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Be prepared for fabric

Are fabric-based computing and infrastructure just the latest 'it-words' from vendors or is this something that could benefit your organisation? CIO talks to Gartner analyst Phil Sargeant to find out more.

Fabric-based computing (FBC), a modular ‘fabric’ computing system built from interconnected nodes, could have a significant impact on the server market, according to Gartner research.

The research firm estimates around 30 percent of large IT-organisations globally are in the planning stage of deploying fabric-based architectures, but so far, only 10 percent have implemented them.

The lure of FBC to users include potential efficiency gains, because of the modular and more cost-effective investment in the building blocks, “a more-holistic and flexible ability to manage the underlying resource pools and the ability to reconfigure the systems to match changing workload or other requirements”, writes Gartner analyst George J. Weiss. Together with fabric-based infrastructure (FBI), which integrates hardware and software infrastructure with automation on top, organisations could achieve faster provisioning and increased IT agility at much lower costs, thanks to automated allocation and reallocation of pooled resources. This could potentially help IT-organisations optimise their datacentres, says Gartner.

While ‘fabric-based’ is being driven more from the vendor side, with vendors seeking to take a larger share of IT-budgets in a time of relatively flat spend, CIOs should be preparing for this space, says Phil Sargeant, research vice president at Gartner. But the infrastructure model has both advantages and disadvantages.

“One of the plusses is that the vendor does a lot of the work for a client, so if an organisation wants to deploy very quickly and don’t have the skills in place, it fulfils that function.”

FBI solutions bring together networking, storage and computing resources and have often been optimised for a particular task, so organisations don’t have to buy all the parts and then put them together, he says.

“Many years ago we talked about turn-key systems — this is an iteration of a turn-key system,” says Sargeant.

Cost savings in infrastructure consolidation and labour are other benefits.

On the negative side, these solutions come at a certain price. “[Clients] often pay a premium,” he says.Initially, fabric-based systems are focused on enterprises and larger organisations, says Sargeant, but over time there will be downscaled configurations. And if you have the skills in-house, it is possible to build your own FBI, he says.

Many organisations have people that are experts in the networking, storage and computing areas, but it could be a challenge to bring all that together, he says.

“It depends on which direction you want to go,” he says. “A number of organisations that I have spoken to, that don’t have the skills in place, have been prepared to pay the premium and go and get a fabric-based [system] from one of the vendors.”

At the end of the day, it’s a numbers game, he says. “It’s the return on investment and the speed of which you want to deploy. If you’ve got the skills and the time up your sleeve, you can go and buy your servers, your storage and your networking all separately and bring it together.”

FBI is a growing area but it is not going to replace people buying traditional servers, says Sargeant. Gartner estimates the market penetration is going to be 5 to 6 percent in three to four years. He knows of implementations in both Australia and New Zealand; there are two or three examples in New Zealand, including a couple of banks, he says.

The two vendors that tend to dominate the space at the moment are Cisco and HP, according to Sargeant, with Dell and IBM not far behind.

“A number of vendors are starting to look at this space seriously.”

Sargeant’s advice for organisations that are considering going down the fabric path is to be prepared for a certain degree of vendor lock-in.

“Negotiate hard and understand what the cost might be in the future.”

He also recommends looking at the ROI — “you are probably going to have to pay a premium, versus doing it yourself”.

“If you need something quickly, I would recommend looking at this, taking ROI and lock-in into consideration,” he says.

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