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Converged Infrastructure 101: What You Need to Know

By Features PCmag

You've probably heard the term "converged infrastructure" bandied about. You're vaguely aware that a converged infrastructure has the potential to streamline your information technology (IT) processes. Your interest is piqued but you don't really have any clue what a converged infrastructure is or how you can apply it to your business.

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Converged infrastructure as a concept is a lot simpler than its name suggests. However, finding a partner, setting up your infrastructure, and making the new setup work for you can be extremely complex. In order to help you better understand what this all means (and whether or not you should build your own converged infrastructure), we've drafted this handy primer.

What Is Converged Infrastructure?
Let's start with a very simple definition. Let's say you have databases, routers, servers, switches, and various business software platforms running the back end of your business. Typically, these devices and tools operate on separate physical appliances. As your workloads increase, so does the data produced by all of your tools. You can buy more hardware to manage the data proliferation or you can switch to a single controller where everything is managed and processed. By building a converged infrastructure, you'll be putting all of your hardware and software into one physical appliance. This enables you to pool resources by pre-integrating hardware, tying all of the data produced in your infrastructure in the cloud, and automating processes that traditionally spanned across multiple disparate systems.

How Will It Work?
Typically, your business will work with a vendor who will pre-build, validate, and monitor your IT workloads to ensure that your new, consolidated environment runs smoother and more cost-effectively than it would have using disparate appliances. Another reason businesses flock to converged infrastructure partners is that managing scale will no longer be an issue for your team to oversee. Your business partner, be it EMC, Dell, or Amazon (among many others) will have to figure out how to meet your storage and speed needs. Yes, you'll pay more as your needs increase, but you won't have to deal with the headache of figuring out where everything will go.

What Will It Look Like?
Your converged infrastructure will feature a single group of hardware appliances that combine your servers, storage, and networking tools in one chassis. Today, you're probably storing all of these devices in different cases that don't tie on or speak to one another in one tight system. In addition to combining the chassis, you're also able to combine the management systems into one user interface (UI).

Cost Savings
You always have to take vendor-estimated cost savings with a grain of salt. After all, they're trying to get you to buy their products, so the higher their estimates, the higher you believe your return on investment (ROI) will be. HP Enterprise estimates using its converged infrastructure platform will reduce your configuration time by 96 percent, the number of tools you'll use by 50 percent, and staffing costs by 217 percent. Although you probably won't achieve this same level of astronomical results, it's helpful to be armed with this type of information when you approach potential vendors. You can present these numbers to them and they can provide you with fact-based, realistic estimates on how their tools can help your organization specifically.

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How to Do It Right
Sequoia Consulting has a wonderful white paper on converged infrastructure that I suggest you read in its entirety. Yes, the white paper is sponsored by Presidio and shills Presidio products. But it's an excellent primer for anyone who is just dipping his or her toe into converged infrastructure.

In the white paper, the consultancy lists several things you should do in order to build a fully-functional converged infrastructure that will ultimately prove beneficial for your business. The first recommendation Sequoia makes is to align your vendor with your current architecture. Your vendor will likely provide several different configurations of its converged solution; try and find the one that most closely aligns with the hardware and software you're already using (unless you intend to start from scratch).

Another excellent recommendation the white paper makes is to pre-select which workloads you'll be sending to your converged infrastructure, and then select a configuration that can handle all of the associated data and bandwidth. You'll also want to choose a configuration that provides you with a bit of room for expansion.

The Grass Isn't Always Greener
Because a converged infrastructure requires you to consolidate systems and buy pre-configured tools, it's a bit difficult to break away from the pack for new tools or new vendors. Essentially, you're locking yourself into a system that might not be flexible enough to adapt.

Another major barrier to building converged infrastructures is the high upfront cost associated with the transition. Think about it: You're almost building out your entire IT ecosystem from scratch. This investment might pay off in the long run, especially if HP Enterprise's wild estimations are correct, but the upfront cost could put you in a serious hole.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.