Convergence, Hyperconvergence & Software Defined
In the broadest of terms, IT “Convergence” is the collapsing of traditional IT (Information Technology) stacks of compute, storage, network and in some cases backup & recovery, into a single platform. Depending on how you define “platform”, converged infrastructure could be anything from virtual storage running on a hypervisor host (e.g. VSAN on ESX) to HPE Synergy with OneView to what most consider pure “Hyper”-converged Infrastructure such as HPE Simplivity, which includes compute, storage, network and backup & recovery in a single appliance. When does “Converged” turn into HCI (Hyper-Converged Infrastructure)? Some argue that being “software-defined” makes it HCI. However, it could also be argued that “software-defined” is a separate measurement altogether, indicative of the ability to programmatically change the state of any or all components in the technology stack (e.g. the network profile of a server). At the end of the day, fancy terms are for fancy Marketing teams. This paper will focus on what the technology brings to the table, and what challenges it presents.
Benefit of Convergence
The primary benefit of convergence is the reduced operational burden of designing, procuring, implementing, scaling and maintaining technology infrastructure. Examples of this range from reducing complexities associated with firmware/software updates to managing platform refreshes. This reduced burden should lead to lower costs associated with staff; both engineering and operational support roles such as procurement & vendor management.
Software Defined Changes the Game
If we open the discussion to include “software-defined” (SDx), which some argue is a required component of HCI, the list of benefits grows. What does SDx mean? It essentially means the ability to dynamically (programmatically) change the state of an infrastructure, either through a GUI or through exposed APIs. These capabilities not only reduce management overhead but streamline deployments, allowing end users to gain access to resources in minutes where it once took weeks. Public cloud providers are largely responsible for raising the bar on end user expectations, driving the need for internal IT organizations to deploy these capabilities internally.
One of the biggest challenges in the move to HCI is organizational. Most large organizations have built their IT organizations around the technology silos. As expected, these groups generally resist the idea of relinquishing control over their discipline and the proper Executive Sponsorship is the best means to overcome this. These groups often site valid technical limitations as their justification. Technical limitations include lack of capabilities (e.g. storage snapshots, GPU options or hosting very large VMs) as well as lack of flexibility around growing each technology stack independently, leveraging newer technologies or use-case specific technologies such as GPUs for HPC or VDI.
Where Does HCI Fit?
In practical application, we are seeing both mid-sized and large enterprises deploy HCI. For mid-sized enterprises, HCI is often deployed as the primary solution for the core infrastructure. For larger enterprises, HCI is often deployed for particular use-cases, be it a technical use-case (e.g VDI) or a geographic use-case (e.g. branch offices). These use-cases typically involve more homogenous workloads without any of the technical requirements that would be difficult for the current HCI solutions to meet.
Without question, HCI solutions reduce the management burden for Information Technology organizations. However, each organization has unique requirements, and to what extent the benefits of HCI (and Software Defined) will be realized depends largely on their organizational capabilities and technical requirements.
For example, when it comes to leveraging software-defined automation capabilities, organizations will need to have the appropriate staff and capabilities to build on this (typically a DevOps team). Investing in these capabilities will only make sense for organizations with dynamic environments where response times are critical, and changes are frequent.
At SnowCap we have explored HCI solutions for many organizations, both large enterprises and mid-sized companies. We have uncovered both unforeseen benefits as well as unforeseen pitfalls. Careful analysis of your organization’s requirements will be critical in determining if HCI will be a fit for you.
Challenges & Limitations
Lack of technical flexibility
Limitations on adopting new tech
Lower Management Costs
Simplified firmware updates
Simplified upgrades & refreshes
Fewer integration points