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And then there was hyper-convergence

Converged infrastructure (CI) platforms such as vBlock and FlexPod have been increasingly capturing customers’ attention due to their ability to reduce time-to-market for applications, lower costs, simplify IT, and reduce overall risk. Many IT organizations have embraced converged, virtualized, and cloud computing-based technologies, including CI systems, as they eliminate guesswork, reduce integration effort, simplify It infrastructure lifecycle, and deliver real business benefits.

Recent technology developments have seen another technology departure post-CI. With businesses trying to transform their capabilities, pressure has been placed on IT to deliver using understaffed teams, so IT opted for hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) systems. HCI places compute, storage, and network on the same appliance, and couples it with virtualization and management software, based on a distributed software stack running across a single or multiple appliances that constitute a cluster. It places special emphasis software defined infrastructure, data protection, infrastructure resiliency, as well as simplicity of integration and competitive scaling. While a typical setup includes up to about 16 nodes in a cluster, some of the available vendor technologies enable it to scale to hundreds of nodes.

HC market is heating up, and so is competitive pressure. Leaders in the HC space, dedicated HC vendors, Nutanix (Virtual Compute Platform) and SimpliVity (OmniCube), continue to release more capable HC platforms, while also enabling  customer adoption of their software through other compute vendors’ hardware (Nutanix with Dell, SimpliVity with Cisco). We have recently seen a number of established Data Center vendors release or expand HC solutions of their own. VMware has its native Virtual SAN (VSAN) technology, as well as a pre-packaged EVO:RAIL offering (including relationships with EMC, HP, Dell, and a few others). Following the announcement of EVO:RAIL-like VSPEX Blue, EMC announced at EMC World its own HCI infrastructure for Tier 2 applications in the form of VxRack, which can scale to hundreds of nodes using off-the-shelf components, powered by ScaleIO storage virtualization. Hitachi is expanding its UCP product line to extend coverage of SMB space, while HP is driving HCI message with HP Converged System (CS) and HC StoreVirtual appliances.

HCI has over time become a viable alternative to run any type of workload, from VDI, general server virtualization, to database workloads, OLTP, and web-scale IT applications. This doesn’t necessarily mean that HCI infrastructure is the right choice for every IT organization. While SMB and midmarket enterprise can benefit from the ‘no brainer’ HCI solution stack, larger IT organizations with skilled Data Center teams and a deep bench of Storage resources may not always see the same management benefits of the HCI solution.

Our Viewpoint and Summary:

HCI platforms are taking center stage as effective alternatives to standalone hardware systems and traditional CI platforms. These systems have all the pre-requisites for growth at the higher rate than regular CI platforms and traditional integrated stack technology. Multiple drivers in the market are contributing to this including Data Center consolidation, cost of legacy infrastructure, desire to improve IT operational efficiency, and increased use of virtualization.

Frank expects HCI adoption to expand gradually as customers better understand this new technology, and as current vendors integrate additional features. More specifically, companies considering solutions in this evolving market segment should consider the following:

• Properly document applications I/O requirements in order to identify relative fitness of HCI solution.
• Validate adequate modularity and scalability of the HCI solution to support growing capacity and performance.
• Strive to adopt solutions that are simple, cost-effective, easy to implement and manage.