IT professionals always seek improved performance and simplified management from IT infrastructures. Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), the latest evolution of integrated systems, is worth the hype it’s getting. It delivers on both performance and simplicity.
The latest evolution in integrated systems
Results from a study conducted by Gartner showed that the integrated systems market, including both converged and hyperconverged infrastructure, appears to be increasing by 50 percent each year. Converged infrastructure (CI) is simply another name for integrated systems. Available since 2010, converged infrastructure is a popular alternative to traditional siloed architectures.
Hyperconverged systems, however, are the newest advancement in integrated systems. Eliminating the need for a traditional storage area network (SAN), these systems can provide tighter and stronger unification of compute, network and storage hardware resources. In addition, hyperconverged systems can be built and delivered on commodity hardware.
The rise of HCI is part of a larger progression towards wholly software-defined architecture and the software-defined data center. Management is carried out at the virtual machine (VM) level instead of through the individual component levels of compute, storage and networking. Rather than thinking in terms of CPU cores, GBs of memory and GBs of disk, companies can think in terms of numerous VM configurations.
Optimized design and lower cost of entry
Much like its converged infrastructure predecessors, HCI simplifies complexity with a single-vendor approach to purchasing, implementation and support. However, unlike CI, HCI can be deployed in much smaller units and, therefore, has a lower initial cost.
Many HCI offerings are designed around a building block of a single physical enclosure containing four servers, or nodes. Each node possesses at least one CPU core, memory, SSD and spinning hard drive.
The management software writes data across drives and nodes to provide a higher degree of fault tolerance. In addition, when appliances are deployed, companies can achieve high degrees of availability. Some vendors can even recover lost nodes internally, alleviating the need for any human intervention.
In some cases, companies can continue using their current hypervisor. However, certain vendors don’t support hypervisors other than their own. They may support some hypervisors more than others, or the vendors may try to push their specific proprietary hypervisor instead.
Network infrastructure is part of the integration for both CI and HCI, but it is probably the least integrated part of most vendors’ solutions. HCI management software often does not have an awareness of the top-of-rack network switches or how to interact with them, so experienced networking skills are required.
Benefits of hyperconverged infrastructure
As mentioned at the outset, HCI delivers on its hype regarding improved performance and simplified management. The benefits listed below translate into gains for IT and value for the business.
- Quality: Deliver an always-on, cloud-like end-user experience. HCI technology allows IT to exceed expectations for service quality, timeliness, high availability and disaster recovery.
- Scalability: Respond to workload requirements quickly by just adding a compute or storage appliance. The more mature offerings grant short deployment cycles, allowing for greater flexibility and agility.
- Optimization: Take advantage of HCI solutions to consolidate IT resources and reduce staff and data center expenses.
- Efficiency: Manage resources through a consolidated management interface to reduce operating costs and free administrative resources in order to focus on more strategic business activities.
- Resiliency: Gain more accurate and improved resiliency within single sites and across multiple data centers and remote/branch offices as a result of the HCI design. Also, harness advantages over traditional environments and CI by natively providing data management functions such as deduplication, compression, replication, backup and recovery.
Major players in the hyperconverged market
The HCI market is still in the early development and penetration stages. Forrester, Gartner and IDC all keep close tabs on activity within the market, evaluating major and up-and-coming players. Based upon their analyses and our conversations with clients, we focus our attention on the following four and continue to watch the market for newcomers:
- Nutanix: Nutanix is the largest supplier, getting in the game back in 2009. In addition to its own hypervisor, it supports both VMware and Hyper-V. Prism, the Nutanix management software, is very robust. Nutanix is one of the most mature offerings in today’s HCI market.
- Cisco: Cisco is a newer player in the HCI space but shows great promise. With awareness of both the storage and networking layers, Cisco is in the unique position of being able to bring a fully integrated solution to market.
- SimpliVity: SimpliVity’s OmniStack product is available as an integrated appliance based on a Cisco UCS, Dell or Lenovo server. SimpliVity is differentiated by its compression, deduplication and data protection functions. And its management tools connect to your hypervisor’s existing management framework.
- Pivot3: Pivot3 is making a concerted effort to sell outside of its historical surveillance market stronghold. Despite its smaller size and visibility, Pivot3 is a strong candidate, especially for smaller enterprises due to its lower cost of entry.
Ways to apply HCI
HCI goes beyond transforming your IT infrastructure for better performance and resource optimization. In fact, it is a reliable stepping-stone for implementing other types of technology.
- On-premises cloud: HCI appliances deploy in minutes, not hours. Automated configuration routines minimize the potential for human error. Growth occurs by adding nodes for compute and/or storage. Therefore, HCI compares well to public cloud. You have speed and scale to provide public cloud-like infrastructure in house.
- Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI): VDI users need fast response times that necessitate rapid input/output rates and low latency. HCI delivers this at scale in a more simplified and cost-controlled manner.
- Testing and development: Budget constraints can sometimes force companies to invest in inferior hardware or insufficient resources for their internal test/dev environments. However, with affordable and advanced HCI technology, proper test/dev environments have never been more accessible. Companies can now build on-premises environments rather than testing on the public cloud.
- Data management and disaster recovery: HCI solutions incorporate data protection features and data reduction technologies. Thanks to these new solutions, highly effective business continuity solutions are easier to construct without excessive expenses.
In conclusion, hyperconverged technology can be your next big move, either to transform your IT environment or to function in parallel with your legacy infrastructure as a springboard for new IT initiatives.
Ann Borza is VP of sales and marketing at Distributed Systems Services, Inc. (DSS). She joined the firm in 1997 and is responsible for leading the DSS sales organization. Ann has over 25 years’ experience in the technology industry and began her career with IBM in Reading, PA. She speaks at DSS and industry events regarding IT service effectiveness and business value. For more information, please visit the DSS LinkedIn page.