HCI’s role in the cloud integration challenge

As with many technology trends, it is essential to read beyond the hype to find out if the solution is right for you. Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is no different.

Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) has been around for a number of years. HCI systems consolidate the traditionally separate functions of compute (server) and storage into a single scale-out hardware Platform.

Creating a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) in an enterprise environment requires an infrastructure rethink designed around centralization and convergence. This will simplify your IT estate and address performance, compliance, mobility and management issues.

Why? Because traditional infrastructures are built around individual units that are linked together - requiring individual configuration and management. HCI, on the other hand is software-centric. All the technology is integrated making it much quicker to configure the whole solution. The software layer provides agility and flexibility in using hardware resources, making managing virtual machines (VM) far easier. 

HCI as an enabler for private cloud

HCI, by its very nature, provides many features that suit cloud computing, including simple policy-based management, high-levels of task automation, resource pools and scalability. As a result, it is used for on-premise private cloud deployments when regulatory compliance and business constraints limit public cloud use.

Similar to public cloud-based services, HCI is optimized for virtual workloads, offing consumption-based infrastructure economics and flexibility. It allows businesses to scale their resources easily by adding HCI building blocks for a quick response to business needs, and therefore contributes to IT service agility.

Because the main services for cloud computing – including centralized unified management, compute, storage and data protection services – are built into hyperconverged systems, it is a great starting point for building a private cloud deployment. In contrast, it is much more difficult to meet the need for cloud computing with traditional architectures where many service components need to be integrated.

For enterprises that require fast deployment and quick access to resources, while keeping a keen eye on the overall IT budget, HCI’s charge-back functionality can also be a more cost-effective solution compared with public cloud alternatives.

Like public cloud services, HCI gives enterprise IT teams the flexibility to start small and scale according to application demands, providing the dexterity that businesses demand from today’s IT solutions.

HCI: The bigger picture

The arrival of HCI marks a conceptual shift from business software solutions – developed for infrastructure based on unreliable software running on reliable but expensive hardware – to an architecture using reliable software running on commodity hardware.

HCI can offer the efficiency and functionality that separate siloed components can’t offer. For example, in a siloed structure, the finance department handles credit and market risks, whilst the security department handles privacy risk. These separate silos limit collaboration and provide a gap in the analysis of risk. Eliminating silos with HCI can help prevent this.

HCI also provides a unified, automated, policy-driven resource management approach across compute, storage and network resources. This ultimately reduces operational expenses and improves performance through faster configuration, making the lower levels of management easier.

HCI heading mainstream

HCI has fast grown from a niche technology into one of the most talked about offerings in IT. The evolution from hardware-centric integrated systems to converged systems, and eventually to hyperconverged, software-defined infrastructures is being driven by the demand from next-generation applications, such as big data analytics and the cloud.

This shift in thinking has also resulted in the concept of the application-centric software-defined data center. Traditional compute and storage platforms are not designed for cloud and big data applications, which demand flexible, scalable and interoperable systems.

Digital transformation, which today is essential for organizations looking to gain a competitive edge, demands easily provisioned IT infrastructure. HCI enables businesses to scale their independent compute and storage resources, depending on their business needs, which is ideal to provide the agility required for digital initiatives.

To summarize, HCI can simplify management, reduce costs and increase efficiency, speed of deployment and overall agility.  But it necessitates a review of enterprise data center architectures and a new streamline way of thinking for IT teams who have been used to dealing with data sprawl that has created data silos and disjointed IT isles.

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Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.