Finding flexibility with unified architecture

By Kent Christensen
6/15/2011

Many IT professionals are evaluating how to optimize the existing data center to deliver private cloud services. As discussed in an earlier blog post, we see the cloud as a mix of public, software-as-a-service (SaaS), and private cloud services. Even robust public cloud forecasts leave 65- to 75-percent of mission-critical applications running in the data center’s “private cloud” far into the future. As a result, IT organizations are focused on how to deliver “cloud-like” application services from existing and evolving infrastructures.

You can build out internal IT services in many ways. Most migrate existing data center architectures and practices toward a virtualized complete solution, leveraging established vendors and internal teams to evolve the infrastructure. Success depends on your vendors and internal teams, working together to build a system that harmoniously delivers maximum benefit based on resources spent (time, money, opportunity cost). If you’re doing this in a vacuum, success depends on your ability to align teams and technologies to get the right mix.

Enter unified architectures.
Even if a “recipe” is prepared up front, you can still add a secret ingredient or tweak the formula, while eliminating much of the guesswork in determining a viable mix. A unified architecture integrates servers, virtualization, networking, storage, and potentially application configurations into a well-aligned mixture that delivers optimal value – ideally, with the opportunity for you to adjust to your particular tastes.

Large portfolio companies, such as IBM, HP and Oracle, have solutions to consider. VCE (Virtual Computing Environment) offers a product approach called Vblock, a unified solution that includes VMware, Cisco networking and UCS, and EMC storage. Imagine Virtually Anything (IVA) is an alliance among VMware, Cisco ,and NetApp that includes VMware, Cisco networking and UCS, and NetApp storage in a reference architecture called FlexPod.

VCE and IVA both leverage VMware for virtualization and management and Cisco for networking and fabric compute. However, each has a storage vendor with unique offerings that fill out the solutions and a subtle distinction between a product and a reference architecture.

VCE offers a product where you choose from a menu of options (large, medium, small), and the entire solution is delivered to you per the specifications. Proponents say this reduces errors, while detractors focus on the approach’s inflexibility.

The IVA offering is a reference architecture that can be ordered as is or adjusted to meet your needs. For example, you can build a FlexPod but adjust the ratio of servers to storage. FlexPod is delivered via qualified partners like Datalink, which enables you to receive a customized solution.

Datalink has invested in unified architecture such as FlexPod and built expertise in the design, delivery, and support of the solutions. Prior to FlexPod, Datalink delivered the DatalinkV-Scape™ solution based on the IVA blueprint. A variant of the reference architecture, V-Scape delivers the value of a unified architecture and provides additional flexibility in leveraging existing data center assets. You can build a solution based on FlexPod design guidelines and leverage existing storage or server capacity by customizing V-Scape. V-Scape is popular for companies migrating toward a unified architecture over time versus implementing a complete solution in a single project.

This is an approach we see most often. Next time, we’ll discuss common migration paths leading to the question, “When did the FlexPod become a FlexPod?”