Ensuring availability of business-critical applications is the top most priority of every IT Leader. This is what drives each one of us day in and day out to continuously innovate so that the customer pain-point can be solved. Customer need drives innovation without which there is no innovation. Single most disruptive technology over the past decade has been Virtualization. This helped put the focus on availability and resource efficiency/optimization that in turn helped drive compute innovation – from discrete to blades to Converged Infrastructure to Hyper-Converged Infrastructure systems. Virtualization made the impossible possible and I am sure most of us still remember our first vMotion!
During the Non-Virtualization era, we used to have datacenter filled with dedicated rack servers running multiple web servers, application and database servers to provide high availability and most of the clustering was carried out at application level. Today if you look at those times, inefficiency was written all over the place. Introduction of Blade technology almost during the same period as virtualization helped organization reduce on the rack and power consumption at the datacenter but the lack of clustering at infrastructure layer persisted and continued to be a pain-point until we had virtualization going main stream. Virtualization has not only helped organizations drive efficiency cross the datacenter but on the other side has also increased the demand of compute and storage. In my opinion, Virtualization is what drove us from Blade servers to Converged Infrastructure and to the latest kid on the block – Hyper-Converged Infrastructure.
Summarizing below benefits and demerits of CI & HCI and why both are still relevant to Organizations depending on the use cases
CONVERGED INFRASTRUCTURE (CI)
Converged Infrastructure operates by grouping multiple information technology (IT) components into a single, optimized computing package. Components of a converged infrastructure may include servers, data storage devices, networking equipment and software for IT infrastructure management, automation and orchestration.
- Fully Factory Integrated Solution from Single Vendor
- Best of Breed technologies from multiple vendors integrated, delivered and managed by single entity.
- Reference architectures (Customizable Infrastructure)
- Plug and Play – Factory integrated and delivered as Appliance to the enterprise.
- Single point of Support – Dedicated Single support contact to reach for any support requirement across the hardware and software infrastructure stack.
- Infrastructure Compatibility & Upgrade/Updates – Compatibility of infrastructure components are handled by the CI provider across the stack and constant firmware updates for the infrastructure is driven by them thereby reducing the administrator effort in validating the compatibility issues with the components.
- Support for Both Physical & Virtual Workloads – While in the early days there was very specific configuration and support only for Virtual workloads, these days the CI partners support broad spectrum of virtual workloads and physical workloads.
- Management & Monitoring – Converged Infra ensures that there is a unified management and monitoring interface for all infrastructure components thereby reducing the manual efforts in managing multiple discrete infrastructure & multiple management/monitoring tools which in turns helps in increasing the efficiency and utilization of resources.
- Just in time Growth – Converged Infrastructure helps organization grow just in time and for the components that needs to be scaled-out – Compute, Storage or Network.
- Expensive when compared to HCI
- Vendor Lock-in (debatable)
- Long Patching cycles considering the amount of infrastructure components
- HCI doesn’t support Physical Workloads and in all cases where there is a requirement to host Physical workloads, Converged Infrastructure is still relevant.
- When there are high compute demand environments with guaranteed performance requirements, Converged Infrastructure probably is still first choice.
- Streamlined Support and upgrade for the infrastructure.
- Converged Infrastructure is what had helped enable 100% Virtualization possible in the datacenter and continues to robust and efficient for Organizations.
HYPER-CONVERGED INFRASTRUCTURE (HCI)
Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) refers to integrating virtualization of storage and computing in a center. In such an environment, storage and compute components are marketed by a single vendor. Unlike converged infrastructure, packages typically do not include network switches to connect multiple systems. Remember, Hyper-Converged Infrastructure is a software centric architecture.
- End-to-End HCI solution from Single Vendor (Software & Hardware)
- Integrated Software and Hardware Solution from different Vendor
- ALL FLASH and Hybrid Models of HCI
- Improved Performance (Data Locality)
- Superior Performance (SSD on every hardware)
- Deduplication and Compression
- Linear Scalability
- Cloud like economics of scale made possible by integration of discrete commodity hardware and intelligent utilization of their resources made available
- In-built data protection and replication capabilities with storage efficiency capabilities.
- Considering this is a software defined solution there is no immediate support for Physical workloads. Obviously through mechanisms now we have capabilities to provision storage from HCI infrastructure to Physical workloads.
- In most leading solutions, you don’t have single point of support in the way the solutions are architected with best of breed integration.
- Limited support for blade servers considering this is reliant on hard drives in servers thereby moving us back to discrete hardware whenever the capacity requirement is more.
- Caution needs to be taken to understand and differentiate the difference between hypervisor availability requirement and HCI availability requirement
- Storage efficiency capabilities, data locality and SSD delivering high performance when compared to traditional solutions makes HCI a great use case for most applications and more so for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.
- Hyper-Converged Infrastructure can start as low as 2 Node / 3 Nodes and can grow based on demand on the infrastructure
As we conclude, there are no second thoughts when i say Hyper-Converged Infrastructure is the way forward for the Cloud Economics, Agility and Efficiency that it has to offer over traditional infrastructure.