Once upon a time, enterprises bought the components needed to deliver IT services, cobbled them together, and with a little sweat and aggravation, got them to work. Demands for more robust services prompted companies to turn to best-of-breed solutions, but this resulted in a mélange of systems that presented management and interoperability issues. These problems were exacerbated by virtualization technologies that must span devices.
In response, converged solutions arrived on the market. These are turnkey systems that include everything IT required—servers, networking, storage, hypervisors, and management capabilities. The components come from various vendors, but they are all pre-tested to ensure interoperability and are supported by a single vendor. Converged solutions are quick to deploy and easier for IT staffs to maintain, although larger enterprises with a separate server, storage, and networking teams require organizational restructuring. Regardless, fully-converged, single-vendor solutions allow IT organizations to do more at less cost.
But a new approach—hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI)—further integrates components to better support virtualized services, particularly software-defined storage (SDS). HCI is appliance-based and software driven, and like converged solutions is supported by a single vendor. The appliances are commodity hardware boxes each integrating compute, storage, networking, and virtualization technologies. Unlike converged systems, the storage, compute, and networking of HCI are so tightly fused together, they cannot be broken down into separate components. Each appliance is a node in the system and all services are centrally controlled. Storage is decoupled from the hardware so the storage across all the nodes appears as one virtualized pool. Scaling means simply adding additional appliances.
HCI isn’t always a slam dunk. When IT department needs to scale just one resource, like computing or storage, it will have to pay for boxes that contain all the resources. Absolutely mission-critical applications might perform better on dedicated hardware, isolated from other apps that could consume essential bandwidth. HCI also might not make sense for ROBOs.
Yet, HCI offers many benefits over converged infrastructures, such as superior scalability, flexibility, control, and ease of use. IT can deploy the most advanced SDS functionality and automation, and achieve remarkable efficiencies. It reduces latency, better exploits the performance of solid-state drives, and leverages software-defined infrastructure. It might your best choice…until something better comes along.