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Converged infrastructure approach coming together, albeit slowly

Data center infrastructure integrators say interest in converged infrastructure has increased and, with it, the need for cross-training technicians on servers, networking and storage.

Data center integrators are increasingly being asked to work on projects that converge traditionally separate disciplines in server, networking and storage and that lay the foundation for private cloud solutions. That movement is causing more demand to cross-train technicians across disciplines and to invest in solutions architects who can guide these projects.

It’s is also forcing data center integrators to look more carefully at the interconnections between the technologies they recommend in each discipline.

“Customers want tightly tested, manufacturer-supported computing stacks,” said Mark Hilz, CEO of infrastructure integrator INX Inc., in Houston. “The world is deciding that it wants integrated, testing stacks.”

While Hilz stressed the need for flexibility on the part of solution providers, INX has partnered with vendors that align well with the core networking and unified communications technologies that it has specified over the years. The need for close interconnections is forcing the INX team to look at compatibilities and synergies across the infrastructure ecosystem, he said.

Bruce Hoernecke, president and CEO of BBH Solutions Inc., a New York City-based IT infrastructure integrator, said that businesses are increasingly seeking a way to integrate core infrastructure technologies more tightly to save power and improve operational efficiency. His technical team remains open-minded about the best integrated approach.

“I am supportive of delivering it all integrated under one name, but I am also not fighting the industry level of acceptance,” Hoernecke said.

That has meant shoring up the BBH Solutions IT team’s technical skills across all aspects of data center infrastructure including routing, switching, firewall, servers, unified communications and storage, he said.

Darin Haines, group president for advanced technologies with MCPc Inc., a data center consulting and services company with its headquarters in Cleveland, said interest in converged infrastructure has been driven by several factors. Foremost among them are the need to simplify infrastructure management and the need to continue driving operations cost efficiencies as businesses consider private cloud infrastructure projects.

Haines said convergence and consolidation are sweeping the data center in three phases: servers, network and storage. While virtualization has been instrumental at reducing power and “dwelling” costs for server infrastructure, Haines said these projects have led to increases in software licensing expenses, networking demands and storage complexity. Now data center managers are more closely evaluating how well their network and storage technologies support their server virtualization projects.

“We are trying to find a single pane of glass where they can manage these resources,” Haines said.

Increasingly, integrators are being required to view “the rack” as a holistic infrastructure component to drive the greatest possible efficiencies for the data center. Leading-edge cloud service providers are voicing this refrain loudly: The philosophy is behind both the Facebook-driven Open Compute Project (billed as a way to improve efficiency and innovation in system hardware) as well as the newly announced Hewlett-Packard’s Project Moonshot server platform development initiative.

“In the past, you had integrators that were very good at networking, integrators who were very good at virtualization, some that were good at storage,” Haines said. “To be successful now, you really need to have a broad selection of employees that are skilled in all these areas, and you need a solution architect that understands all of the key points for each.”

That requires an investment not just in product-specific training but in best practices for data center design. This movement has been afoot for at least three years now, Haines said, and leading-edge businesses are embracing the integrated approach as a foundation for their private cloud infrastructure.

INX’s Hilz also mentioned cloud computing as a primary driver of the computing stack approach. “We decided the market was going here several years ago,” he said. In 2010, this philosophy helped drive 35% organic growth for INX, with another 25%anticipated for this year, he added.

Many businesses are experimenting with one or two stacks to evaluate the management and performance impact of integrated architectures, Hilz said. And at the end of 2012, many of those businesses will likely decide whether or not to proceed with broader deployments, he suggested.

About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York City area with more than 20 years’ experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.

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