One of the ways that companies are looking to become more agile is by breaking down the silos between groups. This change can not happen solely through the adoption of new technologies (including management tools), it requires that IT staffs look to cross-training and internal process changes to become more efficient. Virtualization is a catalyst for this change as server, network, storage and application owners are all dealing with the impact of abstraction on how they do their jobs.
At the opening of an SAP Center of Excellence in Santa Clara, CA (includes a shared lab with the VCE Coalition), Chinh Van of Calloway Golf discussed the impact of convergence on his organization. There is a blurring of network, system and storage administrator roles. Chinh mentions (see the clip below of the full interview here) that a critical piece to making this happen is a single tool that can manage across these domains. The promise of a “single pane of glass” that can manage the environment is attractive, but there is still a need for the knowledge of domain expertise that is currently held by various groups. Network administrators understand how to provide bandwidth and scale an environment, storage administrators make sure that there is proper data availability and data integrity; even with convergence and virtualization, these attributes are needed. Some fear that the goal of convergence is to eliminate jobs, but the reality is that if companies do not change the way that they do things, they will not be able to keep up with the huge growth of data.
One of the best ways for groups in an organization to start working together is to be put in the same group where activities and goals can be closely aligned. Cisco and EMC took a similar approach with server, storage and network products when they put together the Vblock architecture. What started out as a reference architecture (which VARs would build) over a year ago is now shipped from the factory as a single SKU. David Floyer of Wikibon posted a financial analysis of the Business Value of Integrated Stacks. The immediate advantage of a fully integrated solution of servers, network and storage is that implementations are simpler; racking, cabling, and installing software is all done at the factory. The larger savings is that operationally, the system is treated as a whole rather than managing the pieces. Specifically, Vblocks are managed using UIM (EMC Ionix’s Unified Infrastructure Manager), what EMC’s Chad Sakac calls “orchestration purpose built for Vblock”. Managing the servers, storage and network is not as simple as vendors say (management has long been listed as one of the top challenges), the pre-configuration and simplification of the environment is easier to manage than legacy environments and is a move in the right direction.
Before organizations can fully exploit converged infrastructure they must consider the organizational issues convergence brings. Who is ultimately the leader responsible for managing the infrastructure – is it the server, network or storage team? Are these individuals on the same team? How do you properly incent them? What is the reporting structure? How is escalation handled and what types of decisions can be made without escalation? Wikibon has discussed this extensively and believes that while the network teams may increasingly gain power within organizations – especially as Ethernet adoption grows – the bottom line for storage is that storage professionals must still ensure that data is not lost. Networking and storage teams have different mindsets and before organizations mash them (or their infrastructure) together they need to be on the same page – or at least reading from the same book.