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HCI – What Is It, and What Is It Not?

Level 13

This is the first of a five-part series on HCI. I hope you enjoy and this prompts discussion. Please feel free to reach out to me, either here or via Twitter at @MBLeib.

What Is Hyperconverged Infrastructure?

Hyperconverged infrastructure is one of the new hot areas of technology in the IT data center space. Like most areas of technology, there are the marketing words and then there’s the definition. So, what’s the definition? There’s no industry-wide meaning, but in my opinion, it involves the management of an architecture based on hardware, software, storage, and a hypervisor. As this audience is familiar with hypervisors, I’m happy to skip the “what is a hypervisor” conversation, but in certain cases the architecture supports VMware but not KVM, Hyper-V, or some flavor of software. In other cases, the architectures will support all of them. Let’s be clear here, though: I believe the original concept of this category is all built around the hypervisor, hence the term “hyperconverged.”

I don’t believe it involves a compute/storage environment, but without the hypervisor. So, for example, in the backup space, Rubrik and Cohesity, with no disrespect, are converged but not hyperconverged. And, believe me, there are many advantages in the converged arena as well, but by my definition, this isn’t that. I lay no claim, by the way, to the veracity of my definition.

The history of such an architecture goes back to the launch of the EMC/Cisco product, the vBlock. The idea when this was created was of a compute environment powered by VMware and Cisco servers (UCS), a switched environment powered by Cisco Nexus, and, of course, storage by EMC. The product was chosen by size requirements. Your compute engagement would be built around supporting the VMware load, and the storage would involve all your storage requirements. Seems easy, right? It wasn’t. These were first-generation builds and required much in the way of fine-tuning and technical support. At the same time, NetApp introduced their answer to this with the FlexPod. These were first-generation products, and though they were built quite robustly, they were tougher to manage than ever intended.

Soon came the launch of products from Nutanix and SimpliVity designed around industry standard x86, and initially a shared spinning-disc storage environment with a virtual SAN architecture spread across nodes. This became a far more viable build, with sizing around three or four node x86 clusters. Scalability was initially difficult, as once you outgrow your sizing or your storage, the requirement would be to spend on a full cluster once again.

Alternative builds arrived on the scene from brands like Datrium, and NetApp, VMware VxRail, as well as others, which had the idea of using storage nodes and compute nodes as separate components. This gave the customer far friendlier ways in which to grow the architecture. No longer were you limited by the storage/compute limits. If you needed more storage, you’d place a storage node into the cluster, and if you needed compute, well, that was easy as well. I find these architectures compelling.

As you can see, there are many approaches to resolve a converged architecture, with varying approaches designed to solve a variety of inherent issues. With so many options to draw from when pursuing this option, your data center needs will be likely resolved by one of these.


I’d also like to stress, as has always been my opinion, that the idea of convergence may not be appropriate for some scenarios. Orchestration elements have become far more sophisticated, such that “pools” of resources can be provisioned from the whole using a variety of methods, depending on the hardware to be leveraged. Sizing, needs, scalability, and other variables can be used to achieve either the same or similar goals. The build of servers, fabric, storage and network are still viable options. Also, a potential need can be solved by using a newer version of the converged architectures available, as HPE has done with the fully managed Synergy architecture.

Before endeavoring to implement an approach, be sure that your goals are being met by the solutions you pursue.

17 Comments
Level 14

Thanks for the article! 

Level 13

Nice write up.  Look forward to the series.  To say HCI has come a long way since UCS is an understatement.  It's also become much more affordable.  When we first looked at it maybe 8 years ago it was largely unaffordable for medium enterprises, and the fork lift upgrade didn't appeal at all - it was easier to build a semi converged on your own.  Now it's become much more mainstream with solutions that fit various tiers and budgets.

Level 13

Thanks. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

Level 12

What a good read. You are correct, terms are flung like frisbees, with no regard for who get's thumped. It's nice to agree on the definitions beforehand, so we all know what to expect.

Level 12

Thanks, I'm looking forward to part 2!

Level 13

I couldn't agree more. A perfect example of the "Words mean things" mantra is "Software Defined." To me, this phrase is so open and so much a variable that again, everybody and their brother has adapted it, with no regard for any actual meaning.

Level 13

Thanks. I hope you continue to enjoy.

MVP
MVP

Thanks for the article!

MVP
MVP

Interesting stuff, thanks.

Level 20

It's really just a way to package the pieces so it's easier for users to buy and manage.

Level 14

HCI was the big buzz-phrase at my last place.  So much so that they spent £3M on a VxRail HCI setup.  Turned out it was just a bunch of servers running VMWare with an attached SAN.  Sound familiar.  That's what we already had and for a much cheaper price.  Ho Hum.

Level 12

I read part 2 first and then saw this article. When I first heard Hyperconvergence Infrastructure I immediately thought, buzzword. Like the cloud it seems it can mean a whole lot of different possibilities. It just depends on what sales person you are talking to.

Level 12

... But his was a good article. I need good ways to keep up with trends in the industry and know what is happening outside of my company, (and within other groups of my company for that matter,) and what might be being sold to the ​higher-ups.

Level 11

Thanks for the article.

MVP
MVP

I can't believe the ride I am on .. our HCI uses VM Ware and NetApp …. I love the last statement "be sure that your goals are being met by the solutions you pursue" - be careful with vendors and engineers .. work with people you trust to plan for the long haul!!

Level 13

@Zennifer This should be an approach to all architectural discussion. You may not always know the full detail of what you'll need when you must jump to a solution, but a good presales architect will hopefully know the space, know the relevant questions to answer, and help you to distill from the options available the best decision for your business. This is the actual value of an unbiased reseller, who's motivation is to solve problems, not to fit square pegs in round holes. I am at your service.

MVP
MVP

I totally agree.. I have been so very fortunate in my endeavors (I solicit information from much smarter people than myself, and those that I trust.)  I appreciate your feedback mbleib  - glad to have you on my team!!!!!!

About the Author
Hi, I'm Matt Leib. I'm an old dude, with years on the customer side, years on the vendor side, and now, years on the channel side. Exist as a Pre-Sales Solutions Architect in the channel space. I specialize in virtualization, orchestration, storage and cloud. On my personal blog, I talk about anything from baseball and music to most technical things I enjoy including personal and enterprise tech. For the last few years, I've been a Tech Field Day delegate, and a blogger on Thwack's Geek Speak as well as a personal blog site at http://Virtuallytiedtomydesktop.wordpress.com . Always learning, growing (though sometimes, that's the waistline) and striving to be as good as I can. I also like to sing, play guitar, and am a rabid Cubs and Blackhawks fan. I live in Evanston, IL, a suburb of Chicago, also grew up here. I work for Connection Enterprise Solutions, in a strategic solutions role, speaking to C Level on Corporate IT Initiatives