The idea of a single platform offering computing, network, and storage services with integrated data protection sounds almost utopian. What could be better than all aspects of computing already built into the system that you buy? Systems integrating functions like this could take care of several important infrastructure requirements. Historically, the only challenge with this idea is that such systems were only available to large enterprises, but that has changed in recent years.
Across many organizations, IT is under a lot of pressure to speed up deployment timeframes and reduced application downtime. At one point in history, downtime resulted in a temporary loss of productivity. Whatever the company produced, or whatever service it provided, simply didn’t happen when IT systems were down, and losses could be made up later through overtime.
Today’s organizations, however, need to connect with their customers 24x7x365. This means there is an increased likelihood that customers will experience downtime firsthand when there is some sort of infrastructure outage. In an era where a simple Google search can send your potential customer to a competitor, downtime of only a few minutes can cost you thousands of sales and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Besides being unable to order products, customers are also unable to obtain support for the products they already own. Consider, for example, how many companies support their products using online portals and web chat. For all these reasons, the downtime a modern company experiences can cost it far more than the revenue of lost sales, as it will also experience a loss in customer and employee confidence, as well as damage to the brand.
The Pros and Cons of Build-your-own IT
IT has been building their own systems for as long as we have had IT. The advantages and disadvantages of this approach are well-known. IT personnel are able to choose the best product for each component, but this means they also must test all components to make sure they are compatible. Compared to buying a completely integrated system, it also means that deployment will take longer and will be more complicated. Customers who value this approach feel the flexibility it offers outweighs the challenges of deployment. But they also understand that once a system is in production, there will be no centralized support infrastructure for any individual system, which means they will be on the hook for supporting the system end-to-end.
The more an IT department goes down the build your own (BYO) path, the more vendors the IT support staff will have to contact during any type of outage. Lack of integration between the various components also means there will not be a centralized management system that will monitor all components. It also means a third-party will provide data protection systems, such as backup and disaster recovery. Data protection in particular, often goes ignored during system design and testing. It may only become a thought once a system is in production – if it gets thought of at all.
One other limitation of the BYO approach is only evident when you compare it to modern converged infrastructure approaches. Specifically, some converged infrastructure products take data security very seriously and automatically encrypt all data channels and data at rest. This is something that is simply not going to be available in a build-your-own system. In a world where information security is becoming increasingly important, one cannot overstate the importance of this feature – or lack thereof.
The Value of Converged Infrastructure
Where flexibility is the hallmark of a BYO implementation, simplicity is the buzzword with converged infrastructure. Buy a product that does everything you need it to do and plug it in. Converged infrastructure products are simple to buy, install, and configure. There is no need to validate the various components with each other, as that has already been done by the manufacturer. Often, there is not even a need to physically assemble many of the components, as that has already been done prior to shipping the unit to the customer. All the customer has to do is point his/her web browser to the appropriate IP address and begin configuration of the system and its various options.
A converged platform offers a single point of contact for support and integrated management for all components. Such a system is perfect for companies of many types, but is especially suitable for remote office (ROBO) environments where remote management is paramount. Integrated support and remote management also work together when something goes wrong, as the support department can be authorized to directly access the system remotely and help with troubleshooting. Having a well-trained, technical support person remotely connected to your system, beats having them talk to you over the phone any day of the week.
As previously mentioned, some converged infrastructure systems support the idea of end-to-end encryption. This means all transmissions between system components are encrypted, including customer’s data and metadata. It is encrypted in transit and encrypted at rest, protecting against both network attacks and physical theft. In contrast, the security of most BYO systems completely breaks down if a black hat gains physical control of the system. And since “physical control” is often console access via a remote Keyboard Video & Mouse (KVM) system, protecting against physical access seems rather prudent.
Built-in Data Protection
Where data protection is often an afterthought with BYO designs, some converged infrastructure systems have integrated data protection. It’s built into the system and simply needs to be configured with the options important to a particular customer. Like system management, data protection options are also centrally managed via the system’s remote management system.
Where remote backup and its targets are also often left out of BYO designs, a converged infrastructure system usually builds in the idea that you intend to backup all data to an alternate location. This is often due to what people call the 3-2-1 rule, which recommends three copies of your data on at least two media types, with at least one copy off-site. With a converged infrastructure platform, the appropriate hardware and software to do this will already be pre-integrated into the platform. Various configurations may be available, but there will always be an assumption that data protection is part of the design. A basic design might include all data being backed up to a backup server, where a slightly more advanced design might include those backups being replicated to an off-site system. This way backups are on-site and off-site without needing a man in a van.
A more advanced data protection system that is available in some converged infrastructure designs is the idea of a standby VM. Instead of traditional backups that must be restored in order to facilitate a recovery, a system designed with hot standby capabilities for the production system uses a concept known as instant recovery. Backups are stored in such a way as to allow the VM to be run directly from those backups during an outage and importantly, with production performance service levels. Recovering from an outage can be as simple as pushing a button and telling the system to run from a different location while you recover from whatever caused the outage; helping to keep downtime to a minimum. A customer using a BYO design can certainly integrate a number of products to accomplish the same thing, but a converged infrastructure product will simply make this a configuration option.
Some customers, of course, will value the flexibility of a BYO system over the simplicity and ease of management converged infrastructure solutions bring to the table, and will continue to integrate their own hardware systems. But customers who prioritize simplicity, ease of management, a single source of support and speed of deployment, will prefer a converged infrastructure solution. And yet these two customers do not have to use different data protection systems, since there are products that can be deployed in either scenario. A perfect example is NetApp and Cisco’s Flexpod solution which integrates directly with the Veeam Availability Suite. A customer who appreciates converged infrastructure can purchase a fully integrated compute, networking, storage and data protection solution via a Flexpod configuration, while a BYO customer can choose their own hardware components, integrate them and utilize the Veeam Availability Suite to protect the application workloads in their environment.
Converged infrastructure systems offer plenty of functionality to companies purchasing such products. They are easy to install and configure, easy to manage and enable quicker deployments. Some converged infrastructure solutions also come with integrated security as well as direct integration with availability and data protection software; providing further operational simplicity, faster backup and recovery, enhanced application SLAs and risk mitigation. Not everyone prioritizes simplicity and those that don’t will continue to build their own systems. But it is clear they will be missing out on a great deal of functionality when they do.
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