Data Centers

Why all hyperconverged infrastructure isn't created equal

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a hot topic. Here is some perspective on different solutions when discussing HCI with vendors.

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Image: iStockphoto/AKodisinghe

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a hot area of enterprise technology. Large vendors have taken note from the success of startups such as Nutanix and SimpliVity. HPE, Dell EMC, and Cisco all have HCI strategies to compete with startups, and organizations looking to adopt HCI must weigh the question of vendor selection. Does the head start and vision provided by startups eclipse that of trusted, traditional enterprise vendors for HCI?

See: Where converged ends and hyperconverged begins, and how to decide between the two (TechRepublic)

Influence on hybrid cloud

The business value of HCI is to enable cloud-like operations within the private data center. Analyst firm Wikibon views HCI as an enabling technology, and Wikibon analyst Stu Miniman compares HCI to on-premises infrastructure as a service (IaaS). I asked Miniman for his view of HCI's impact on the industry in 2017. His full response is as follows:

At Wikibon, we believe that HCI falls into the larger trend of transitioning infrastructure to the equivalent of IaaS; for on-premises environments. Wikibon defines a True Private Cloud (see definition) as a layer that has simplified operations and greater levels of automation and orchestration compared to traditional infrastructure. The goal of leading infrastructure solutions over the last decade has been to become invisible, allowing IT more agility and time to meet ever-changing business requirements. In 2017, hybrid cloud environments and HCI will blur with the introduction of solutions including Microsoft AzureStack and VMware on AWS (which includes vSAN).

I want to highlight the expected impact of HCI on hybrid cloud solutions such as AzureStack and VMware on AWS. IaaS, in general, will continue the march toward a commodity portion of the services offered by IT. To Miniman's point, the infrastructure must become an invisible part of the IT landscape. The physical integration of compute and storage into a single platform furthers the goal of simplifying infrastructure. Once simplified, the infrastructure is made invisible to those consuming it.

Vendor differentiation

If the infrastructure is invisible, what are the differentiators from vendor to vendor? I believe it's a bit of a misnomer to say infrastructure is invisible. The infrastructure is invisible to the user consuming the infrastructure. However, for the group serving up the infrastructure for consumption, the infrastructure remains more than visible.

Capacity planning, performance monitoring, security patching, firmware, and OS upgrades are activities that must take place. Additionally, infrastructure teams must offer a platform that allows the consumption of the infrastructure. The details of how vendors enable these functions remain relevant. There's also a need to account for legacy infrastructure.

Nutanix has an ambitious vision for the data center. The company recently started marketing itself as an enterprise cloud company. While I've taken exception to the categorization, the concept has validity. Nutanix combines HCI with their hypervisor management platform. The Nutanix platform allows infrastructure teams to manage the hypervisor, storage, and compute from a single interface and API. Longer term, Nutanix's architecture may be extended for consumption by developers directly.

Much of the decision depends on the integration roadmap of the HCI vendor. Today, Nutanix's platform leverages an all Nutanix infrastructure. If customers require the cloud management platform to administer both HCI and traditional architecture, the Nutanix platform doesn't offer the capability. Likewise, traditional enterprise hardware vendor's management platforms focus on their individual HCI solution. It's an opportunity to discuss the architectural vision of the vendor's hybrid cloud strategy. A fundamental question is how does the vendor foresee the integration of their management platform with your key vendors.

What do you think?

What has been your experience with HCI? Are you finding it a commodity easily purchased from one vendor or another? Or, have you found unique value in one vendor's approach over another's? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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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