The new flashy solution has arrived. All your consultants are advising you to upgrade your virtual infrastructure to a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). They tell you it is faster, easy to implement, operate and manage. They tell you: it is virtualization in a box, the software-defined datacenter with servers, storage and networking abstraction; it is the new building block of infrastructure. With all that information you are bit skeptical… You want to be sure all they are promising is true, that the investment is justified?
Well this article will help you understand what is hyper-converged, whether it is really a break-through in datacenter infrastructure and if it is a good fit for your organization.
Traditional Virtual Environment
If you are reading this article, chances are you already understand what setting up a traditional infrastructure is about: you set up a bunch of servers as hypervisors (or hosts) cluster them and give them shared access to a storage system. The shared storage system provides a way for the Virtual Machines (VM) to be accessible no matter the host and the cluster provides high availability. Then you go on and set additional services such as backup and dedupe, replication, networking, WAN optimization, Cloud gateway, etc.
Now this is intensive! It requires many technologies, many vendors, and most importantly many system administrators that will set up countless meetings to agree on the parameters to use. After all that you run multiple maintenance contracts with multiple vendors and when an issue arises across vendor systems you require to connect one support team to another, etc… (you see where am going?).
Some of you may be thinking even though it is complex, you are well-trained and most importantly the solutions work. Yeah you are right. But the fact that it works does not mean it cannot be improved upon and it certainly does not mean it is the best way to accomplish it.
What brought HCI about
So, let pause for a second, no matter how fast your SAN network is (FC or iSCSI), and no matter how fast the disks in your storage array are, information access to the SAN storage cannot be faster than those disks directly inserted in the server and directly plugged into the motherboard. Another thing, do you realize that anytime you purchase a server, it includes a storage controller to RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) your internal drives? Well in reality storage array (or system) is just a server with many drives and a more powerful (or sometimes similar) storage controller. Besides, with the performance of today’s systems most vendors started releasing virtual appliances that will perform the same functions using a server as their custom appliances to enable DIY (Do It Yourself) storage appliances.
I guess now the question is, why can’t we merge the servers and the storage then? Because it certainly looks as if a storage appliance nowadays is just a server with many disks and a good storage controller. Yes! This is exactly what HCI is about.
HCI will take your traditional server, insert some SD cards to hold the operating system (in this case a hypervisor) and dedicate the internal storage controller to manage all the disks and allow you to configure them as if it was a storage array. This is usually achieved by providing a virtual appliance that will take control of the Storage Controller (SC) and run the same software as your typical storage array. Then you would wonder what happens to all the inherently built redundancy and high availability assurances that we had when using traditional storage arrays? Well the answer is called RF (Replication Factor); it will determine how many times your data must be copied to other locations to ensure High Availability (HA). i.e. if RF=2, every data exists twice, meaning you only have access to half the total storage capacity (so make sure you plan well). Your RAID caters for disk failures and RF caters for virtual storage controllers’ failures.
The HCI vendor gives you a software to orchestrate and manage all that from a single pane of glass, and really make it easy to set up. Now that the storage and the servers are merged and that we have increased performance and a single system to manage it, we can now build services on top of it to reduce the complexity. Simply put, you get virtual WAN optimization, integrated backup software, inherent cloud connection to public cloud, replication between systems and much more. Check some of the pros and cons below.
- Increased performance
- Simplified Management
- Single management for storage, and servers
- Virtual Machines as a service
- Scale-out expansion (just add more servers and you increase both compute and storage)
- Easy automation
- Reduced entire infrastructure stack (Servers, Storage, Networking, Data Protection, etc.)
- Single support for entire stack
- Total system abstraction can be disconcerting at first
- Learning curve for administration team needs to be considered
- Storage and Servers Share same compute (CPU and RAM) resources
Depending on the size of your company you may want to go HCI or Traditional. The word traditional here does not mean outdated especially when you consider that HCI is still at its early stages and is quite expensive. If you run less than a 100 VMs over less than 4 hypervisors, I believe a traditional infrastructure may be your best fit. Unless your purpose is VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) or VMs that need extremely high performance, you can still get away with managing servers, storage, SAN as separate individuals of a big machinery. That said, HCI is beautiful and works flawlessly; having worked with it (Hyperflex, VxRail) I believe it is indeed the future of all data centers.
We provide free consulting on how to prepare for your first migration to virtual environment or migration from traditional to HCI. Our pre-sales engineers are always ready to help you prepare your strategy and help you meet your business needs.
Our solutions portfolio includes Cisco Hyperflex, Dell EMC VxRail and VxRack, HPE Simplivity, Nutanix, and even your do-it-yourself HCI based on VMware software only. To discuss this or other data center infrastructure needs, call us on +233.54.431.5710 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Apotica, headquartered in Accra, Ghana brings together the best information and communications technologies to help clients grow, compete and serve their customers better.