Blade arrays: The enabler for converged infrastructure

1 Author : May 10, 2013 0

Nitin Phadnis, national manager, Server marketing, Dell india

Converged Infrastructure is a data centre design that combined with intelligent infrastructure management optimizes a company’s data centre for better performance. Converged Infrastructure (CI) has met resistance early on due to a mistaken perception of risk and expenditure of adopting a technology that was new.

The delta that exists between the perceived risk and the reality of CI implementation and robustness prevented some organizations from moving to CI. With the economic downturn, and resulting shrinkage of IT budgets most companies had been shy of making any further investments in their IT systems.

However, the reality remains that converged infrastructure is indeed a game-changer, and succeeds in achieving high levels of energy efficiency, superior manageability, and lower cap-ex as a result of increased density and a smaller footprint requirement.

Any enterprise planning a major infrastructure deployment would do well to consider a CI environment. Organizations realize now that they are able to leverage a converged infrastructure and service automation to decrease the testing window, accelerate system refreshes and enable the rapid deployment of new environments.

Organizations have also realized additional cost savings and efficiencies by using a single scalable infrastructure platform to support both development and production requirements for a wide range of applications, including private clouds, virtual desktops, Microsoft applications and SAP environments.

Converged infrastructure is gaining importance now for the simple reason that it has the ability to improve agility, efficiency and IT service quality while not hampering the organization’s IT budget by much. Convergence is an effective approach for companies that face problems like managing trade-offs and insufficient budgets to deliver critical business initiatives to name a few.

In the instance of Texmo industries, a market leader in the electric motor and agricultural pump industry, system performance and user efficiency was of the essence. They managed to achieve this with a centralized storage solution and intelligent data management. With the assistance of converged infrastructure in their IT structure Texmo was able to improve both partner and customer satisfaction through providing fast, reliable billing processes and a high performing company web portal that could meet the demands of heavy users.

Further, converged infrastructure solutions provides benefits like reduced cost of running applications, faster infrastructure deployments, simplicity and speed of management and improved time-to-value for application and cloud deployments. Companies often face various trade-offs when new applications are deployed or when the companies support new IT initiatives.

The obstacles that might be encountered are closed architectures, vendor-lock-in, custom integration from multiple vendors or steep learning curves among others. While most solutions on the market focus on the infrastructure alone convergence is much more – it is a strategic approach that touches every part of IT: infrastructure, operations, applications and service.
With an ideal convergence solution, companies can respond more rapidly to business needs, maximize efficiency in the data center and IT teams, and strengthen IT service quality. Thus, converged infrastructure is the next thing to efficiently addressing current and future IT requirements.

According to a recent Gartner survey, half the enterprises have either implemented or are in the process of implementing converged infrastructures (CI), which includes combined compute, storage, network and systems management resources all packaged in one end-to-end solution. The intent of CI is to consolidate systems, reduce time to deployment, increase resource utilization rates and decrease costs.

While CI is gathering momentum in enterprises, a related trend also picking-up speed is the growing acceptance of the blade architecture.

The adoption of blade servers – stripped-down, rack-mountable computers that minimize the use of physical space, cabling and energy – is outpacing the server market.  While server shipments contracted in the second quarter of 2012 (-3.6 per cent), blade server shipments were up 4.1 per cent, representing 16.9 per cent of server sales for the quarter, according to the latest numbers from IDC.

Blade solutions have been around for years, but a relatively new entrant is the storage blade array, and it offers some interesting options for the converged infrastructure, especially where ease-of-manageability and convergence are paramount. Most blade servers have a minimal amount of storage capacity in the form of internal storage drives with external networked storage handling the majority of additional storage requirements.

According to a September 2012 study conducted by Forrester Consulting, the vast majority of IT organizations are seeking storage that is simpler to manage and which uses automation to free-up staff members for more strategic tasks. The survey of 839 IT professionals showed that 74 percent of IT leaders and 66 percent of storage administrators believe that storing and managing data is too complex today. With blade arrays as part of a CI solution, enterprises can keep pace with growing data sets while reducing the complexity and time needed to effectively manage their storage and IT environments.

By converging compute, switching and storage resources into a dense, self-contained form factor, blade arrays offer a range of capabilities, from basic disk arrays to highly automated, virtualized systems that can be customized to address specific applications and environments. Blade arrays also can help organizations reduce operating costs through more efficient use of switching resources, simplified cabling and consolidated management by leveraging chassis backplanes.

A company that benefitted hugely from adopting blade arrays was Usha International, a leading supplier of consumer durable goods. Through blade arrays they were able to enforce effective server consolidation that enabled them to deploy a virtualization solution that could scale to meet the long term needs of their company. Additional they were able to eliminate the need for further investment thus making an estimated saving of Rs. 8,00,000.

Enterprise-class storage blade arrays can integrate data protection features such as snapshot, clone and replication capabilities natively, eliminating the need for an external appliance or host agents, and help drive productivity levels well beyond what basic storage blades can offer. In addition, they can automatically tier storage and realign workloads and storage resources as conditions change over time, helping serve convergence by broadening the mix of applications that can be supported within each blade chassis.

Another blade architecture benefit is consolidating functionality, i.e. server and switching, at the enclosure level, something not available from external storage options. Consolidation can help streamline operations, enable centralized administration, and reduce operating costs, and even enable administrators to manage servers, switching and storage in a single view.

There are a number of other advantages available with blade arrays, ranging from the inclusion of the latest virtualization technologies to IT lifecycle benefits. Virtualization technologies can help automate routine tasks, and significantly reduce the need for user intervention. Through the strategic design of backplane and blade elements, blade systems also can maximize investment protection. Blades can be added when and as needed, or be replaced with newer versions without the need to change the chassis or surrounding infrastructure. Other lifecycle benefits include the ability to upgrade storage with new feature software as needed, to match drive types with applications added to the chassis, or to add capacity to accommodate growth.

The bottom line is that convergence through enterprise-class storage blade arrays can offer the improved manageability and productivity typically associated with advanced external storage. Organizations can drive new levels of convergence and manageability into blade infrastructures by architecting blade solutions with enterprise-class blade storage.

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