Digital transformation and the industry buzz surrounding it has reached fever pitch. But whether you are tired of hearing those two words or not, what you can be certain of is that for every business, it is a necessity. Customers and the industry will either pull or push a business in that direction. This is the world we live in. And with it claimed that digital business models are the reason why just over half of the names of companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000, digital transformation is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must-do’ for almost every business across every industry.
However, choosing the right path to digital transformation is crucial; a decision that might influence the success of the entire journey.
To ensure at the end of the road is a more agile, responsive, cost-effective and future-ready infrastructure, organisations need to identify the best route that suits the business. Many are seeing that the fastest way to achieve this transformation is by using an Integrated Systems approach to infrastructure. But before embarking on that, a company must consider what is right for them, which will likely mean taking one of three paths.
What to consider before embarking on the Convergence journey
Somewhat unsurprisingly, cost is a consideration that will either speed up the launch of a project, or stop it in its tracks. Organisations need to thoroughly plan how they will fund the infrastructure changes and what they will expect from such a transformation.
Additionally, organisations must look at what applications and workloads they are running. If they are bespoke, they may have been built and developed with very specific compute and storage requirements which will determine which path to convergence it can take. Businesses must also evaluate whether they will be deploying workloads in the foreseeable future that might have other specific demands.
Another consideration must be how large the appetite for change is? Is the organisation looking to utilise an integrated systems based infrastructure in order to quickly capitalise on new market opportunities, or is it in a stable industry where business growth is steady? If organisations are not looking to handle unpredictable growth then the type of infrastructure they need will be different, compared to that of an organisation that is looking to continuously evolve and grow at a rapid pace. A comparison can be drawn between internet based organisations using web-scale applications who must adapt rapidly to changing demands and a small to medium sized business which typically has static growth in application workloads and predictable data growth.
A business must also be sure to assess and outline the acceptable level of risk with such an infrastructure overhaul. Is the organisation open-minded to new ways of doing things or will it principally only ever work with tried, tested and established technologies? Some paths to convergence involve new technologies that yield great financial and efficiency benefits but carry higher risk; therefore organisations should be wary of the stability of the platform and its ability to handle workloads.
So which path to take?
When embarking on its journey to convergence, there are three different paths an organisation can follow, depending on the end-goals of the business:
1. Software-defined Storage
Where organisations might already have specialist skills, more bespoke application requirements and/or are looking to simply refresh their storage environment, the golden path of software-defined storage (SDS) could be most suitable.
Even with the most basic SDI solutions, organisations can still feel confident in the assurance that their foundational hardware is specified and built to the exact security, capacity and performance requirements of the workloads they are intending to run. While this approach forfeits some of the additional benefits of the other paths to convergence, it still ensures a tailor-made approach to the lowest possible Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) model and with the greatest flexibility, given the application.
2. A Converged Integrated System
These systems are pre-validated, pre-integrated and pre-tested so any potential compatibility issues are removed. It offers organisations more flexibility to build their infrastructure in order to meet specific requirements and compliance demands. They can tailor server, storage and network requirements to something more suited to their own environment and scale these components individually. Basically, more control.
Converged solutions work best where workloads require computing, network and storage to be scaled in non-linear fashion – typically, databases or archive repositories which don’t require the compute to scale, only the storage. So if the organisation’s storage requirements outweigh the compute requirements then converged is the way to go.
Finally - and potentially most importantly, compliance. If an organisation is in an industry that requires very stringent safeguards placed on its data, then a Converged solution offers more control than some of the Hyper-Converged offerings. For example, if records need to be retained for several years, a business would not want to store archive records on its primary storage architecture due to the costs it would rack up. A Converged model has been around longer, it’s tried, tested, robust and solid. You can be confident you are using a mature infrastructure model that fits seamlessly into an existing environment with tight control around data.
3. A Hyper-Converged Integrated System
A Hyper Converged integrated system is simpler to install, manage and maintain than traditional infrastructures, which reduces the burden of management – a benefit for every business. Less specialist skills are required in terms of day-to-day management as IT teams can use one resource to manage both servers and storage through a single GUI. This means there’s no requirement for a SAN specialist with SAN fabric skills.
Daily management operations can also be reduced as the hypervisor can determine the level of compute and storage resources each application requires and assign these automatically, rather than having to manually calculate and allocate.
Furthermore, there’s less risk. Pre-integrated, pre-built, pre-tested and pre-validated solutions provide predictable performance at a predictable cost-point with predictable outcomes. Therefore, this removes a lot of the guess-work typically associated with infrastructure projects. This also reduces the cost of expensive consultancy work usually initiated upfront to determine these factors. In fact, overall purchase costs can be lowered as crucial elements of the solution are pre-integrated and don’t have to be purchased separately. Additionally, running costs are reduced as maintenance is low.
But wait, there’s more. With hyper-converged systems, deployment is much simpler as the issue of compatibility is removed and the dominance of a graphical user interface approach is prevalent. Rather than an organisation having to do the hard work of determining how to piece systems together by studying all the compatibility matrices, the work has already been done by the experts, cutting time to production.
Did I mention that choosing this path means faster time to operation as well? These systems can be up and running in less than an hour.
However, choosing this option does mean the user sacrifices the ability to create a bespoke solution because hyper-converged systems are already built in a pre-determined way. So whilst businesses get fast deployment they lose some of the flexibility in hardware component decisions and are only able to customise configuration settings in the application layer.
Chose the path that works for you
If your business hasn’t jumped on the integrated systems bandwagon yet, it should seriously consider it. Convergence brings a wealth of benefits to every business, no matter the size, scale or plans for the future.
However the path to a truly effective infrastructure will differ from business to business. Organisations must thoroughly consider costs, time to production and compliance factors that will suit their specific requirements and lay the path to the best possible solution for their business.