Thought you already had to master a lifetime’s-worth of terms and acronyms? Here’s one more: Hyper-converged infrastructure, or HCI. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?
Well, get used to it, as it is one of the fastest growing methods for deploying IT software in datacenters. This concept did not even exist three years ago, but today, almost everyone is talking about it. In fact, a report by Gartner shows that this segment is expected to grow from zero in 2012 to a whopping $5 billion by 2019, and is expected to represent more than 35 percent of the total integrated system market in a few years.
Given that this technology is only a few years old, and yet has seen tremendous growth since it was first introduced, it makes sense to know everything there is about it.
Let’s start with a basic understanding of HCI.
What is hyper-converged infrastructure?
Traditionally, infrastructures were comprised of different components from different vendors, each of which was managed by a small team of employees. On average, any kind of IT infrastructure required around eight to 12 hardware components, each with varying interfaces and operations, and entailing separate training for each component. In addition, every component required a separate team to manage because it was different from others. With such uniqueness, it was not uncommon for a business to have a team for storage, one for backup, one for managing routers and firewalls, and more. Though this structure worked for some time, it soon became expensive and unmanageable, considering that networks have been expanding at a rapid pace over the last five years.
This prohibitive cost led to the emergence of converged infrastructure, a model that pooled resources from different servers to create a transparent and unified set of resources. Such a virtualization-based infrastructure was expected to make it easy for the IT team to handle all the different components.
Though this idea of converged infrastructure looked promising, IT teams soon realized it was not a very efficient way of addressing performance problems, especially when applied to legacy systems. Likewise, this model did not address data problems because not all data applications are converged.
To address these shortcomings and to take this idea of converged infrastructure to the next level, hyper-converged infrastructure entered the world in 2014. It addressed all the above problems by consolidating the required functionality and components into a single infrastructure stack that operated on an elastic pool of resources. In other words, all the components needed for a full infrastructure deployment, including compute, storage, memory, virtualization, and networking resources, were combined into a self-contained box.
Such a single shared resource pool offered many advantages, such as better efficiency in deployment, simple and easy management, and the flexibility to pick and choose components.
These advantages enticed companies to try HCI in different situations, and the IT industry soon got a grasp of its potential.
Below are some scenarios in which HCI has been used successfully:
- Consolidation — If you’re planning to consolidate your servers and datacenters, it’s best to turn to HCI vendors, as they can seamlessly integrate the underlying hardware with your existing environment.
- Modernization — HCI gives you the flexibility to replace old hardware with new ones in a phased manner, so it doesn’t affect the operations of your business in any way.
- New workloads — When you want to deploy new tier-1 workloads, start off with HCI. Later, you can integrate your existing hardware to it.
- Remote management — When you want to handle your infrastructure remotely, HCI is your best option, as the remote resources can be managed like your local ones.
- Test and development environments — HCI provides a real-time infrastructure to check your code, and at the same time, helps you create logical separators between your test and development environments to ensure that no unwanted code is released into production.
- Backup and disaster recovery — If you don’t have a solid backup and disaster recovery system in place, don’t worry, as HCI simplifies and automates these tasks for you.
Now that you understand what a hyper-converged infrastructure is and how it can possibly be used, let’s see how it benefits your organization.
Probably, the biggest reason to embrace HCI is lowered costs. Since all the resources come in a single box and includes all the varieties you need, the cost is greatly reduced. You no longer have to buy or lease multiple components from different vendors. Instead, you can use only a unified HCI node from a single vendor that takes care of all your customization.
It also helps when you want to expand your business, as you can add components in small increments. On top of it, training and support costs are lower, as you’re dealing with a single vendor only.
Many organizations have embraced HCI just for these cost benefits. A case in point is the Blue Springs School District, which operates 22 elementary, middle, and high schools in the eastern part of Kansas City, Mo. With more than 1,000 teachers, 2,000 staff and 14,500 students, this school district decided to use HCI to reduce costs and simplify management.
With this technology, it consolidated its 22 datacenters into half a rack at one facility. This move obviously made storage management a lot simpler than before, and helped it to save on electricity costs by almost $100,000 a year, as it is operating only out of one center instead of 22. It even expects to earn back its investment within four years.
HCI offers the highest flexibility when you want to scale up or down. Since each self-contained stack can have as many or as few components as you want, you can simply add or remove hardware based on the current requirements of your business. The best part is the combined resources are seen as a single pool, regardless of the number and type of components present in it.
Another important benefit of hyper-converged infrastructure is efficiency, because all your components are sealed into a single unit. In traditional and converged infrastructure models, there is always a possibility of error due to disparate and incompatible hardware and software.
How many times have you faced incompatibility problems between third-party software and hardware? Probably too many to count.
With HCI, the underlying hardware is selected to work well with your software choices, so there’s no more worry about incompatibility problems. In addition, HCI systems smartly allocate resources to the virtual machines that have the highest need, thereby improving ROI on every resource. For example, a CRM system will need more computing power than a backup service that operates only at scheduled times, and HCI can take care of it for you.
An example of a company that has benefited greatly from HCI’s improved operational efficiency is Waypoint Capital. This leading asset and management firm located in Geneva, Switzerland, faced business challenges in the form of a cluttered datacenter, lagging disaster recovery, and ever-increasing storage needs. To tackle these problems, it turned to HCI, and soon saw a radical decrease in datacenter complexity. It also saw a nearly two-fold performance improvement and achieved a data efficiency ratio of 100:1.
Backing up your data is much easier than ever before, as all storage devices are managed by the same unit. This means, backup and recovery features are built into the system, and will happen automatically without manual interference.
HCI systems have a high degree of resilience, as most service providers have a replicated hyper-convergence node that switches over when the main node fails. This switch happens within seconds, and you may not even notice it. Such a resilience can enhance your business continuity in a big way.
Today’s dynamic business environment requires you to adapt quickly and respond well to the changes happening around you. In this sense, an agile environment is the cornerstone of every business. You may have to deploy your products frequently to meet these changes, and this will need a flexible infrastructure and resources like HCI to make deployment quick and efficient.
Imagine the hassles when you want to move your datacenter from one location to another.
While you won’t need to move datacenters often, there are some rare events and emergencies that may entail you to do so. In such a case, HCI makes it easy, because the entire datacenter is contained within a single box. This way, you can relocate your operations without having any impact whatsoever on your customers.
Hyper-convergence infrastructure is the future. It can consolidate all your hardware needs within a single and compact node. With such a shift, you can save money, have a ton of flexibility for your needs, and use a pay-as-you-grow model when you expand.
Now that you know the benefits, are you ready to transition to hyper-converged infrastructure?