How hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) simplifies IT infrastructure and management

The popularity of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is on the up among IT departments across the UK. According to figures from IDC at the end of 2017, global HCI sales generated $1 billion in revenue last year, with the usual suspects of Nutanix, Dell EMC, HPE and Cisco competing for market share in an increasingly growing sector. Gartner recently suggested the HCI market will be worth some $6 billion by 2020.

In this piece, we will look at why more and more organisations are opting for HCI and why the industry is expected to grow so much in such a short space of time.

What is HCI?

Simply put, HCI is described as being a fully software-defined IT infrastructure that virtualises all of the elements of conventional hardware-defined systems.

Stuart Miniman, analyst at Wikibon, describes ‘server SAN’ – a collection of commodity servers clustered to act as a single storage source – as being at the heart of the concept of Hyper-Converged Infrastructure.

According to Trevor Pott, consultant and writer for The Register, a solid definition of hyper-convergence is “a special class of server SANs where VM workloads run alongside the storage workloads. It was conceived of to be cheaper, denser and more appealing than legacy convergence”.

He adds: “Storage in a hyper-converged environment is provided by filling up the compute nodes with disks and creating a server SAN. This uses a part of the compute servers RAM and CPU resources. Hyperconverged solutions still rely on proprietary switches for networking [and] might require a few extra compute nodes to fit the same number of VMs, but the overall footprint is generally smaller.”

Why is HCI becoming so popular?

IT transformation or digitalisation – whether cloud, hybrid cloud or for on-premise –  is one of the key drivers leading organisations to take stock of what they currently have or are doing to use technology to become more agile and responsive to their business needs and challenges.

On the other side of the coin are the organisations who are now investing in HCI, but who sat on the fence when HCI was the new kid on the block. At the time, there was uncertainty around the technology, no long-term reliability figures, and the companies specialising in it were fairly new start-ups. As a result, some companies preferred to wait to see how this new technology panned out within the industry before committing to it.

Benefits of HCI

[clickToTweet tweet=”#HCI – collapsing the traditional three-tier #network, storage and #compute – sometimes known as #legacy #infrastructure – and fitting it all into a commodity ‘tin’ with a #software overlay. This simplifies the #architecture of the environment.” quote=”This is where HCI comes into play, by collapsing the traditional three-tier network, storage and compute – sometimes known as legacy infrastructure – and fitting it all into a commodity ‘tin’ with a software overlay. This simplifies the architecture of the environment.”]

Many organisations find their current infrastructure complex, requiring a lot of resources, skill, time and cost to keep the lights on and running.

In addition, there is a demand for IT departments to respond to business units quickly where the projects on their current infrastructure can take weeks or months to implement, which can have a negative impact.

This is where HCI comes into play, by collapsing the traditional three-tier network, storage and compute – sometimes known as legacy infrastructure – and fitting it all into a commodity ‘tin’ with a software overlay. This simplifies the architecture of the environment.

HCI deployments can reduce your data centre footprint – the ability to consolidate from three racks of server network and storage to one, or even half, can significantly reduce energy costs. With HCI, there is a single, simple management interface, removing the need to log on to multiple interfaces.

What’s more, HCI makes it easier for a business to scale,  negating the idea of sizing storage. You can start small and grow by adding building block nodes each time.

When to consider HCI?

According to research firm Forrester, HCI systems are now typically used for scalable platforms for enterprise applications, database and private cloud.

The organisation found, in a survey of infrastructure professionals planning or expanding on their use of HCI, that the most common workloads being run on converged systems are database (50% of respondents); file and print services (40%); collaboration (38%); virtual desktop (34%); commercial packaged software (33%); analytics (25%) and web-facing workloads such as LAMP stack or web servers (17%).

Getting buy-in from the CFO and CTO

One of the main challenges of implementing HCI is the cost – the initial outlay is considered to be quite high compared to the siloed approach, where the CFO of an organisation will pay most attention to the big sum on a quote.

However, if they can see the bigger picture and see past the initial numbers, they will see the total cost of ownership will be lower over time and over the life of the solution. This can be attributed to the reduced heating and energy costs, reduced data centre footprint, reduced investment in training, and fewer licences or maintenance agreements. In addition, it will mean having a viable disaster recovery solution with more robust recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) times.

With so much for organisations to gain from HCI, it’s clear to see why leading research firms expect the industry to grow from strength to strength in the coming years.

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