What integrated compute stacks mean for storage professionals

EMC and Cisco have Vblocks. HP has Consolidated Infrastructure. Is the world changing for enterprise IT storage professionals?

I ended my last blog post with "Integrate and prosper." Little did I know that Cisco, EMC, and VMware were about to unveil a Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) early the following week, the biggest cross-vendor integration project yet seen in the world of computing. Yes there were rumors about a Cisco/EMC joint venture that would sell Cisco servers packaged with EMC storage, but none that I heard captured the boldness and scope of VCE.

The core VCE compute platform is called a "Vblock," an integrated, pre-packaged IT solution consisting of server and networking resources from Cisco; storage, security, and software-based management tools from EMC; and an OS platform (vSphere) from VMware. To market and support Vblocks, the coalition has created two separate entities: a Solution Support Team staffed and funded by the coalition partners that will do presales and provide other marketing resources, and Acadia chartered to build and, if needed, operate Vblocks on premises for a customer. Who will you buy Vblocks from? Just about everyone except HP, IBM, and OracleSun.

Not to be outdone, the day following the VCE announcement, HP announced Converged Infrastructure (CI). CI is integrated server, networking, and storage resources too, but doesn't need a coalition. It takes most of what it needs from HP's own product lines. I say most because HP doesn't own a server virtualization platform--a key ingredient. Not to worry. Despite the fact that VMware is invested in Vblocks and Acadia, it likes CI too. And then of course there's the HyperV alternative out there...somewhere...

Its decidedly unclear at this point how successful these integrated compute stacks will be in an IT marketplace that's undergoing multiple transitions--from physical to virtual, from stove pipe to cloud, from decentralized to consolidated. The purveyors of integrated compute stacks are driven by a central belief: that your CIO wants to make the transition to virtual/cloud/consolidated simpler by wrapping up servers, switches, and storage arrays into one neat, pre-integrated package.

As storage pro, you may find that ironic. You may be old enough to remember when many of these same vendors were selling decentralized client server computing as the better, simpler way. Now the Three Musketeers--consolidation, centralization, and virtualization--are here to vanquish the complexity created by the-network-is-the-computer computing. Please shoot me if I even suggest that integrated compute stacks are the new mainframe.

So, as a storage professional slaving away within the bowels of corporate IT infrastructure, is the integrated compute stack about to change your life? I'd say yes if the powers that be like the Vblock concept. And if they like Vblocks then your choice of storage is EMC's. If CI wins, you get HP's flavor of the month array. Simple, right? And life could get simpler still when the IT operations group reorganizes around Vblocks. You may get to know the people in the server and network administration groups much better than you know them now as they start doing some of the things you do.

On the other hand, Vblocks and CIs may well be a tough sell in your organization. Cisco has yet to make its mark in the server world and buying a million-dollar anything from a coalition of vendors that want to run your critical applications on their collaborative platform is untried to say the least. But the biggest hurdle standing in the way of the integrated compute stack as it approaches your IT operations group may well be the following retort: "We just don't do things that way here."

 

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