The emergence of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) has altered the way many organisations manage their IT systems. Businesses of all different sizes have made the switch from traditional setups and reaped the rewards – so much so that hyper-converged systems now account for 41.2% of the overall converged systems market, according to global market intelligence firm IDC.
But, for the uninitiated, just what is HCI and how can it benefit your company?
What is hyper-converged infrastructure?
In a nutshell, hyper-converged infrastructure – also referred to as hyper-convergence – is a term given to a software-defined infrastructure model that closely integrates the components of more traditional hardware-defined systems (converged). HCI pulls together the compute, networking, storage and virtualisation resources into one single system, allowing for the management of these components using a single common toolset. This differs from converged infrastructure (CI) models in which these components remain separate.
Hyper-converged solutions are typically provided by a vendor with the aim of simplifying and adding flexibility to IT system management.
Common hyper-converged infrastructure use cases
There are a number of reasons why organisations opt for a hyper-converged infrastructure solution but, ultimately, it boils down to the specific needs and demands of the business. Many choose HCI for the ability to manage the system remotely – which is particularly convenient if there are multiple offices scattered across various locations. This often requires less specialist knowledge thanks to the streamlined and accessible nature of HCI systems.
Many small to medium-sized organisations may also find that hyper-convergence is more manageable in terms of cost; a growing business may be better placed financially to scale up capacity and power a little bit at a time through a HCI setup. Companies are also often swayed by the support for critical and forward-thinking applications for system management.
For those weighing up utilising the hybrid cloud, hyper-converged infrastructure can provide a means by which to simplify the platform – ultimately helping to save time and resources that would otherwise need to be committed.
Pros and cons of hyper-converged infrastructure
One of the key benefits to HCI is its aforementioned scalability. It provides organisations with an efficient way in which to grow the platform with the business, adding extra capacity as the need arises thanks to its centrally-managed nature. This also brings financial benefits as businesses will have less need to invest in separate specialist hardware and software, as well as their associated deployment and maintenance costs.
Convenience is also the other key benefit; HCI’s “plug-and-play” nature makes it easy to deploy as the organisation does not need to ensure compatibility between the compute and storage elements of the setup. Essentially, the vendor does the legwork here and, with software-defined storage and management software pre-installed and ready to go, IT staff are freed-up for other tasks.
The package is also usually very reliable, thanks to extensive vendor testing on each element of the system. On top of this, the inclusion of software-defined storage means it’s easy to shift data around – which allows for the commitment of key resources to higher-priority workloads as a result.
In terms of the workforce and system upkeep, HCI’s relative ease-of-use compared to alternative setups enables the system to be managed by fewer staff – making it a particularly convenient solution for managing remote offices.
However, as with all systems, there are downsides too. For starters implementing a hyper-converged platform locks the organisation into a sole vendor and their hardware and integrated software – making it particularly difficult to switch to an alternative company should the need arise.
In some instances, HCI’s scaling options may also not be appropriate for certain needs. When expanding, businesses will typically be required to upscale both storage and compute capacities in tandem – which could lead to wasted money if the firm only requires one without the other.
How to get started with hyper-converged infrastructure
Before deciding on which type of infrastructure to implement, organisations should first analyse exactly the nature of the workloads they wish to run on it. Knowing the exact needs of the business will go a long way to ensuring a smooth transition and efficient outcome with minimal wasted investment.
Factors to analyse include cost of migration and ongoing maintenance, backup and recovery, hardware and software capabilities, as well as overall performance and storage requirements (and their expected growth).
Once these needs have been calculated, the next stage is to scout the market for suitable vendors and evaluate each one’s compatibility. The emergence and continuous growth of the HCI market means there is a now plethora of differing vendor options, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
It’s also important to discuss the intricate IT needs of the organisation with vendors as this will help determine whether the supplier is right for the job and either confirm or dispel any concerns about the process. A good vendor will also help plan and map out the transition to a hyper-converged infrastructure.