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What is Driving the Rise of Hyperconverged Systems?

 Table of contents:

● What Is HCI
● Benefits of HCI
● Who Needs Hyperconverged Infrastructure?
● What Will Happen Next?

Driving the Rise of Hyperconverged Systems

A huge number of manufacturers quickly introduced their HCI solutions (HyperConverged Infrastructure), but there were not so many real implementations initially. Gartner's research, Gartner Hype Cycle, also shows that HCI technologies in 2016-2017 were at the peak of inflated expectations, i.e., the expectations from the implementation of the solution significantly exceeded the effect of its use. As a result, when there was a wave of full-scale tests and the first large implementations, there was a certain disappointment regarding hyperconverged infrastructure, as it turned out that it is not a universal tool for all occasions in life and is not always as effective as marketing promises.

This stage is natural for the life cycle of any new technology, which is also reflected in the Gartner Hype Cycle study conducted in 2018-2019.

Indeed, initially, many companies encountered various problems when working with hyperconverged infrastructure, often associated with a lack of practical experience. The reasons for unsatisfactory work could be errors in the selection of the hardware configuration of the equipment: in this case, the solution could not cope with the tasks.

Sometimes the throughput and quality of the data transmission network became a bottleneck since HCI solutions impose rather stringent requirements on network equipment, especially for All-Flash configurations. The incorrect operation could also be the cause of failures: for example, when the storage capacity is filled with data by more than 70%, some solutions may have problems replicating data between the host servers of the cluster, and overall system performance drops significantly.

However, over time, hyperconverged systems were worked out in practice, and typical errors were taken into account. Ultimately, HCI products took their place in the marketplace and are increasingly being used by various companies today.

If we follow Gartner's terminology, this solution is reaching a “productivity plateau”: the main application scenarios have been identified and worked out, the peak of inflated expectations has been passed, and the technology works reliably in its segment.

What Is HCI

A hyperconverged infrastructure is a unified infrastructure of identical hardware blocks (x86 servers) that combines computing resources with storage resources. By means of specialized software included in the solutions, local drives of all hardware servers are combined into a single fault-tolerant data storage. So, on computing resources, a software-defined storage system is formed with the ability to scale both in terms of volume (TB) and performance (IOPS). This approach, in some cases, helps to optimize the financial and technical parameters of solutions by eliminating storage systems and storage networks (SANs). In addition, the use of hyperconvergence allows you to horizontally scale the infrastructure as needed without large one-time costs.

Benefits of HCI

The main advantage of HCI lies in its architecture: by placing compute and storage resources within a single physical node, as new nodes are added to the cluster, virtual storage space is expanded, and more virtual machines can be run. In fact, when implementing a hyperconverged solution, horizontal scaling of the system as a whole is implemented - by adding new nodes to the cluster.

This advantage is most fully revealed in projects for implementing the VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) virtual workplace infrastructure when a large number of the same type of virtual machines can be launched within the same server. If necessary, you can increase the number of jobs, you only need to add a new node (server) to the cluster, which provides a simultaneous increase in both computing and storage resources. This greatly simplifies the planning and selection of the optimal hardware configuration when implementing new solutions or scaling existing ones.

Another advantage of HCI is a programmatic approach to building and working with storage: the virtualization platform administrator can control the performance and data integrity of virtual machines by setting programmatic storage policies. This approach allows you to abandon the tasks associated with building a dedicated SAN and operating storage systems. All policies related to the storage of virtual machine data are configured by the virtualization platform administrator with understandable and accessible tools, which greatly simplifies and automates infrastructure management, and also speeds up the provision of the requested resources many times over.

HCI actually becomes part of a software-defined data center - a modern data center in which equipment configuration is automated as much as possible, and all infrastructure elements are managed centrally.

Who Needs Hyperconverged Infrastructure?

In our opinion, HCI products are most relevant for the following types of companies.

●Firms that are planning projects that require horizontal scaling of their IT infrastructure (most often associated with the virtualization of user workstations).

●Companies that are thinking about reducing the cost of IT infrastructure maintaining and maintaining expensive storage and SAN networks. In some cases, the implementation of HCI is economically feasible.

●SMBs that want to simplify their infrastructure management, accelerate virtual provisioning, move away from a dedicated SAN, and reduce the burden on system administrators.

●Software developers - most often, they are attracted by a programmatic approach to infrastructure components and the ability to manage using REST-API (Representational State Transfer). HCI solutions make it easy to create and maintain the services you need.

●Separate divisions within the company and branches - if necessary, work with a dedicated server infrastructure, which is used only for their own needs. In this case, HCI allows you to quickly get your own hardware and software platform for hosting virtual machines without the need to build a SAN network or purchase and configure expensive storage systems.

What Will Happen Next?

Despite some limitations, hyperconverged infrastructure is growing in popularity. Practice shows that many companies are looking at the implementation of HCI since every year, both the performance and functionality of solutions increase, the base of implementations expands, and confidence in the technology itself grows.

The driving factors behind the growth of the HCI market include the following:

●The emergence of new disk models (in particular, Flash drives and NVMe devices), provides a significant increase in the performance of the disk subsystem. Moreover, the cost of this class of solutions compared to classical storage systems may be lower.

●The introduction of new network standards (25Gbit, 40Gbit, 100Gbit Ethernet) makes it possible to speed up data transfer between server nodes, which has a beneficial effect on the overall performance of HCI.

●Regular hardware upgrade projects with an approaching End of Support (EOS) or End of Life (EOL) date. Replacing server hardware and storage requires significant costs, which can sometimes be reduced by implementing a hyperconverged infrastructure.

● The advent of Composable Infrastructure has made it possible to apply HCI technologies in high-density server hardware solutions by using dedicated disk shelves available to server blades. In older Blade solutions, this was quite problematic due to the small number of internal drives.

As a result, more and more often, classic storage systems will be replaced by hyperconverged infrastructure in cases where it is technologically in demand and economically profitable. However, it is premature to talk about the widespread transition to HCI in the short term. Having occupied their niche, hyperconverged solutions will certainly take part of the storage market but will not capture it entirely: the choice in favor of classical architecture is still justified in many respects. Besides, modern storage systems also continue to evolve, increasing performance and reliability.

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