One of the hard problems in building a private cloud is that if all your cloud management platform does is manage virtualized resources then your cloud is limited to services that are 100% virtualized. On the other hand, if your cloud management platform supports provisioning on physical hardware, the diversity of all of the physical hardware is so great that the complexity of this undertaking for both the vendor and the customer of the cloud management platforms can be daunting.
Converged Infrastructure to the Rescue
This is an area where converged infrastructures can really help. One of the significant benefits of converged infrastructures is that making configuration changes to the compute, memory, network and storage subsystems can be much simpler on converged infrastructure than with a hardware layer constructed of servers from one vendor, physical networks from a second vendor, storage networks from a third vendor, and storage from a fourth vendor. And, of course, the reality in most organizations is that there is not just one vendor at each of those layers, there are often three or four. This leads to a the daunting and complex compatibility matrix that converged infrastructures can dramatically simplify.
Let’s have a quick look at who provides converged infrastructures. Before we do this, we do need to make an important distinction. There are some converged infrastructures that are offered as full one-stop solutions that are fully pre-integrated and can be purchased as such. The VCE vBlocks and Dell vStarts are a great example of such a solution. The other converged infrastructures are really reference architectures that specify if you take this Cisco UCS and add this NetApp storage to it, then that results in this version of a NetApp Flexpod, which both NetApp and Cisco stand behind as a validated and supported configuration.
Converged Infrastructures and Cloud Management Solutions
Managing Your Converged Infrastructure
Once you choose a converged infrastructure, you will then face the question of what software you will want to use to manage it. The default choice would obviously be the software from the vendor or vendors whose hardware comprise the converged infrastructure. But you will quickly confront one of the long standing realities of the computer industry. Hardware companies make lousy software companies, and software companies are generally horrible at hardware. The reason for this is rooted in the business models of the respective participants. The hardware vendor just wants to sell their hardware, and views the software as a necessary evil required to get the hardware sold. A software vendor, however, has no hardware to sell, and must therefore make the software compelling enough to warrant its purchase on a standalone basis.
When it comes to managing your converged infrastructure there are actually two separate tasks that need to be considered. The first is the management of the converged infrastructure itself. This is largely a hardware configuration issue but it is important because easily re-configurable hardware is one of the major benefits of a converged infrastructure. All converged infrastructure vendors offer their own software at this layer and most (but not VCE with vBlock) open this up to third parties. The second layer is the management of private cloud on the converged infrastructure. Here any cloud management product that can stand up a cloud on your hypervisor of choice would work. But the really compelling benefits come when you can use the same piece of management software to manage both the underlying hardware and the private cloud running on top of it. This is where solutions provided by the converged infrastructure vendors completely fall down and you should strongly consider a third party solution like Cloupia or DynamicOps.
There are two cloud management vendors that stand out when it come to their support of converted infrastructures and their membership in the partner programs of the converged infrastructure vendors:
- Cloupia – Cloupia got its start on converged infrastructure by supporting the NetApp Flexpod, and working closely with the NetApp VAR channel on the sales front. Cloupia has also announced support for EMC vSPEX at Cisco Live this week.
- DynamicOps – DynamicOps has been at the cloud management business for longer than just about anyone else, and has over time built support for an impressive set of virtualization platforms and converged infrastructures.
Your Converged Infrastructure Strategy
One of the questions that we focus heavily upon when evaluating the strategy and success of the virtualization platform vendors (VMware vSphere, Microsoft, Hyper-V, Red Hat KVM) is what kind of third party ecosystem of vendors have they nurtured. Since VMware essentially created this market and has been the early market share leader, VMware has historically had a far more robust ecosystem of supporting vendors. However, with the recent gains that Microsoft Hyper-V has made, most of the third party vendors that initially only supported vSphere also now support Hyper-V. Therefore Hyper-V has essentially caught up with vSphere on this crucial evaluation criteria.
Converged infrastructures represent a huge change to the structure of the IT hardware industry, and possibly to segments of the software industry as well. If you buy a vBlock from VCE or a vStart from Dell, you are buying compute, memory, networking and storage from one vendor. If you buy a reference architecture like a Flexpod or VSPEX you are buying a certified configuration from a constrained set of vendors. The benefit that comes from reduced choices is reduced complexity, which generally saves you money and improves your agility.
Now to the most important question. Does it follow on from the converged hardware argument that you should buy software from your converged infrastructure vendor as well. Clearly you are not going to buy vSphere or Hyper-V from these vendors as the virtualization platform comes from an independent (well somewhat independent in the case of VMware) software vendor. So should the Cloud Management software become part and parcel of this converged infrastructure as well?
Pursuant to the above point about hardware vendors being lousy at software, the answer is most likely no. You are probably far better served by at least evaluating third party cloud management solutions as a part of evaluating your converged infrastructure. You certainly should ask your converged infrastructure vendor for the list of officially sanctioned third party cloud management vendors. For example in the case of VCE vBlock there appears to be only one – DynamicOps. It also appears that the physical provisioning layer has not been opened up to third party cloud management vendors which means for this functionality you are stuck with UIM. DynamicOps supports provisioning at the virtualization layer but having EMC essentially prevent a third party like DynamicOps from doing the physical layer as well clearly demonstrates the downsides of relying upon hardware vendors to make good software decisions.