Why a multi-vendor approach will benefit your data centre

William Scull

Tuesday 15 May 2018

A single-vendor approach to the data centre means being tied to that one company for all your hardware and software needs. Using multiple vendors can free up your company to explore technological innovations sooner rather than later.

A multi- vs single-vendor approach

 With regards to the data centre, a multi-vendor approach – which Lenovo takes – simply means that our infrastructure is open to work with other software vendors. We work extensively with companies like Nutanix, VMware, Microsoft and Open Stack who in return are free to work with different hardware providers. It’s a very open approach to working.

This contrasts with a single-vendor approach whereby the hardware vendor insists that its hardware infrastructure be the foundation of these software solutions.

Here we’ll explain why we think a multi-vendor approach is best for our customers.

Seamless integration

A multi-vendor approach enables businesses to mix and match between software and hardware vendors. In a single-vendor ecosystem, you’re stuck with the same provider for both hardware and software, and reliant on that vendor to incorporate new innovations into their system. That could take a while, or they might even decide that a particular feature isn’t worth adding.

However the real advantage of a multi-vendor approach is not the openness per se, but the results of that openness.

At Lenovo, we allow our hardware to be controlled by our partners’ orchestration software – it’s all seamlessly integrated, and managed from a single tool which makes it much more comfortable to use for the customers. In addition to major players like Nutanix, VMware, Microsoft and Open Stack (which is open source and incorporates Red Hat and SUSE) Lenovo has agreements with smaller firms like Nexenta and Cloudian. This gives our customers a huge amount of choice to best serve their needs.

It also makes hardware simpler to use. To pick one example, Lenovo hardware is compatible with Prism, Nutanix’s data centre management console. This enables our customers to carry out virtualisation administration – create virtual machines, virtual storage and even provision a virtual network. The latter enables the virtualisation administrator to create a VLAN within Prism, which is then pushed automatically over to the switch operating system without requiring permission from the networking team. It takes just seconds, instead of hours or even weeks and makes processes much more efficient and user-friendly.

In a single-vendor environment other hardware vendors might not have an agreement with Nutanix, and as such it won’t be possible to seamlessly integrate the software.

The shift to software-defined networking

How did we get to this situation? Up until the last couple of years, the data centre consisted of a number of silos; there was the networking group who looked after the switches, the storage group who looked after the storage arrays and the server admins who looked after the servers and CPU resources. It was all very segmented. A lot of their time was spent making their respective areas compatible – how to get the server to talk to the storage, or the storage to talk to the switch, and so on. But as the technology progressed, the barriers between these silos began to break down.

Today, it no longer makes sense to keep these separate silos. Storage tools used to be quite proprietary, now it’s all virtualised behind the software layer, with hardware completely commoditised. In this way, one single piece of software – like Nutanix’s Prism – can control the whole virtualized data centre.

The company that stands to lose the most from this is Cisco, which used to be dominant in network storage. Because of the shift to software-defined networking, Cisco finds itself losing control – if it wants to remain relevant it has to control the centralized software. That’s why it’s pursuing a single-vendor approach, and not letting third-party operating systems run on its hardware. It’s effectively trying to transition from being a hardware seller only to becoming a software company. But that’s a tough transition to make.

I’ve seen it happen before when other markets have been disrupted. Nortel Networks (which made telephone branch exchanges for office buildings) resisted the rise of VOIP, then tried to transition into a software company to jump on the VOIP bandwagon. But it couldn’t make that change and the company went broke. We’ve seen a similar situation with Kodak and digital cameras.

At Lenovo, we thrive in commoditised markets. It’s one reason we got into data centres in the first place.  A multi-vendor data centre is more open to innovation and hence more flexible to ever-evolving technologies and shifting customer demand. We believe it’s the best way to meet our customers’ needs.

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