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How storage stacks stack up

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Stacks appeal

Why a company might be interested in a stack bundle rather than assembling individual components depends on whom you ask. The logical reason behind these products -- integrated essentially by the same companies that are already selling the component parts -- is that users need implementation, management and support help for these large and increasingly complex compute infrastructures. Expanding on that theme, some reasonable value propositions for stacks may also include one or more of the following.

Big virtualization. Server virtualization penetration is well into tier 1 applications at many large companies. These high-density VM environments are harder to implement than the phase 1 projects most companies were likely used to doing, and with tier 1 there’s more risk since production applications are involved. Given these circumstances, some companies may need some help getting their large server virtualization infrastructure projects done right.

Lack of integration expertise. IT talent to handle complex implementations is becoming scarcer. Value-added resellers (VARs) seem to be less interested in integration projects and users are less likely to pay for them. Companies that do have the talent in-house are usually resource-strapped with key staff tied up with keeping the environment running in a climate of tight budgets, and working on application delivery or other revenue-generating activities.

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Accelerating the learning curve. An IT director recently told me he was interested in integrated stacks as a way to reduce the time required to dial in new clusters of virtualization hosts. His company provides services to large telcos and has approximately 900 VMs, with new VMs being created regularly. The company has developed a reference architecture it tweaks to get optimal resource utilization and performance. This iterative process can take weeks (or longer) and consume precious time, so if a preconfigured infrastructure stack can start them half way up the learning curve, it’s money well spent.

Instant gratification. Return on investment (ROI) expectations are now often in the 12-month range. What may once have been a three- to five-year plan is now ridiculously short, so projects, especially expensive and high-profile ones like virtualization, need to “hit the ground running” to have any hope of meeting such stringent ROI timetables. Waiting three months or even three weeks longer than absolutely necessary is unacceptable in this climate.

Instant need vs. best of breed. One concern about any bundling strategy is giving up solution quality to get simplicity. In the case of converged stacks, the components are essentially the same ones a company or VAR would use to put together a comparable system, but there are fewer combinations available. On the plus side, a single supplier eliminates finger pointing and most of the stack configurations are actually pretested by the vendors.

This was first published in February 2012

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