Convergence or disaggregation?
The datacenter plays an increasingly important role in the success of K-12 digital initiatives. Building or improving a datacenter to support a digital initiative can be a daunting task for even the best trained and staffed IT teams. Prior to deciding on a course of action, an IT team needs to take a look at a more philosophical question: Convergence or disaggregation?
Convergence, or Converged Infrastructure (CI), merges multiple IT components into a single, uniform package. Prior to CI products, IT teams were responsible for acting as their own integrators and piecing together multiple products from multiple vendors in an attempt to meet their compute, storage, and networking needs. The upside to CI products is that they can allow a less technically skilled team to successfully implement a robust, high availability datacenter that is modular and scalable. The downside is that CI tends to lock a datacenter into a given vendor and that vendor’s roadmap of the future.
Disaggregation, on the other hand, aims to do the very opposite of convergence by separating compute, storage, and networking needs into disparate units that are stitched together through an interface. The biggest upside to disaggregation centers around refresh and maintenance. Instead of throwing out an entire system because CPU resources have become outdated and inadequate, an IT team simply replaces that part of the resource pool. This has the potential to completely disrupt the model of server lifecycle based solely on the age of the CPU. The most significant downside has to do with separating CPU and main memory and being able to supply bandwidth between those parts. Silicon photonics offers hope but the need for laser devices that have high energy requirements and associated price tags represent another significant downside.
As districts continue to become more invested in technology, understanding the implications of convergence and disaggregation can help IT teams make informed decisions about how to build or make improvements to datacenters.
Drew Lane is the executive director of ICT for the Shawnee Mission School District in the Kansas City metro area. The Shawnee Mission School District has approximately 28,000 student and 4,000 employees. For the 2014-2015 school year, the district engaged in a digital learning initiative that provided 1-to-1 MacBook Airs and iPads for most K-12 students in the district. The remainder of the students will receive 1-to-1 devices in the 2015-2016 school year. Previously, Drew worked as the director of technology for Derby Public Schools near Wichita, KS.