Combining storage, networking and compute in a single system, hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is designed to cut complexity for data center managers while increasing agility and scalability.
Over the past decade, HCI has evolved from an architecture supporting discrete workloads such as video and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to a scalable platform for a variety of enterprise applications including databases, ERP systems, analytics, private clouds and even edge network implementations.
HCI systems include hypervisors for virtualized computing, software-defined storage and networking, and can run on commodity hardware or special-built, all-in-one appliances.
Choosing a software-centric or hardware approach
Enterprises interested in adopting HCI are faced with a basic choice: a software approach or all-in-one hardware option.
Several vendors offer a variety of all-in-one integrated appliances. These include HPE’s Simplivity systems and Dell EMC VxRail appliances. The main advantages of such systems are vendor-specified and guaranteed performance levels along with ease of installation and configuration.
Software-only offerings from vendors such as VMware and Maxta let enterprises buy their own commodity hardware, potentially reducing costs. Various components can be pulled out and replaced as needed.
There are pros and cons to either approach. While the software-centric approach may allow data center managers to avoid vendor lock-in, it requires more up-front labor and careful scrutiny of hardware-compatibility lists.
HCI evolves as an enterprise IT architecture
Small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) initially drove adaption of HCI because the architecture allowed them to avoid the cost and complexity of full-scale data center infrastructure. HCI gave them the agility of the public cloud as well as control over on-premise hardware. SMBs could start small and add nodes to create pools of shared compute and storage resources.
Developments in the underlying technology of HCI, however, now make it an IT framework suitable for larger enterprises running a variety of large workloads.
The main improvements to HCI include NVMe (non-volatile memory express), a communications protocol and controller designed to move data to and from SSDs via the PCIe bus standard. NVMe SSDs are expected to offer orders-of-magnitude speed improvement over prior SSDs.
An Ethernet-compatible version of NVMe, NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) allows data center managers to scale compute and storage separately, all within a virtualized environment. This means that enterprises can, for example, allow a database application to access more storage without spending more money on compute resources.
For a closer look at what HCI offers today for businesses of various sizes, download our enterprise guide to hyperconvergence.