Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Demystifying Converged Infrastructure

  • Converged infrastructure (CI) has become one of the handful of next big things changing data centers dramatically. With CI, vendors bundle typical computing components -- storage, compute, hypervisor and networking -- into prepackaged data center building blocks, allowing for easy implementation and scalability. VCE, a joint project by VMware, Cisco, and EMC formed the first converged product, the Vblock, which combined technology in a preconfigured format in accordance with a reference architecture. From there, vendors Nutanix and SimpliVity built and shipped smaller converged products.

    Now, converged infrastructure products have moved beyond packaging exercises to add sophisticated functionality like management consoles and traditional storage features like dedupe, compression and backup. While storage vendors were some of the first to enter the converged market, more have joined the field. These products are generally available as appliances, with some software-only vendors in the mix.

    Converged infrastructures are finding fans where IT teams need simplicity, such as in a business with limited staff resources or for a greenfield deployment or new workloads. VDI is also a good use case for converged infrastructure, as it allows businesses to access flash storage at a lower cost. However, CI also brings vendor lock-in, and diagnosing specific problems within the converged box can be difficult.

    (Image: André Hofmeister/Flickr)

  • Converged or hyperconverged?

    As converged infrastructure has matured, new products are more often referred to as hyperconverged infrastructure. Though it may have started as marketing speak, hyperconvergence now indicates a product with an intelligent management layer. Hyperconvergence integrates grid software to manage the various components of the product through one console. Thats where vendors can differentiate their converged product as well, since commodity hardware usually makes up the pieces of a converged box.

    (Image: cod_gabriel/Flickr)

  • What you get with a converged system

    Converged systems act as building blocks for a data center, so scalability is a given. They also offer easy management of all servers and virtual machines that are contained in the system. The downsides can be the vendor lock-in, and scalability could be a liability if you only need to scale out one tool -- storage, but not networking, for example. And a converged model may bring up questions within the IT team of who owns and fixes any issues that arise. Take a look at all the pieces of a converged infrastructure product to get the full picture.

    (Image: nevil zaveri/Flickr)

  • Storage

    The storage capabilities included in converged products can be a nice bonus for IT teams. Tthey may contain flash for performance and can bring data protection across all nodes. Plus, converged infrastructures storage can actually be cheaper since it relies on DAS to scale out rather than a pricey SAN. Hyperconverged products take advantage of DAS on the physical servers, combining those storage components into a pool of shared capacity that can use all the clusters resources. This boosts performance as well, since virtual machine I/O bandwidth also becomes shared. VMware implements its hyperconverged storage component as a kernel module, though other systems implement storage as a VM.

    (Image: emmajanehw/Flickr)

  • Virtual machines

    Existing virtual machines can be migrated into converged systems and managed through the interface. Converged systems may use their own virtual platform (like VMware, naturally) or integrate with other hypervisors. The hypervisor choice may help guide your choice of converged infrastructure vendor, especially if youre not a vSphere ESXi user.

    (Image: S.Antonio72/Flickr)

  • Management layer

    This feature of hyperconverged systems is a distinguishing characteristic of the most modern products, particularly as its the feature that sets competitors apart. The administration layer of a hyperconverged infrastructure allows users to manage the entire stack of disparate technologies. These interfaces are built for growth and evolution and often use APIs for flexibility.

    (Image: JD Hancock/Flickr)

  • Networking

    Networking has become a key component of a hyperconverged strategy as more enterprises consider upgrades to 10, 25 and 40 GbE, as well as SDN. Converged products, with their scalability potential, are aligned nicely with SDNs capabilities, and are reported to integrate easily with SDN. Emerging SDN products may even be designed with CI in mind. For now, though, CI products also integrate with traditional networks. And in keeping with converged infrastructures simplicity, many products have just two network ports.

    (Image: tico_24/Flickr)

  • Whos selling converged infrastructure?

    The vendor market continues to grow, with newcomers joining established companies to offer many varieties of converged infrastructure boxes. Heres a current list, though new products will continue to emerge as the market grows.

    Dell Active Infrastructure HP Converged Infrastructure
    IBM Flex
    NetApp FlexPod
    Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform
    Scale Computing HC3
    SimpliVity Omnicube
    VCE Vblock
    VMware EVO:RAIL

    (Image: hudiemm/iStock)