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Redefining HCI: The Next Stage of Hyperconverged Infrastructure

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(By Krithiwas Neelakantan)

Today businesses are shifting from physical products to subscription services, targeting an entirely new market or reaching new customers that brings a different level of scale. The impact of this transformation is far-reaching and difficult to overstate. The need to digitally transform has therefore created immense pressure for datacenter teams that are increasingly expected to be leaders in this transformation.

New leaders are evolving to become cloud architects so that they can meet the considerable pressure to mimic the best of public cloud within their Datacenters (i.e., provide resources that are simple to manage, allocate and consume). Indeed, IT consumers have considerable experience with public cloud services and fully expect a comparable swipe-and-go process of dialling up services nearly instantly within their own organization’s IT department. Simply stated, IT teams are forced to either adapt to a changing world where public cloud simplicity is the norm or face becoming obsolete.

The Evolution of Datacenter Infrastructure Convergence

Datacenter teams are finding that the levels of scale, simplicity and agility needed to support complex digital transformation initiatives simply cannot be achieved using their long-standing practice of buying individually managed silos of datacenter resources. As a result, IT organizations around the world are shifting their resources away from standalone servers, networking, and storage systems in favor of converged infrastructure solutions that can be centrally managed with tools that offer new levels of automation.

Converged systems represent a consolidation of core datacenter technologies (servers, storage

systems, networking and management software) into a single system that can be deployed, managed, and supported more efficiently than buying and building these technologies separately. Converged systems help to remove complexity and risk associated with managing enterprise-grade datacenter infrastructure so that IT teams can confidently focus their time on higher-value projects and tasks.

Datacenter Convergence Evolves and Expands to Include Hyperconvergence

Like today’s IT departments, the converged systems market is rapidly evolving. An important element of this evolution is the relatively recent emergence of hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), which IDC considers a subset of the $13 billion converged systems market and the next phase of the market’s lifecycle. HCI solutions deliver the proven benefits of traditional converged systems, but do so through a software-defined, scale-out architecture.

HCI deployments are driving benefits in the following key areas:

Lower capex: This can be achieved through the elimination of SAN-based storage solutions in favor of industry standard servers that offer fully virtualized compute and data services. The scale-out architecture of hyperconverged solutions further lowers capital costs by helping to reduce the need to overprovision resources.

Reduced opex:  A reduced overprovisioning and elimination of storage silos have positive impact beyond capex. In fact, these benefits can directly lead to lower costs of power, cooling and floor space within the datacenter. HCI solutions often integrate management software that automates many of the complex tasks needed during initial deployment while also reducing the number of steps required to provision new workloads.

Reduced risk:  Lastly, HCI solutions allow users to reduce the number of technology suppliers involved within a full solution, which helps to better coordinate patches and upgrades while also reducing the number of support calls needed for the solution.

Requirements of a Modern Hyperconverged Solution

While the types of workloads running on hyperconverged solutions are a good indication of how far the HCI market has come since its early days, there is more that must be offered to drive further expansion of this market. Modern HCI solutions must close important feature/capability gaps that exist with traditional datacenter infrastructure, enable an IT departments shift towards private cloud infrastructure and support an increasing need for organizational transformation within the datacenter.

Eliminate “noisy neighbours”:  With the expanded use of hyperconverged infrastructure comes the need for HCI solutions that support an increased density of primary workloads. For hyperconverged solutions to thrive, they must consistently deliver sub-millisecond response times and support hundreds of thousands to millions of IOPS.

Integration with multiple public clouds: Modern HCI solutions must provide a private cloud platform that can be easily integrated with hyper-scale public cloud providers to create a seamless hybrid, multi-cloud experience. Ability to seamlessly move data between on-prem, private clouds and public clouds to support the ever-changing needs of a diverse workload portfolio will support the lifting and shifting of applications from private clouds to trusted hyper-scalers and back again as business requires

Common data fabric for private and public clouds:  IDC believes hyperconverged solutions have become an ideal platform for on-prem, private cloud deployments thanks to their scale out, software-defined, highly automated architecture. But it is important to recognize that the role of customers’ cloud-based IT solutions is to ingest, deliver, and exploit data no matter where that data is created or lives.

The road ahead

The first generation of HCI solutions were primarily driving operational simplicity and rapid time to service. This addressed critical pain-points related to complexity and inflexibility within the datacenter. However, as with any early market deployments, users were often creating silos of HCI clusters for specific applications and use cases. As such, HCI solutions will need to evolve to address many of the challenges that the first-generation solutions were not designed to tackle, such as workload consolidation, independent and flexible scaling among others.

Looking forward, datacenter infrastructure will be increasingly influenced by software-defined solutions running on server-based platforms that incorporate hybrid cloud into an administrator’s workflow. While this change has undeniably begun, it is still in its early days. IT teams that do not yet feel ready to deploy this type of infrastructure should keep an eye on the future and work closely with companies to make sure today’s datacenter investments prepare the datacenter for such inevitabilities.

(The author is the Director Next Gen Datacenter & Cloud for India & SAARC Operations, NetApp India)

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