Data Centers

Most HCI isn't true hybrid cloud, despite what vendors may tell you

Similar to cloud washing, hyperconverged infrastructure vendors are beginning to hijack the term hybrid cloud. Here's a more practical definition of hybrid cloud for IT leaders.

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I've been watching an alarming trend repeat itself in vendor marketing. It seems as if every HCI vendor is beginning to equate purchasing a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) platform with deploying a hybrid cloud. We've seen similar cloud washing play out with the private and public clouds. At the height of cloud washing, it seemed that every vendor that offered a service via the internet labeled themselves cloud providers.

Similarly, I saw CIOs claim victory on cloud migration by simply deploying VMware vSphere. As services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud become more commonplace, a consensus of what is, and is not, cloud formed. I believe the industry must experience a similar shake out for hybrid cloud as it relates to HCI.

SEE: VMware vSphere: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)

True hybrid cloud

I think it's important to define hybrid cloud. I won't attempt to make an NIST-like definition for hybrid cloud, but I'll try to provide a commonsense acid test for hybrid cloud instead.

It's now a common understanding that cloud consists of more than just technology. Cloud is a relatively new model of delivering IT services. If you look at the consumers of public cloud, the target audience is broad. Consumers of public cloud services range from business users to IT staff and service providers.

In building private cloud infrastructure, the goal is to provide a self-service IT offering. In theory, a private cloud provides the capability of AWS, Azure, or Google on-premises. Consumers of a private cloud include end users and internal IT. Overall, cloud should remove the friction between the cloud consumer and the underlying IT services.

Hybrid cloud requires the combination of multiple cloud services into an integrated experience. The most common combination includes private and public cloud. A hybrid cloud model allows the expansion of private cloud services to the public cloud. Cloud managers have a single control panel to manage both the private and public cloud.

Building a true private cloud has proven to be a difficult task, and there have been many causalities along the road to private cloud success. HPE, Cisco, VMware, and Dell EMC have all experienced major shifts in their private cloud strategies over the years. Even the ambitious open source project OpenStack experienced a major refocus as enterprises encountered the difficulties.

HCI's role

Webscale was a common marketing term tossed around at the beginning of the HCI trend. HCI provides simple building blocks for building private cloud infrastructures. Infrastructure expansion was one of the complexities end user organizations experienced in maintaining a private cloud. By combining storage and compute, HCI eliminated the architectural scale challenges of private cloud. However, HCI itself doesn't provide the services of a public cloud.

HCI makes infrastructure simple to build and manage. But the focus isn't on the broad customer base of the leading cloud providers. For example, I haven't come across an HCI solution where a business user receives access to a portal to provision and de-provision services. I also haven't come across an HCI provider that creates an API to all the data center services needed to manage the modern data center.

Today, leading HCI solutions focus on making deploying and managing on-premises storage and compute resources easier. The value is simplified IT operations. The end result may indeed include a more agile IT infrastructure. However, HCI doesn't transform the end user experience. End users may enjoy decreased wait times and improved uptime as a result of HCI, but HCI doesn't change the experience of how to consume internal IT or external public cloud services. HCI does little to nothing to reduce friction between the consumers and IT.

When discussing hybrid cloud with your HCI vendors, ask the basic question of how the end user experience changed with the implementation of their product. If the answers focus on time to value versus direct consumption, then the solution isn't what I'd call true hybrid cloud.

Also see

About Keith Townsend

Keith Townsend is a technology management consultant with more than 15 years of related experience designing, implementing, and managing data center technologies. His areas of expertise include virtualization, networking, and storage solutions for Fo...

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