Fabric based infrastructure (FBI) is an emerging market where there are many more vendor promises than complete solutions.
Don’t take it on faith that any one vendor has the complete solution to FBI, according to Gartner analyst, Andrew Butler.
“Let vendors tell their stories, narratives and road maps, but only after a specific architectural plan has been carefully thought out,” he warned.
Butler refers to FBI as the vertical integration of hardware and software infrastructure with automation on top to create a dynamically optimised data centre.
This layer focuses on automating infrastructure provisioning including server, storage and networking resources - at the very minimum.
Butler said FBI differs from fabric based computing (FBC) by enabling existing technology elements to be grouped and packaged in a fabric-enabled environment achieving a level of infrastructure convergence.
He said the technology elements of an FBC solution is designed solely around the fabric implementation model.
Of all the fabric enabled platforms currently available, Butler said the Egenera BladeFrame comes architecturally closest to the principles of FBC with the disaggregation of separate processors, memory and I/O blades managed by a single fabric resource pool manager.
“True FBC remains an aspirational development goal for all vendors,” he said.
Existing FBI solutions offer some of the promises but no single fabric approach will work for all IT organisations.
“IT leaders will need months of planning that maps internal existing technologies, tools, business practices and operational processes,” Butler said.
Moreover, FBI typically mandates use of certain vendor products to get the specific benefits of consolidation and cost reduction.
"While IT organisations can build their own FBI apps, they do so at significant system engineering and integration cost," he said.
"If choosing a specific vendor, secure long-term discounts so that lock-in doesn't result in big price increases in years two to five of use."
While major data centre vendors are selling the promise of FBC integrated with existing unified and converged FBIs, Butler said they are delivering only foundation level functionality.
This functionality has strong value in terms of reduced infrastructure and cabling costs as well as increased flexibility and an on-ramp to Cloud services.
An example of reduced infrastructure and cabling costs is Cisco's Unified Computing System which utilises Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). These networks can use a converged network adapter that supports TCP/IP and FCoE. Local customers include Minter Ellison and Westpac.
IBRS advisor, Kevin McIsaac, said IT infrastructure is undergoing major structural change which he calls the "Return of the systems vendor".
He said it began with HP’s acquisition of 3COM, Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems and Cisco’s move into blade servers.
"These events herald a transition from the 'layered components' model, where best-of-breed components are purchased from a number of specialist vendors and then integrated by the IT organisation, to an 'integrated systems model', where complete systems are purchased from a single vendor, avoiding the need for the IT organisation to act as a systems integrator," McIsaac said.
Vendor competition, and open standards, has ruthlessly driven commoditisation of the major infrastructure components, including switches, x86 servers and to a lesser degree storage arrays. As a result, capital costs are now a small part of the total cost of ownership.
McIsaac said organisations switching to the integrated systems model should favour vendors that can deliver an integrated end-to-end infrastructure (network, storage and servers) over traditional best-of-breed component vendors.
"IT organisations that have few staff, limited skills sets and modest investments in established infrastructure layers should consider replacing the existing infrastructure with integrated system at the next major infrastructure upgrade," he said.
"These organisations need to choose between using a Cloud vendor, an outsourcer, or operating their own Integrated System from one of the major vendors.
"Large IT organisations should look for niche areas where an Integrated System can provide a lower TCO at a lower risk."
Examples of this include running a large data warehouse or database farm on an Oracle database machine or running x86 virtual machines clusters on an Integrated System from one of the major vendors – Cisco, Dell, HP or IBM.