The popularity of cloud computing has created a demand in on-premises data centers to abstract physical hardware from the computing and storage resources that hardware provides, in order to ease the utilization of those resources as well as the administrative and lifecycle tasks that come with hardware deployments. Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is the next logical step in furthering this abstraction.

TechRepublic’s cheat sheet to hyperconverged infrastructure is a quick introduction to this new trend in virtualization. This “living” guide will be updated periodically as advances and alternative technologies are developed.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

Executive summary

  • What is hyperconverged infrastructure? HCI brings the ease of resource allocation and lifecycle management from the cloud to the on-premises data center.
  • Why does hyperconverged infrastructure matter? HCI automates routine administrative tasks that IT departments are tasked with, thereby reducing costs.
  • Who does hyperconverged infrastructure affect? SMBs with a lean IT budget are the target market for HCI.
  • When is hyperconverged infrastructure happening? The first products were introduced in 2014, though major vendors are just now introducing or aggressively marketing their own HCI systems.
  • How do I start using hyperconverged infrastructure? Numerous vendors sell prepackaged HCI solutions.

SEE: Research: Cloud vs. data center adoption rates, usage, and migration plans (Tech Pro Research)

What is hyperconverged infrastructure?

HCI is effectively the on-premises answer to the ease of resource allocation and lifecycle management that cloud computing provides. Rather than utilizing each unit of computing or storage as a separate entity, the array of processors and storage are treated as a single gestalt entity, making the whole deployment greater than the sum of its parts. Storage and compute tasks are containerized on HCI, using a combination of vendor-specific management software, and industry standard APIs.

From a different perspective, HCI is a superset of software defined storage (SDS). Software defined storage is an inherent component of HCI, though HCI adds the same automation and management for computing tasks in addition to storage. Some vendors offer a feature-reduced version of their HCI management software for use in a software defined data center (SDDC) deployment.

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Why does hyperconverged infrastructure matter?

As advances in processor performance, storage capacities, and networking ability have resulted in dramatically lower hardware costs, the focus in data center deployments is less on squeezing every millisecond of performance out of hardware, and more focused on how to create a scalable, easy to manage system, which, through the use of software, will ideally manage itself.

SEE: The cloud v. data center decision, free PDF (ZDNet/TechRepublic special report)

Compared to traditional server management, the use of server management software in HCI can decrease downtime, and can increase the speed with which applications are developed and deployed. Because less human intervention is needed to administer the system, this also allows for cost reductions in infrastructure and staff costs.

Similar to cloud computing, HCI is easily capable of scaling with your organization as it grows. Rather than needing to manually configure and deploy additional hardware as needed, scaling with HCI is typically as easy as powering on additional nodes and connecting them to your network–the management software takes over the rest of the work.

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Who does hyperconverged infrastructure affect?

Any organization can use an HCI deployment, though the primary benefit likely skews toward SMBs or satellite offices of larger organizations. Generally, any organization with five or fewer IT staffers would greatly benefit from HCI, as the automated management aspect of this computing model frees IT staff to handle other tasks.

There are some practical limitations to hyperconverged infrastructure, however. For example, EMC’s VSPEX BLUE does not scale beyond 8 appliances / 32 nodes per cluster, making it a poor candidate for larger deployments.

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When is hyperconverged infrastructure happening?

Software defined data centers (SDDCs), both a technical predecessor and a contemporary of HCI, started seeing appreciable mass-market adoption in 2013. While the first HCI solutions were introduced in 2014, they have only become a particularly hot topic since late 2016.

SEE: Ebook–Executive’s guide to the software defined data center (TechRepublic)

For organizations with a tight IT budget, the ease of automation and potential cost savings in an HCI deployment are garnering increased attention, as roadmaps are being plotted for upgrade paths from currently deployed systems.

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How do I get hyperconverged infrastructure?

Because of the tightly integrated nature of software and hardware in HCI, there is not an open-source package that replicates this model of computing. As a result, HCI deployments basically consist of prequalified hardware bundled with licenses for proprietary software developed by your vendor of choice.

For what HCI lacks in open-ness, it compensates for in competition. Numerous vendors, including Dell EMC, HP Enterprise, NetApp, Cisco, Scale, and Nutanix, have introduced HCI solutions.

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