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A datacentre with that server?

Faced with the continued commoditisation of servers, IT vendors this year will try to differentiate their offerings by moving toward more highly integrated, unified compute platforms.

That means combining servers, storage and networks – and related management software – as a package deal, says Rockwell Bonecutter, data centre technology and operations practice lead at Accenture. Vendors tried something similar a few years ago with the launch of modular ‘data centre in a box’ products. But this time, they are thinking out of the box by focusing squarely on the core datacentre infrastructure.

With integrated systems, you’re not just buying a server, you’re buying the entire infrastructure to go with it as a single, managed entity. The systems are highly integrated and highly scaleable and they include computing, storage and networking systems, as well as business services management, automated orchestration and provisioning capabilities. In some cases, those systems might include power delivery and cooling as well.

When combined with virtualisation, converged systems can form the foundation of a private cloud computing resource.

Bonecutter says the approach addresses real pain points for IT. “I’m spending the majority of my time meeting with CIOs about implementing cloud computing or about orchestration and provisioning,” he says.

HP’s BladeSystem Matrix is a harbinger of what’s to come, says Jim Ganthier, VP of HP’s industry standards group. He says Matrix lets administrators remove and reinsert blades between slots, while virtual connects ensure that storage and network resources move with them – no reprovisioning required.

The systems also allow for workload balancing based on the need to optimise power consumption, usage or a combination of the two. With Matrix, he says, “your enclosure is your datacentre”. But HP plans to implement the same model this year using rack-mounted HP servers with storage and switch gear.

IBM has a similar approach. It wants to create a more efficient, integrated system that weaves everything together more tightly. But will CIOs be willing to buy all their storage, server and networking equipment from HP or IBM to make it work?

Tom Bradicich thinks so. The IBM fellow and VP for architecture and technology for IBM’s x86 servers says the interchangeability or ‘fungibility’ of the x86 platform is what made it so popular.

He says enterprises will be willing to trade some fungibility for a more efficient system – albeit one in which the x86 system morphs to include some proprietary technologies and the customer buys the integrated package from IBM.

Though he acknowledges it will be “less fungible”, he believes “that will be tolerable because complex workloads make that trade-off worthwhile. There will be a higher tolerance for some parts of the system to be more fixed than fungible.”

Dell is pursuing a similar strategy but is weaving together support for third-party equipment and taking a more open, standards-based approach. “We use heterogeneous components but manage in a converged fashion,” says Paul Prince, CTO for Dell’s enterprise products group.

Many users are seeing the potential to get better performance than they get with devices managed across the network, but say it’s still too early to judge. As a viable technology, it’s maybe a year out.

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