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What Is Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) And Its Pros & Cons

Digital services are essential for the smooth running of your business. But as organizations expand, their infrastructure can become over-complex and cumbersome. As a result, many businesses are looking to hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI).

Hyper-converged infrastructure centralizes data management systems into a single interface. So HCI systems improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your infrastructure. This could be why the HCI market is forecast to grow from $6.79 billion in 2021 to $32.19 billion by 2028.

HCI software is a great way to build your business. But what is hyper-converged infrastructure, and is it right for you? Let's take a look.

The history of virtualized infrastructure

Before virtualization, physical storage and other physical hardware dominated IT infrastructure. The arrival of virtualized software saw these systems go through three stages of integration:

  1. Traditional 3-2-1 infrastructure.
  2. Converged infrastructure.
  3. Hyper-converged infrastructure.

Stage 1: Traditional 3-2-1 infrastructure

Virtualization combined physical hardware components into what's now called 3-2-1 architecture. In it, there are three clustered servers, two network switches, and one storage infrastructure appliance. Two common storage resources are SAN (storage area network) and NAS (network-attached storage).

The problem? These components weren't designed for virtualization, and they come from different vendors. This causes issues like:

  • Each component needs its own management systems.
  • The system is expensive to upgrade or expand.
  • The storage appliance is a single point of failure.
  • Adding redundancy to the system incurs heavy costs.
  • There may be vendor compatibility issues.

Stage 2: Converged infrastructure (CI)

Thanks to some quality software engineering, 3-2-1 architecture became converged infrastructure (CI). Converged infrastructure combines the different hardware components into a single system. The problem is that CI mimics the storage architecture of 3-2-1 systems. These solutions are less able to run various workloads and enterprise applications.

One benefit of CI is you can add individual components, like storage and CPU. Plus, you can use individual building blocks separately. The downside is components may come from different vendors.

traditional-converged-hyperconverged 

Image Sourced from 42u.com

Stage 3: Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI)

The latest stage in infrastructure virtualization is hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). Hyper-converged infrastructure combines storage, server, and networking functions into a unified system. HCI addresses many of the issues associated with traditional data center solutions, such as:

  • Data center complexity.
  • Relying on costly proprietary hardware.
  • A large hardware footprint.
  • Compatibility and scalability issues.
  • Difficulty managing heterogeneous infrastructure.
  • Inefficient use of resources.

HCI uses automation and flexible building blocks to manage business applications. For instance, a sample workflow template solution or a file storage system. Since HCI focuses on software, it's often referred to as a software-defined data center.

Components of hyper-converged infrastructure

Hyper-converged infrastructure includes the same functions as 3-2-1 architecture in a single platform. Usually, the HCI box contains:

  • An x86 server.
  • Networking equipment.
  • Software-defined storage system.
  • Hypervisor and other HCI software.

Common software features are disaster recovery and backup, workload consolidation, and data protection.

What is an HCI hypervisor?

Hypervisor software is an integral component of hyper-converged infrastructure. It connects the physical server to the operating system. Hypervisors manage the VMs, storage, compute, networking resources, and modern workloads.

There's little difference between most hypervisors on the market. But open source hypervisors like the Linux Xen Project hypervisor let HCI providers customize it to suit their product.

Pros of hyper-converged infrastructure

Hyper-converged architecture simplifies the management of IT infrastructure. This brings a range of benefits, including:

Easy scalability

Since you deploy HCI solutions as modular building blocks, it's easy to add or remove them from clusters. This means hyper-converged infrastructure is easy to scale.

50% of companies say ease of scaling is important when choosing an HCI platform. Why? It means businesses can test HCI before deploying it throughout the organization.

features-selecting-hyperconverged 

Image sourced from spglobal.com

Improved efficiency

Unifying components like the storage and hypervisor improves the efficiency of virtualized workloads. For instance, since the storage and processing functions are closer together, there's less latency. This is ideal for complex workloads like planning your app launch strategy.

Also, since HCI has a higher storage capacity, it's better at managing application demands than 3-2-1 systems.

Greater reliability

If one node in a cluster fails, the other nodes can take over and ensure there's no interruption of service. This means hyper-converged infrastructure is better able to deal with hardware failures. Plus, software-defined networking allows high levels of task automation. So, resource use is always optimal.

More cost-effective

Switching to hyper-converged infrastructure also comes with cost efficiencies. For example, HCI solutions can lower the total cost of ownership by optimizing resource use and workloads. Operational costs may also be lower as management and maintenance costs go down.

Simplified management

It's easier to manage HCI than 3-2-1 systems, not least due to automation taking over many day-to-day tasks. This lets IT professionals devote more time to managing software like ecommerce software with inventory management.

Plus, since most HCI solutions have a native hypervisor, IT admins can work from one platform instead of several.

Fast deployment

All HCI components, such as networking components and storage, come preconfigured from a single vendor. This reduces the time it takes to deploy HCI software, so deployment costs are lower. Deployment can take longer, though, if you're using a third-party hypervisor.

Cloud integration

In 2020, 69% of companies using hybrid cloud environments had deployed (or were deploying) an HCI solution. This means companies can keep business-critical applications and sensitive data on-premises while managing workloads in the cloud.

So, hyper-converged infrastructure helps businesses modernize their entire data center infrastructure.

statista-adoption-hyperconverged 

Image sourced from statista.com

Cons of hyper-converged infrastructure

Before you update your legacy system, you should also consider the potential cons of HCI. They are:

High extra costs

Infrastructure costs vary depending on the vendor and the features you choose. For instance, to make a node redundant, you need to buy a second node that runs in parallel. Plus, extra costs like licensing and maintenance costs can increase the price over time. Some node types are also pricier than others.

Risk of vendor lock-in

Since most HCI solutions come from a single vendor, there's a risk of vendor lock-in. Vendor lock-in can cause compatibility issues if you want to integrate HCI with software like the cloud.

But, getting your system from a single vendor makes it easier to deploy and manage HCI. So, if you want to use an HCI solution with other software, you should check if it's supported beforehand.

Possible compatibility issues

HCI usually works with cloud computing, just as dropship vs affiliate marketing usually work together. But there may be compatibility issues, especially if you're using software from several vendors. For example, if you use commodity hardware or a third-party hypervisor.

High power consumption

Hyper-converged infrastructure may also increase your data center footprint and power consumption. For instance, 41% of companies say HCI increased their data center power needs. This is because HCI systems have a higher density of equipment.

If you're considering HCI, you must ensure your power system meets the current and future needs of the software.

spglobal-hyperconverged-power 

Image sourced from spglobal.com

HCI use cases

Hyper-converged infrastructure is suitable for a range of uses, such as:

Software development and testing

HCI environments exist in isolation, so HCI is ideal for software testing and quality assurance. This is because any errors don't impact other applications that are running. And once software development and testing are complete, you can move the software to the HCI production cluster.

Managing data centers

As we've said, hyper-converged infrastructure is perfect for data center management. HCI software can run critical applications side-by-side on the same server. This allows you to manage complex data center workloads quickly and efficiently.

With HCI, you can store, manage, and analyze large volumes of data. And it's easy to add more storage capacity if you need to.

Hosting VDI solutions

One of the primary uses of hyper-converged infrastructure is hosting VDI solutions. VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) lets you run desktop operations in the cloud. This makes VDI great for remote work since employees can access the company platform from anywhere.

With an HCI solution, it's easy to deploy and scale VDI solutions for your organization.

Edge computing

Edge environments are computing activities outside a company's cloud and data centers. Edge computing is usually located at ROBO (remote office and branch office) locations.

The scalability of HCI means you can scale it to suit your edge computing applications. You can deploy it at several locations, and it's easy for small IT teams to manage.

General business operations

Hyper-converged infrastructure can also run general-purpose workloads together. Common workloads include:

  • Database management.
  • Logging and analytics.
  • Data protection.
  • File storage.
  • Managing application and infrastructure servers.

Is HCI right for your business?

Hyper-converged infrastructure is a cost-effective alternative to traditional 3-2-1 infrastructure. When choosing an HCI solution, ask questions like:

  • Does the solution have a native hypervisor?
  • Is the solution compatible with third-party software? Will it integrate with cloud computing?
  • Does the solution include built-in backup and disaster recovery?

HCI solutions are simple to manage and deploy. So hyper-converged infrastructure is ideal for SMBs and enterprises with lots of ROBO locations. But no matter the size of your business, HCI is a great way to streamline your IT architecture.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Rollwitz - Content Marketing Executive, Global App Testing

Emily-Rollwitz 

Emily Rollwitz is a Content Marketing Executive at Global App Testing, a remote and on-demand app testing company helping top app teams deliver high-quality software, including work from home platforms, anywhere in the world. She has 5 years of experience as a marketer, spearheading lead generation campaigns and events that propel top-notch brand performance. Handling marketing of various brands, Emily has also developed a great pulse in creating fresh and engaging content. She's written for great websites like Codemotion and CEO Blog Nation. You can find her on LinkedIn.

Published Friday, August 12, 2022 7:32 AM by David Marshall
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