of power and cooling systems.

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