Hyperconvergence is an IT framework that combines storage, computing, and networking into a single system in order to reduce data center complexity, increase scalability, and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO). Gartner defines HCI as:
A category of scale-out software-integrated infrastructure that applies a modular approach to compute, network and storage on standard hardware, leveraging distributed, horizontal building blocks under unified management. HCI vendors either build their own appliances using common, off-the-shelf infrastructure (hardware, virtualization, operating system), or they engage with system vendors that package the HCI vendor’s software stack as an appliance. Alternatively, HCI vendors sell their software directly to end users, through resellers and integrators, for use as part of a reference architecture, or on an HCI-as-a-service basis, either on-premises or in a public cloud.
Virtualization, the Precursor to Converged Infrastructure and HCI
Before HCI and converged infrastructure, virtualized infrastructure was organized into what we now call a 3-2-1 architecture (see image below). This consists of virtual machines (VMs) running on 3 or more clustered host servers connected by 2 network switches and backed by 1 or more shared storage appliances (SAN/NAS).
When virtualization first arrived in the market, the physical server model was dominating IT infrastructure. As a software solution, virtualization required the existing physical servers as well as shared storage technologies like SAN and NAS to survive and thrive.
The 3-2-1 architecture was the result of combining these existing hardware components into clusters. Unfortunately, these hardware components were never designed for virtualization and were typically from different vendors.
The Rise of Converged Infrastructure
To tackle the complexity of the 3-2-1 architecture, the idea of converged infrastructure was to combine some of the different component layers into a single “system” and SKU, most often combining servers and storage. Sold as one solution, the hardware and software components were pre-tested together to avoid incompatibility issues and speed up deployment time.
The next stage in converged infrastructure was combining and integrating the different components into a single appliance. It wasn’t difficult to add more compute resources to a storage appliance in order to run virtual machines, and that’s what some vendor solutions offered.
The problem with converged infrastructure solutions is that they generally mimic the same storage architectures as the 3-2-1. These clustered, converged storage and compute solutions relied on virtual storage appliances (VSAs) running as VMs to manage storage in a similar way that shared SAN and NAS controllers functioned.
What is Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI)?
Hyperconverged infrastructure or HCI is a converged infrastructure solution that natively includes the hypervisor for virtualization.
Software running on each server node distributes all operating functions across the cluster for superior performance and resilience. You can learn more about why we recommend 3 nodes minimum per cluster in our recent blog.
Components of Hyperconverged Infrastructure
Although there are some software-only solutions that call themselves HCI, appliance-based HCI hardware solutions offer additional benefits. An HCI appliance can include server compute resources, the storage, preferably the hypervisor, and often disaster recovery and backup features. HCI is sometimes referred to as a “datacenter in a box” because, after the initial cabling and minimal networking configuration, it has all of the features and functionality of the traditional 3-2-1 virtualization architecture.
The Benefits of HCI
There are a variety of benefits of hyperconvergence including:
Utilizing a single vendor that provide servers, storage, and the hypervisor makes it easier to support, update, patch and manage, resulting in cost savings in both time and training from IT resources and budget.
Eliminate inefficient storage protocols, files systems, and VSAs by utilizing a native hypervisor and embedding the storage directly within it.
Increase efficiency and performance by designing the hypervisor and storage to directly interact.
Improve management efficiency by having the hypervisor included natively in the solution.
Questions to Ask When Evaluating HCI Vendors
Does the solution provide a native hypervisor or does it require an additional purchase of hypervisor licensing and support?
Does the solution offer hypervisor-embedded storage or does it use virtual storage appliances (VSAs)?
Can the solution combine and scale with dissimilar appliance models and configurations?
Does the solution offer native backup and disaster recovery capabilities?
Does the solution integrate with cloud computing? As the IT industry continues to evolve, HCI is the next logical