Enterprises in general and CIOs and IT leaders in particular are being challenged to reevaluate their on-premises infrastructure and leverage the power of cloud-based consumption models. They must deliver the best cloud experience to their lines of business. But how do they do that when existing data center models were not designed to either scale or adapt with agility.
Traditional data center architecture consists of separate compute, storage and networking elements. While this approach may offer organizations access to best-of-breed components, it also leads to silos. Each silo requires its own management and security and there are problems with integration and interoperability. The SLAs for performance, security, redundancy etc. are defined at these separate independent hardware components (storage, servers, etc.), leading to over-provisioning or guesstimates on SLAs. These factors lead to high costs and complexity while slowing an IT leader’s ability to react to business changes.
The Emergence of Hyper-Converged
Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) has emerged as a new infrastructure category. It is software-defined and offers a scalable means of deploying integrated compute and storage and sometimes networking on readily available x86 hardware. At its core, a hyper-converged system consists of an x86 server, software which delivers the hypervisor, networking, software-defined storage and comprehensive management. Ideally the purchasing and support process should also be delivered from a single vendor making it easy for the end-user to consume.
Initial adoption of hyper-converged was in areas such as virtual desktop environments, but more and more the advantages– especially in ease of management– are leading to organizations deploying these solutions for business critical applications and cloud infrastructure. The benefits of Hyper-Converged have been heavily touted in technical press, but broadly you tend to see the main benefits expressed as:
- Reduction in CapEx
- Lower OpEx
- Better resource utilization
- Agility in delivery
- Choice and flexibility
- Flash-optimized performance
- Seamless and deep integration
It is likely that the primary reasons you purchase hyper-converged infrastructure are the twin advantages of fast ROI and also ease of use (reduced operations cost). The ease of use comes from deep and robust integration of the components and management software. You treat the whole appliance as single entity delivering compute and storage in cohesive fashion. Examples of these “all in one” or “ready to go” appliances are the HCIA (Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Appliance) products from EMC, Nutanix, Simplivity and many others. This simplicity of operations management often means that these appliances end up initially deployed for small offices or branch offices where operations support teams are limited. However do not underestimate their capabilities to execute discrete enterprise workloads, especially when used as building blocks to build a cloud or cluster of available compute and storage.
Hyper-Converged Software – Flexibility
While the appliance model with pre-configured hardware and and pre-installed software has enjoyed rapid adoption in the market, I see a rising interest in hyper-converged software. In this exciting model, all the software components are deeply integrated – but there is flexibility in the choice of underlying hardware, either to adapt to your scaling needs or to allow you to choose from a range of highly certified pre-qualified nodes from a variety of different server vendors. It is vital that the hardware platforms have strict certification criteria worked out between the server and software vendors to ensure that the end-customer does not have to deal with any integration headaches.
VMware’s Virtual SAN Ready Node program is an example of a comprehensive and robust offering. We leverage the long history VMware has with hardware qualification and platform certification for vSphere and bring that experience to bear in the context of hyper-converged software and in particular the 4th generation of VMware Virtual SAN.
While hyper-converged infrastructure benefits enormously from prescriptive and pre-integrated hardware and software, there is some flexibility depending on your needs:
- A focused-set of fully engineered appliances that offers a turnkey, deeply-integrated solution that can have you up and running rapidly. A perfect instantiation of this approach is the VxRail product from VCE which delivers a jointly engineered, simple and proven turnkey VCE Appliance family, from VMware and EMC, for use cases including small and midsize data centers and enterprise departmental and edge environments. It incorporates software from EMC, VCE and VMware including VMware Hyper-Converged Software. [Read more here]
- The choice to build on the server infrastructure and the VMware experience you already have in place through a software platform that supports the broadest set of x86 hardware platforms. This is exemplified by VMware’s Virtual SAN Ready Node program in partnership with 11 server OEMs.
To a large degree the functionality, predictable performance, robustness and ease of use of hyper-converged appliances are driven by the software layers in the system. At its best, a hyper-converged software should deliver compute, network and storage functionality as a tightly integrated solution with a hypervisor. The hypervisor is effectively the operating system of the appliance so its robust integration with storage, networking and management subsystems is most important. In my opinion, a hypervisor-embedded storage solution that pools server attached storage to create high performance shared storage optimized for virtual machines is critical to gain the full benefits of this new architecture. This approach provides the shortest path for I/O, making storage operations efficient, without consuming unnecessary CPU and memory resources. In addition, it allows management of the application with predictable SLAs and consumption of resources controlled in a holistic fashion not as confusing independent entities of compute, storage and networking.
Bottom line, if you are looking to significantly simplify the operations management for parts of your data center, to begin to leverage the power of software-defined everything, you need to take a look at Hyper-Converged Infrastructure right now.
VMware’s presence in hyper-converged solutions has been strong since the inception of the category, with almost all of the most popular appliances leveraging VMware’s robust virtualization technologies – vSphere. With the introduction of Virtual SAN, a storage subsystem embedded into the vSphere hypervisor, we bring the ease of use and costs savings of hyper-converged to even greater levels. Only introduced in 2014, Virtual SAN has had very rapid customer uptake, with over 3,000 VMware customers already leveraging the benefits of Virtual SAN-based hyper-converged infrastructure and enjoying the benefits of this emerging technology category.
How about you? If you haven’t already, take a look at Hyper-Converged Software. I think you will like what you see.