Converged Architecture for the rest of us?

A converged architecture looks good on the whiteboard, with all your services (compute, network, storage) running on a single layer within the data center. But like many technologies, the transition from whiteboard to actual implementation and operation is much more difficult than advertised.

Despite claims, converged architectures still take on a “do it yourself” aspect that many organizations, and the IT professionals in those organizations, simply don’t have time for. They need a solution that takes the best aspects of a software defined architecture but is delivered in a more turnkey manner. Austin, TX-based NIMBOXX claims their converged platform does just that.

Software Defined Data Center’s Atomic Unit

Convergence typically means combining a variety of solutions from a variety of vendors. This not only includes server, storage and networking hardware, but also hypervisors and management software. It’s a situation where no single vendor owns the entire stack. While this may bring flexibility and freedom of choice, it can also create confusion. NIMBOXX takes a different approach. They do own the entire stack including the hypervisor, hardware, storage and networking, and have boiled that stack down into a single 1U hardware platform they call their “Atomic Unit”. The solution can scale out storage performance and capacity as well as compute by adding nodes.

There are several aspects of the NIMBOXX solution that are unique amongst their converged competitors. The first is ownership of the entire stack, as previously mentioned, including the hypervisor. While based on KVM they have taken great steps to optimize it for their architecture. That hypervisor is then delivered on a NIMBOXX supplied hardware platform, loaded with the appropriate networking, compute and storage.

The second unique aspect of the solution is their ability to start with as little as one node. While seemingly in violation of availability best practices, it does offer some advantages. Only requiring a single node means that the solution is easy to evaluate, no need to set up multiple nodes and get them networked.

For IT professionals that are stretched too thin to even stand up a test environment, plugging in a single node and getting started is going to sound very appealing. It also may make an ideal remote office or branch office solution as the node itself has plenty of availability features.

At some point, though, if the evaluation goes well, most organizations are going to want to have some level of high availability and NIMBOXX supports this by bringing complete highly available functionality. High availability can be achieved in as little as two nodes and does not require three nodes as other converged infrastructures do.

Storage Orchestration

A key component of any converged solution is how well it converges the storage layer. NIMBOXX keeps each VM’s data set local on the physical node that it’s running on. But they also support live migration since data is replicated or mirrored to other nodes.

The NIMBOXX solution also makes use of system RAM as part of storage orchestration with hot data being stored in DRAM first, then flash and eventually hard disk drives. Writes are coalesced in RAM and then written to flash, which allows for a more optimized use of flash resources. Data in RAM is deduplicated which provides a more optimized use of RAM. In other words the two most premium storage resources are optimized. Leveraging these two forms of memory as part of their storage infrastructure allows NIMBOXX to deliver very impressive IOPS numbers. They claim to achieve over 50K IOPS on a regular basis and has cited examples of over 120K IOPS.

Turnkey Success

The goal of the NIMBOXX architecture is clearly to simplify a converged infrastructure. They leverage the same KVM hypervisor Google and Rackspace use for their public clouds, but KVM isn’t yet pervasive in enterprise IT. Does introducing a new, potentially unfamiliar hypervisor into customer data centers complicate matters? Feedback from their first round of customers seems to indicate not. They are claiming that customers are able to install the NIMBOXX platform and have their first VM created in 9 minutes. The GUI walks the customer through the process and knowledge of KVM is not required.

Storage Swiss Take

Converged architectures clearly have their place, but it seems the more “software defined” they become the more complicated they become. This makes it a challenge for organizations, where IT is not a core expertise, to embrace the software defined data center.

These customers often end up looking for pre-packed solutions from larger vendors, solutions that are not really converged but just pre-configured and tend to be more expensive than the traditional alternatives. NIMBOXX has a chance to make a difference with a solution where the entire stack comes from a single vendor at a very affordable price point.

NIMBOXX is not a client of Storage Switzerland

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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