The speed of business today is giving rise to a transformation of the datacentre. Traditional IT infrastructure silos create bottlenecks that cripple quality of service and increase operational costs due to slower workload deployment and more room for error.
Simply put, it can take too long to design, procure, deploy and integrate new IT infrastructure, and there are too many tools needed to manage it.
The pressure for change has never been greater. Increasingly, CIOs are looking to converged infrastructure solutions which combine compute, storage, networking and infrastructure management into an integrated system to help organisations increase efficiency, agility and IT service quality.
In fact, a recent IDC study reveals that spending on converged systems will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 54.7% from US$2.0bil (RM6bil) in 2011 to US$17.8bil (53.4bil) in 2016, driven by the cost advantages and efficiency related to operations and management of IT, simplification of vendor engagement, and faster time to productivity with IT system updates 
IDC also estimates that converged infrastructure will account for 12.8% of total server, storage, networking and software spending by 2016, up from only 3.9% in 2012. 
Converged infrastructure can make an organisation’s datacentre simpler, more flexible and more cost-effective by breaking down rigid, complex IT silos within the datacentre and transforming infrastructure into dynamic pools of server, storage and networking resources that can be shared by multiple applications and managed collectively using automated, policy-driven processes.
However, the transition from the traditional silo-based IT structure is something that will not happen overnight – especially as IT teams attempt to keep up with the evolving needs of business. And, it’s not always easy to navigate through the various market solutions and impacts to an IT organisation.
It’s important for CIOs to understand various approaches and models to the converged infrastructure as well as tools and support that will be required as IT roles evolve.
Making the Switch: Key considerations and avoiding pitfalls
There are multiple considerations CIOs and IT managers should be aware of when evaluatingconverged infrastructures:
- Plan your converged infrastructure based on key workloads
When tearing down silos, IT must ensure the new converged system is designed to best address the needs of their business’s key workloads now and in the future – workloads such as analytical, unified communications, desktop virtualisation and private cloud.
Forrester Research underscores this point in its recent report, Optimize IT Infrastructure Around Key Workloads 3. In the report, Forrester states that IT infrastructure needs to become workload centric and recommends for organisations to design the server, storage, and networks in their datacentre on what matters most (their workloads), and not the other way around.”
Choosing a converged infrastructure platform that is pre-optimised for a broad range of workloads not only gives IT more agility to get systems up and running, but also lifts financial burdens with better total cost of ownership and lower operating expenses.
- Converged infrastructure solutions should go beyond the hardware
It is critical to evaluate a converged infrastructure solution based on more than hardware alone. Software and services are essential elements that provide users with an open, intuitive, automated and end-to-end foundation that ensures IT can quickly harness the benefits of the solution.
- Deployment model options let customers choose their starting point and speed transition
It’s important to have the power and flexibility to choose what infrastructure best aligns with the needs of the organisation. Some vendors offer deployment model options to help with the process, such as:
- Do-It-Yourself – For administrators that prefer full choice and flexibility over their IT infrastructure, these “a la carte” solutions are offered with validated components that are interoperable with one another defined in the form of a support matrix.
- Pre-Engineered Reference Architectures –Application-validated offerings help customers consistently build highly available converged infrastructure solutions for their critical IT workloads.
- Pre-Integrated System – These solutions are designed for IT shops that want to take the guesswork out of building out a converged datacentre so they can deliver results to the business the fastest way possible. They are pre-assembled and optimised to be quickly operationalised.
- Management software is a critical element
As IT marches towards convergence, using independent, standalone management software for every infrastructure sub-domain is slow and inefficient. This approach ultimately leads to missed business deadlines because of slow deployment processes and stalled IT initiatives.
A solid converged infrastructure solution should have unified system management software that collapses multiple management consoles, simplifies infrastructure configuration, and drives automation and consistency. This will enable IT to reduce time and steps to provision new workloads; efficiently allocate and manage server, storage and network resources; and quickly migrate or scale workloads as business needs change.
- Look for an open and standards-based approach
Not all vendors take the same approach to offering holistic converged infrastructure. While some converged infrastructure solutions come from a single vendor, others are actually grouped together by multiple vendors. CIOs should evaluate how the pros and cons of each will impact their strategy. Many times, when multiple vendors are involved, organisations must rely on consultants to help determine whether they can actually mix and match hardware and software within a system. The process can significantly slow down implementation and system upgrades and increase costs due to consultant fees.
On the other hand, companies are hesitant to adopt single vendor solutions because they want to avoid issues associated with vendor lock-in or they want to leverage some of their existing infrastructure in their converged solution. When choosing any platform, IT managers should ensure the solution is backed an open,standards-based approach to achieve optimal flexibility and interoperability.
Converged infrastructure promises to enable IT to better meet business goals, ensuring operational agility, efficiency and quality of IT service delivery well into the future. While not necessarily the answer for every organisation, many companies are already reaping the benefits of convergence and choosing platforms that are optimized for their most important workloads and applications.
Top solutions providers recognize the need for workload-centric platforms, and organisations can look forward to even more solutions to help them achieve the benefits of converged infrastructure.
If your organisation is evaluating converged systems, remember that one model won’t fit every need; solutions should align with your strategy, not the other way around, and convergence impacts the entire datacentre – infrastructure, management, applications and service management – not just the hardware.
K.T. Ong is general manager, Consumer and Commercial Business of Dell Malaysia.
3Optimize IT Infrastructure Around Key Workloads, Forrester Research, Inc., September 7, 2012