The history of converged systems proves everything old becomes new again. The most popular data management systems started out as single, unified mainframes before the prevailing trend shifted and data management became decentralized in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2008, Oracle reinvigorated the converged infrastructure era when it debuted its HP Oracle Database Machine—and managed services providers (MSPs) have never looked back.
By 2010, MSPs were firm believers in using converged cloud infrastructure. Top software development companies started rolling out innovative converged platforms to help IT administrators manage their data centers. But what is a converged infrastructure exactly? What benefits does it bring to your current technology stack? In this article, we’ll define a converged infrastructure and discuss the various elements that might make it the right solution for your business.
What Is a Converged Infrastructure?
A converged infrastructure (also referred to as a converged architecture) is a comprehensive approach to data center management that combines management software in five key areas—network, sever, computing, storage, and virtualization—in one tool. Converged systems have grown more popular with MSPs who are trying to shift away from owning and managing their own hardware. In contrast to owning all the necessary hardware, a converged infrastructure is more of a self-service system. It allows IT administrators to use resources how they want, when they want—without shouldering the burden of managing an entire system.
Traditional data center management systems are comprised of many disparate silos that must be individually configured by a separate IT team before they can be integrated with other components. A converged infrastructure bundles multiple IT assets together so that MSPs can access everything they need for full data center management in one place. This also means they don’t have to cobble together a functioning stack from disparate technologies. By integrating hardware and management software, it becomes more efficient to provision resources as a single system.
Converged systems have a modular design that displays all your system’s resources in a single capacity pool so you can better monitor your resource usage as a whole. This is much more efficient and accurate than having to constantly calculate resource availability on a component-by-component basis.
The goal of a converged infrastructure is to drastically simplify the data center management process and eliminate any hardware compatibility issues. This is especially enticing for MSPs who write cloud-native applications, or who host and operate applications within their own private cloud.
Here’s a look at some of the potential pros of working with a converged infrastructure:
- Reduced cabling, pooling, and cooling costs because of reduced infrastructure needs
- Increased visibility into resource consumption
- Increased scalability
- Embedded vendor support and vendor-validated solutions
- The ability to independently tune different components of the converged IT infrastructure
As far as cons go, there are only a couple of them to consider. First, since converged systems are pre-configured to fit the needs of your specific infrastructure, you can’t alter that configuration. This shouldn’t be a problem if your business operations stay the same for your converged infrastructure’s entire tenure, but you might run into issues if you’re in a state of flux. Second, it’s expensive and complicated to add additional components—which might essentially cancel out the benefits of a converged system in the first place.
Converged Infrastructure vs. Hyper-Converged Infrastructure
Converged infrastructure and hyper-converged infrastructure are names that are frequently incorrectly used to refer to the same data management system. These two systems may achieve the same end—comprehensive data center management—but they take different approaches.
A hyper-converged infrastructure is a software-based and software-driven approach that separates the networking, computing, and usage components from the physical hardware and adds more virtualization capabilities. Hyper-converged systems also have more specialized resources for issues like cloud bursting and disaster recovery. From a single interface, MSPs can manage both physical and virtual infrastructures either on-premises or in the cloud.
A hyper-converged infrastructure doesn’t require a highly customizable system, and it’s a good fit for small to mid-sized MSP firms. You can integrate a hyper-converged system with several of different systems, but when you expand capacity by adding more boxes, you don’t get to choose which vendor components work best for your system.
The converged infrastructure vs. hyper-converged infrastructure distinction comes down to a difference in how they’re configured. In a converged infrastructure, each component is a building block to a larger system, so you could theoretically remove and replace a component or two and the overall infrastructure would remain functional. Since everything is fully integrated in a hyper-converged infrastructure, you can’t separate any of the components from one another. A converged infrastructure is more hardware-focused, while a hyper-converged infrastructure is more software-defined.
How Does a Converged Platform Work?
A converged platform helps you manage and monitor your data center’s capacity through data recognition. This functionality helps your IT team understand how much of your data center’s resources—storage, memory, computing, networking, etc.—are available for use at any given time.
There are a variety of deployment options when it comes to a converged infrastructure. The most popular deployment option involves using your vendor’s converged infrastructure reference architecture. Your converged system vendor’s architecture is suppose to immediately help you deploy the right way and start using your components properly. It includes pre-configured hardware recommendations that isolate certain data center workloads. Vendor-validated solutions are an incredibly important and useful feature because they remove all the guesswork from the deployment process and speed up time to market.
You can also use pre-racked configurations that are pre-installed in the data-center rack for quick set-up. Alternatively, you have the option to forego pre-set options and buy separate appliances that you’ll deploy the converged infrastructure on individually.
What are the Benefits of a Converged Infrastructure?
Overall, the primary benefit of a converged infrastructure is it helps MSPs optimize, centralize, and streamline data center management. When you’re part of a large MSP firm and are responsible for negotiating many different technologies, the freedom to have all your best software located in one place is indispensable. A converged infrastructure overcomes all the obstacles associated with the traditional siloed approach to data center management.
Also, a converged infrastructure is a great data center management option for MSPs who do a lot of work in or with the cloud. Many characteristics of a converged platform make it well-suited for deploying within a cloud environment, like its ability to scale up and down and its automatic provisioning capabilities. You can use a converged cloud infrastructure to support a variety of cloud computing services, including platform as a service (PaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and software as a service (SaaS).
Some other benefits of a converged infrastructure include:
- A simplified data center management system
- Access to a scalable storage system
- A faster provisioning period, from three weeks down to less than an hour
- The ability to respond quicker to industry changes and business requests
- Easier integration with cloud computing services
- Overall greater control over your system
- Fewer hours spent installing and testing systems
How to Buy a Converged System
There are a few challenges and concerns that come with purchasing converged infrastructure products. Since a converged infrastructure and a hyper-converged infrastructure are so often confused, MSPs should be extra careful when it comes to vetting vendors and selecting their products. It may sound obvious, but make sure you’re buying the infrastructure you really want. Specifically, ask your prospective vendor whether the product can support and run network devices, storage systems, and servers independently of one another. Since a hyper-converged structure doesn’t have this capability, asking this question will help you easily determine whether the system is converged or hyper-converged.
You’ll most likely encounter a vendor lock-in situation while shopping for a converged system. This means, once you choose a solution, it won’t be easy for you to switch to a competitor’s product or service. However, this isn’t as bad as it sounds. Since a converged platform is designed for quick, easy, lock-and-load implementation, you won’t need to buy any additional tools anyway. What’s more, having everything under one brand—converged system, hardware, and software interface—will ultimately make managing your converged infrastructure much easier.
Still, a vendor lock-in arrangement doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do a little more research before you buy. Ask your vendor how often they come up with new products or features so you won’t be stuck waiting multiple years between systems updates and advanced capabilities.
Scaling Up with a Converged IT Infrastructure
Converged IT infrastructures are great data center management solutions specifically designed for the way MSPs compute in a modern working environment. In today’s increasingly digital world filled with customers who are constantly demanding a higher quality of service, it isn’t uncommon for MSPs to find themselves saddled with a gaggle of data center management systems. This might be fine when you’re just starting out, but as you acquire more customers and scale up, this isn’t an efficient way to do business.
Integrated infrastructure systems are the best way to combine all your management systems in one, centralized platform—and converged systems are the best of the best. A converged IT infrastructure is a low-cost, high-power, flexible system that can easily adapt to any MSP’s needs.
For more information on converged IT infrastructures read through our related blog articles.