Hyperconverged Infrastructure Is Driving Data Center Evolution
Once a niche technology, HCI has become an essential infrastructure component for many organizations.
As recently as just a few years ago, hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) was seen largely as a way to support specific use cases, such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). But as the technology has matured, more organizations are adopting hyperconvergence as the primary infrastructure model to support their data centers.
“When Cisco entered the market in 2016, the initial adoption focused on VDI,” says Eugene Kim, head of HyperFlex product marketing for Cisco Systems. “But very quickly, when solutions like our all-flash offering came in in 2017, more and more organizations started relying on hyperconvergence for enterprise and mission-critical applications, as well as databases like Oracle and SAP.”
Andrew Smith, research manager for the Infrastructure Platforms and Technologies Group at IDC, notes that companies are increasingly relying on hyperconvergence not only for their production environments, but to simplify disaster recovery (DR) and backup. “We used to think of fairly simple primary use cases for hyperconvergence, and now we’ve moved to not blinking an eye about having business-critical workloads running on HCI,” he says. “The more critical processes you’re running on that infrastructure, the more your DR and backup requirements are going to reach the level you’ve always had on regular storage systems.”
Since the technology debuted, organizations have been attracted to the scalability and simplicity of HCI — and have deployed it for use cases that make sense. Today, after several years of improvements, those use cases are virtually limitless.
Combining storage, compute and networking into one infrastructure cluster also means centralizing the management for all of these components in a single dashboard — a significant draw for increasingly overworked IT teams. “There’s too much complexity in the data center, especially for midmarket companies,” says Chuck Wood, product marketing manager for HPE SimpliVity. “IT shops are continuously faced with having to do more for the business, having to execute flawlessly, and everything is 24-7. It’s really about reducing complexity.”
Kim notes that, although IT teams are being asked to do more, most companies aren’t increasing the size of their staffs. That reality underscores the need to simplify infrastructure management and free up IT professionals for more strategic initiatives.
“Companies need to modernize and make investments that are going to help them reduce their IT overhead, because they have to support lines of business with what’s happening in the future,” Kim says. “Hyperconverged infrastructure is helping them to become leaner and run more efficiently and economically, and then they can reinvest that time and money that they save for these future operational needs. If you have to spend time on uptime issues and day-to-day management, that’s time you can’t spend on forward-looking initiatives. ”
Hyperconvergence, Smith says, allows organizations to shift their staff away from being IT specialists. Instead, they become generalists who are able to manage all of the components that formerly made up the data center infrastructure. “So instead of having a network, VM and storage administrator, you can have a single infrastructure generalist in charge of managing all three,” he says.
Services to Support HCI
Especially for organizations that are implementing hyperconverged infrastructure for the first time, services can be crucial to success. Beyond the hardware, many organizations require help designing solutions, rolling them out and managing them over time.
Among the services offered by CDW:
CDW offers a number of different professional services engagements. In a Data Center Assessment, solution architects assess an organization’s overall infrastructure and report back detailed findings and recommendations. With planning and design services, CDW will recommend validated reference architectures that utilize hyperconverged infrastructure. And through deployment services, CDW’s engineers help get infrastructure up and running and assist with data migration.
CDW offers hosted private clouds that run on managed hyperconverged infrastructure. These can be hosted in an organization’s own data center, a CDW data center or in a third-party data center. Organizations can choose from several tiers of support.
Like most infrastructure, HCI must be custom-configured to best meet an organization’s unique needs. This can be a complex, time-consuming task that taxes internal IT teams and takes them away from their regular work. CDW has a wealth of experience in areas including rack configuration, asset management services, and delivery and distribution optimization.
Small Footprint, Scalable Infrastructure
Another top draw of HCI is the ability to start small (from both an investment and a physical footprint standpoint), and then easily scale up over time. “For retail customers, for instance, every square foot in the store matters,” says Wood. “They want their inventory on display. They don’t want racks and racks of gear.” He points to one retailer that collapsed a bulky three-tier system down to just a few nodes of HPE SimpliVity infrastructure.
The reduced footprint of hyperconverged infrastructure can be even more valuable for DR use cases, notes Smith. “Traditionally, you’ve needed a second site,” he says. “Now, you can have a second system in a remote office. You don’t need a second master data center somewhere to do true disaster recovery. You can do that on a smaller scale.”
With HCI, expanding capacity is simply a matter of adding nodes to an existing cluster. This prevents organizations from having to over-provision (and overspend) at the outset, while also allowing them to rapidly ramp up capacity if they need it. “You can start small, and then scale in small increments, even up to very large deployments of virtual machines,” Wood says.
Top Use Cases
Wood says that he’s seeing more large deployments of Microsoft SQL Server and other databases being run on HCI – as well as collaboration apps and industry-specific, mission-critical applications (such as electronic medical records in healthcare). Also, in part because the scalability and agility of hyperconverged infrastructure mimics the public cloud, HCI has traditionally been seen as a good fit for supporting hybrid cloud models.
Increasingly, Kim says, organizations are opting to run their entire production environments on HCI. “People are still asking, ‘Is HCI ready for prime time?’” he says. “I would say, with us, and a lot of different vendors, hyperconverged infrastructure is being used for mission-critical and business-critical applications. It’s not just being used for dev/test. We’re seeing a lot of Fortune 200 customers using HCI, and they’re using it for the foundation of the applications that directly impact their customer experience and their business operations. That, to me, shows that it’s ready for prime time.”