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There are two emerging classes of technologies inside the data center that are transforming the way solutions are being crafted. The first is the rise of hyperconverged systems that unify the management of compute, storage and networking. The second is the rise of software-defined infrastructure (SDI) that is enabling all those resources to be managed at a higher level of abstraction.

This week, both Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Pure Storage made their official entrance into the hyperconverged appliance category. HPE unveiled its Hyper Converged 380 platform aimed at the midmarket that combines compute and storage. Pure Storage went a step further by launching a FlashBlade platform that combines compute, storage and networking.

Those moves come on the heels of hyperconverged platforms from both Cisco and VCE (a unit of EMC) that integrate compute, storage and networking.

The degree of hyperconvergence any customer will embrace will vary. Nutanix, which pioneered the category, prefers to leave the networking decision up to the customer.

“We think the customer still wants to make the networking decision separately,” said Prabu Rambadran, director of product marketing for Nutanix. “For that reason, we [let] them connect to whatever switch they want.”

In contrast, Cisco makes the case for applying most of the IT architecture it created for the Unified Compute System (UCS) to a new HyperFlex appliance, said Todd Brannon, director of product marketing for Unified Computing at Cisco.

“We’re definitely focused more on the higher end of the hyperconvergence appliance market,” Brannon said. “We think IT as a whole is becoming more application-centric. This is shaping modern IT requirements.”

As part of that shift, the IT industry is moving toward SDI. By creating a control plane that is separated from the underlying data residing on any given system, providers of IT infrastructure are enabling IT organizations to manage IT infrastructure at a level of unprecedented scale. Intended to reduce the operating costs associated with managing IT infrastructure, SDI essentially provides a means to unify the management of servers, storage and networking at a higher level in a way that makes greater use of IT generalists versus more expensive IT specialists.

Shifts to Hyperconvergence, SDI Drive Vendor Alliances

That shift is also driving new vendor alliances. For example, Juniper Networks and Lenovo last week announced they would collaborate on SDI technologies that will be applied across a range of hyperconvergence scenarios.

“We’re creating a software-defined framework,” said Mike Marcellin, chief marketing officer for Juniper Networks. “The big driver for this alliance is hyperconvergence in the data center.”

Overall, the growth rate for hyperconverged platforms and SDI technologies is now well over 50 percent.  The challenge facing solution providers is how best to realign their service practices to adjust to this new data center reality. On one hand, there is a temptation to consolidate server, storage and networking practices, especially as demand for IT infrastructure specialist skills starts to taper off.

However, Colm Keegan, a senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, notes that solution providers are generally expected to have a much deeper understanding of these data center segments than the average IT organization. As such, while the end customer is relying more on IT generalists to administer data center environments, many solution providers still need to invest in dedicated IT infrastructure specialists.

“Customers expect IT service providers to have a lot more expertise than they do,” Keegan said. “For IT service providers, that means they are still going to need to have access to IT infrastructure specialists.”

In addition, Jean Bozman, a principal analyst with the Hurwitz and Associates, notes that while hyperconverged platforms are all the rage these days, there are still many application workloads that don’t lend themselves to this architecture.

“Hyperconvergence is definitely a major trend,” Bozman said. “But there are still going to be lots of other kinds of server platforms.”

Although solution providers can’t afford to ignore the rise of hyperconvergence and SDI in the data center, it is unlikely these technologies will completely supplant existing data center architectures any time soon.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.