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What's the value in a hyper-converged infrastructure? 

March 27, 2018 Jeff Kish


It's pretty common to wake up and find Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) in the headlines.  This week's revelation is that Gartner has given HCI its own magic quadrant, a move that probably should have been made two years ago.  Still, this is a powerful reminder that HCI is a monster that continues to gobble up market share from traditional storage deployments.



The Value of HCI

When HCI first became a mainstream buzzword, it was focused on simplicity - sacrificing dials and knobs for the sake of business agility, and it knocked this ball out of the proverbial park.  Plug-and-play node adds, rolling upgrades, and seamless service delivery satisfied the cravings within corporate IT for technology it could afford to maintain.  It really wasn't about dollars - in fact, HCI can cost just as much as a traditional server/storage deployment.  It was about maintaining operational efficiency and, simply put, keeping the lights on.


At What cost?

This used to be the million-dollar question - what am I risking by giving up those dials and knobs I have with my traditional storage vendors?  Features like replication, snapshots, storage encryption, and even data reduction were all missing from early HCI products.  As such, HCI was primarily for niche deployments, like giving an application its own dedicated infrastructure to ensure performance.  It also found a home in Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) due to its plug-and-play scaling.

However, technology is seldom content to sit still, especially when the market hungers for innovation (i.e. there's money to be spent)!  Fast-forward to 2018, where the feature gap between HCI and traditional storage shrinks with every code iteration.  When HCI deployments can scale to 64 nodes, support snapshots/replication, and match the data reduction rates of the best storage arrays on the market, it becomes easier to justify making the switch.  So what's holding HCI back?


It's the Network

The major challenge is networking, the Achilles heel of HCI.  Many an organization, enamored by the potential for HCI to simplify operations, has found itself knee-deep in the mire of HCI network connectivity.  I've had the unfortunate privilege of spec'ing out switches for deployments-gone-wrong, resulting in an unexpected and unwelcome budget add to the overall project costs.

But there is a better way!  Not all HCI solutions are created equal, and this is one of many reasons why Cisco HyperFlex (HX) is blasting its way into this market.  Who else but Cisco would be able to solve a networking problem with a server/storage solution?  HX uniquely hyperconverges the networking into its solution, enabling hyperscale of compute nodes without requiring the same scalability at the network layer.  Another problem solved, and another step closer to feature parity with traditional storage products.


When it Makes Sense

Armed with this information, we need to know when we should consider HCI over traditional compute/storage platforms.  HCI has great potential for small IT shops, remote deployments, specific applications, and VDI.  Still, the answer isn't always clear, and there are many scenarios where HCI would create an organizational roadblock in the near-term.  Fortunately, figuring out the best solution for your is just a whiteboard session away. 


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