Hyper-converged systems offer simple designs that eliminate the cost and complexity associated with design high-performance SAN and compute infrastructures. These systems also offer streamlined support and operations. Unfortunately, these advantages come at a cost.
There are very few, if any, appliance-based hyper-converged systems that integrate with existing application infrastructures from a storage perspective. These turn-key systems are not designed to mix and match with existing application infrastructures. While most of these systems leverage NFS-based storage, the only appliance vendor I spoke to that supports leveraging hyper-converged storage for applications hosted on systems outside of the virtual machines running within the appliance was Simplivity.
Any host connected to a SAN can leverage storage in traditional infrastructure solutions. IT managers sacrifice flexibility when selecting the conveniences of hyper-converged systems — as a result, hyper-converged systems edge closer to a service offering. There is very little low-level design involved in selecting a system. The vendor and hardware selection process begins to look much more like the process of purchasing cloud services than enterprise SAN and compute.
Needed: more engagement from infrastructure architects
Since hyper-converged platforms are closer to services than traditional SAN and compute hardware, IT managers need a different approach when evaluating vendors and solutions. After the purchase, there is very little performance tuning or system design changes that can be made to integrate with existing applications. Therefore, it's critical to involve infrastructure architects in the decision-making process.
The role of infrastructure architect has been growing within large organizations. Infrastructure architects possess technical and business skills; in contrast, engineers normally have deeper technical skill. For example, engineers can create an end-to-system design that includes all specifications and configurations; architects focus on how a solution integrates with existing technical operations and business processes. The role lines up well, as hyper-converged systems have few configuration options.
An architect would gather the business and technical requirements for a hyper-converged system and not delve into the configuration details. The architect is responsible for identifying the critical integration points within the infrastructure and narrowing the vendor list to solutions that have the best integration.
No in-house technical architect? Consider a management consultant
As cloud, convergence, and hyper-convergence move engineering work from within the organization to vendors, it's critical for IT managers to develop engineers into architects. For organizations lacking a full-time infrastructure architect at purchase decision, it may be beneficial to engage outside help. While a technical consultancy might be the initial choice, I suggest considering a management consultant.
Big 4 and boutique management consulting organizations have consultants with technology backgrounds. These organizations have the resources to backfill business-focused architects for vendor selection.
Have you purchased a hyper-converged system and found that integration into your environment has been a challenge? Are you developing engineers into infrastructure architects? Please share your experience in the comments.
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 Fortune 500 organizations. He holds a BA in computing and a MS in information technology from DePaul University.