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Pros and cons of integrated appliances

Integrated appliances incorporate storage, processing and networking into one single product. But are they always a good choice?

Why should I consider an integrated application appliance rather than general-purpose servers and storage arrays?

A number of vendors -- both large and small -- have introduced integrated appliance-type products targeted at a range of use cases. These integrated appliances incorporate processing, storage and even networking into a single product.

Some of these products serve as high-performance database engines and incorporate large amounts of memory and cache, as well as very fast processors and storage, to ensure high transaction rates. Others are targeted to serve a special purpose, such as VDI, and are optimized to the performance requirements of that specific application.

Some advantages of integrated appliances include the following:

  1. They come preconfigured and tuned to a specific performance workload, so they tend to be quick to deploy.
  2. Management is often integrated with the function that the appliance is targeted to. The complexity and layers of interaction often associated with general-purpose systems are hidden or eliminated.
  3. Because they are more of an end-to-end system, integrated appliances can be more easily characterized and compared by standard application benchmarks (assuming the benchmarks are viewed as valid).

The downsides of integrated appliances can include the following:

  1. They may be yet another new device for IT to manage, with new interfaces. Existing monitoring tools may not be compatible.
  2. These devices tend to be one-trick ponies. Redeploying the integrated appliances to serve other functions or needs may not an option.
  3. Traditional organizational boundaries or limitations may be disrupted, for better or worse (e.g., Are DBAs now storage admins?).

These products are becoming increasingly common and often have very attractive price and performance profiles that make them worth considering for that reason alone. Otherwise, the key reason for considering them is for servicing workloads with demands that are not easily satisfied by general-purpose systems.

This was last published in May 2013

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