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As I attended sessions at Microsoft TechEd 2014 last week and talked with people in the exhibit hall a number of themes emerged including “mobile first, cloud first”, hybrid cloud, migration to the cloud, disaster recovery as a service, and flash memory storage as a game-changer in the data center. But as I reflect on the entire experience, a statement made John Loveall, Principal Program Manager for Microsoft Windows Server during one of his presentations sums up to overall message of the conference, “Today it is really all about the integrated solution.”

The rise of the pre-integrated appliance in enterprise IT has certainly not gone unnoticed by DCIG. Indeed, we have developed multiple buyer’s guides to help businesses understand the marketplace for these appliances and accelerate informed purchase decisions.

The new IT service imperative is time to deployment. Once a business case has been made for implementing a new service, every week that passes before the service is in production is viewed by the business as a missed revenue growth or cost savings opportunity—because that is what it is. The opportunity costs associated with IT staff researching, purchasing, integrating and testing all the components of a solution in many cases outweigh any potential cost savings.

An appliance-based approach to IT shrinks the time to deployment. The key elements of a rapidly deployable appliance-based solution include pre-configured hardware and software that has been pre-validated to work well together and then tested prior to being shipped to the customer. In many cases the appliance vendor also provides a simplified management tool that facilitates the rapid deployment and management of the service.

Some vendors in the TechEd exhibit hall that exemplify this appliance-based approach included DataOn, HVEconneXions, InMage, Nutanix and Violin Memory.

DataOn was previewing their next-generation Cluster-in-a-Box. Although the DataOn booth was showing their products pre-configured with Windows Server 2012 R2 and Storage Spaces, they also support other operating environments and are Nexenta certified. Nutanix takes a similar approach to deliver what they call a “radically simple converged infrastructure”.

I met the David Harmon, President of HVE ConneXions at the Huawei booth. HVE is using Huawei networking gear in combination with HVE’s own flash memory appliances to deliver VMware View-based virtual desktops to clients at a cost of around $200 per desktop. He told me of a pilot implementation where two HVE staff converted a 100 computer lab of Windows XP desktops to Windows 7 virtual desktops in just two days.

InMage Systems was showing their InMage 4000 all-in-one purpose-built backup and disaster recovery appliance that can also provide public and private cloud migration. I spoke with Joel Ferman, VP of Marketing, who told me that their technology is used by Cisco, HP and Sunguard AS; and that they had never lost a head-to-head proof of concept for either backup or disaster recovery. InMage claims their solution can be deployed in less than a day with no downtime. The appliance won the Windows IT Pro Best of TechEd 2014 award in the Backup & Recovery category.

Violin Memory was displaying their Windows Flash Array, an appliance that ships with Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 pre-installed. The benefits of this appliance-based approach was explained by Eric Herzog, Violin Memory’s CMO this way, “Customers do not need to buy Windows Storage Server, they do not need to buy blade servers, nor do they need to buy the RDMA 10-gig-embedded NICs. Those all come prepackaged in the array ready to go and we do Level 1 and Level 2 support on Windows Server 2012 R2.”

Today it is really all about the integrated solution. In many cases, the opportunity to speed the time to deployment is the deciding factor in selecting an appliance-based solution. In other cases, the availability of a pre-configured appliance puts sophisticated capabilities within reach of smaller IT departments composed primarily of IT generalists who lack the specialized technical skills required to assemble such solutions on their own. In either case, the ultimate benefit is that businesses gain the IT capabilities they need with a minimum investment of time.

This is the second in a series of blog entries based on my experience at Microsoft TechEd 2014. The first entry focused on how Microsoft’s inclusion of Storage Spaces software in Windows Server 2012 R2 paves the way for server SAN, and how Microsoft Azure Site Recovery and StorSimple promote hybrid cloud adoption.

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Ken Clipperton

About Ken Clipperton

Ken Clipperton is a Managing Analyst at DCIG, a group of analysts with IT industry expertise who provide informed, insightful, third party analysis and commentary on IT hardware, software and services. Within the data center, DCIG has a special focus on the enterprise data storage and electronically stored information (ESI) industries.

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