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I’m starting to think converged infrastructure (or unified computing, if you prefer) is more than a trend. Since Cisco put the idea on the map with the launch of its Unified Computing System (UCS) in March 2009, nearly every major systems vendor — notably HP, IBM and Oracle — has rolled out its own integrated stack of blade servers, networking, management software and, sometimes, storage. Furthermore, as I discuss in my weekly column at GigaOM Pro, it appears the lock-in concerns inherent in such architectures might remain — at least if vendors like Dell and Egenera have their way.
For its part, Dell is now selling its Virtual Integrated System architecture. Anchored by Dell’s Advanced Infrastructure Management software (a product of its recent Scalent acquisition), the product lets users provision servers, networking and storage from a single interface. In true Dell fashion, where those resources come from doesn’t really matter — the VIS architecture supports heterogeneous gear and hypervisor environments.
Then there is Egenera, which has been selling its PAN Manager converged infrastructure software since 2001. What makes Egenera open is its broad choice of blade hardware and virtualization platforms. Customers can choose Dell hardware (via the Dell PAN Manager or Dell Datacenter-in-a-Box solutions), Fujitsu PRIMERGY blades or Egenera’s own BladeFrame architecture (with more platform support on the way), and can keep their existing Ethernet technologies.
Whether Dell and Egenera can prevail against the one-stop-shop approaches of their much-larger competitors remains to be seen. Companies like Cisco, HP and Oracle have mountains of marketing muscle and sales teams, as well as great technology. The problem, of course, is software and hardware components designed to work optimally, sometimes exclusively, with one another. Dell and Egenera certainly appear to have the upper hand if it cost is a factor: Forrester comparisons show Dell VIS and Egenera PAN Datacenter-in-a-Box coming in at approximately 75 percent the cost of comparable VMware/Cisco/EMC Vblock, HP BladeMatrix and IBM CloudBurst implementations (roughly $150,000 compared with roughly $200,000).
Despite past concerns, I’m willing to acknowledge that IT departments will indeed buy into the converged infrastructure vision. But I’m not yet ready to concede that complete vertical integration will win the day. As long as there are independent server, networking and virtualization vendors, there will be buyers for whom best-of-breed is the only way to go.
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Image courtesy of Cisco Systems.