Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) combines computing, storage, and networking in a single system. Enterprises can choose an appliance from a single vendor, or hardware-agnostic hyperconvergence software.

What is Hyperconverged Infrastructure?

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) combines servers and storage into a distributed infrastructure platform with intelligent software to create flexible building blocks that replace legacy infrastructure consisting of separate servers, storage networks, and storage arrays. More specifically, it combines commodity datacenter server hardware with locally attached storage devices (spinning disk or flash). It is powered by a distributed software layer to eliminate common pain points associated with legacy infrastructure.

hyperconverged infrastructure

How does HCI work?

Hyperconverged infrastructure unifies the datacenter stack elements, namely, storage, networking, compute, and associated software, like hypervisor, into an abstracted layer of available IT resources.

By using virtualization, HCI converges datacenter server hardware with direct-attached storage media (HDDs, SSDs, NVMe). The virtualized resources become a single pool which can then be distributed as needed thanks to the relevant software.

This way, HCI resolves the common issues of typical converged infrastructure: you can build HCI from any commodity hardware, you can scale freely, you can have high performance and disaster resistance with what you already got, and every bit of your underlying hardware potential is put to good use, without any leaks, overhead, hiccups, and bottlenecks.

Benefits of Hyperconverged Infrastructure

Following is a brief list of benefits or advantages you can get by choosing hyper-converged infrastructure for your workloads:

  • Lower costs: Integrating components into one platform reduces storage footprint, power use, maintenance costs, and TCO. Hyperconverged systems eliminate the need to overprovision to accommodate growth and help enable data centers to scale in small, easily managed steps.
  • Agility: One of the advantages of a hyper-converged platform is that all the workloads in the organization fall under the same administrative banner. For this reason, shifting workloads from one location to another tends to be easier.
  • Performance: Hyperconvergence helps organizations deploy any workload and enjoy high levels of performance. Many organizations use hyperconverged solutions for the most intensive workloads, including enterprise apps and SQL Servers.
  • Scalability: Scaling up your HCI data center is very easy due to the node-based architecture. All you need to do is just add or remove nodes to match your current resource demands.
  • Multicloud support: Hyperconvergence dramatically simplifies hybrid cloud environments and reduces the time and cost of transitioning to a hybrid cloud. It also makes it easy to move data and applications back and forth between on-premises servers and the public cloud.
  • Data protection: With a hyper-converged platform, organizations don’t need to lose sleep over the risk of losing data. The risk of data loss is always there when dealing with digital information since cybercrime (and system failure) is an ever-present threat. However, hyper-convergence embeds elements of disaster recovery and backup into your infrastructure, making it easy to restore data.

hyperconverged infrastructure

The drawbacks of Hyperconverged Infrastructure

We discussed what HCI solutions do well. Now, let’s look at the drawbacks. There are a few worth noting:

  • Scaling granularity: While HCI offers both compute and storage-centric nodes, you must always purchase a small number of computing resources as you scale linearly, usually by adding a new node. The cost could be greater than adding disks to a storage array. Scaling granularity and flexibility is the keystone of a three-tiered solution.
  • Vendor lock-in: While a single vendor may be considered an HCI advantage, the multi-vendor approach has added advantages as well. Other vendors may offer attractive features and pricing. If you are locked into a single HCI solution, it may be difficult to leverage other technologies and vendors. Make sure you’re fully aware of the roadmap and upgrade rules when choosing an HCI solution.
  • External HW connectivity: These days, nearly every server can be virtualized, but there are still instances where physical servers and clusters are required. In these situations, while some hyperconverged solutions can present block storage via iSCSI, others may create silos in your infrastructure, where a single SAN array can service both a physical and virtual environment with ease. Also, not all hyperconverged systems support connectivity to existing storage arrays.

What are Common Use Cases for HCI?

Of course, there are many more benefits of HCI. For starters, you don’t need hundreds of virtual machines or a gigantic network in order for HCI to be the right solution for you. HCI can work in any size organization – and in a variety of situations.

  • Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI): VDI can involve plenty of IT complexity and storage solutions. With HCI, you have everything needed for VDI in one streamlined package – plus it provides just the right amount of storage, helping you stay cost-efficient.
  • Edge computing: Many companies want cloud-based features and functions while keeping things on-premise. Typically, it’s because of an ERP application, warehouse management program, or point-of-sale (POS) system that must be run on-premise near the client workstations. HCI makes it easy to create edge or branch environments and scale them up or down quickly as needed.
  • File storage and workload consolidation: Sizing and migrating workloads are much simpler in a hyperconverged system, allowing a company to scale its systems easily. HCI helps streamline all sorts of network storage data, including DNS, DHCP, Active Directory, print servers, database servers, application servers, and file servers.
  • Hybrid cloud: If your business is transitioning from on-premise servers to a hybrid cloud, HCI makes it faster and less expensive to do so. It’s also easy to move virtual machines between on-premise servers and private clouds or public clouds with HCI. In short, HCI gives you the benefits of the cloud with in-house control.

hyperconverged infrastructure

Why Hyperconverged Infrastructure?

Today, the complexity of the data center IT environment is continuously growing as the number of data increases and applications demand more computing power with more infrastructure components needed to support it.

At the same time, IT departments should always be able to provision resources instantly while maintaining flexibility and scalability of the infrastructure to handle unpredictable data growth.

Traditional data center infrastructure is comprised of separate compute, storage, and networking components requiring different administrative groups and systems for their management. The storage team, for example, handles the maintenance of the storage subsystem and the relationship with the storage hardware vendor. The same goes for the servers and the network teams.

Such infrastructures feature multiple management interfaces for separate components, higher maintenance costs, and are a real headache in terms of support since different components often come from different vendors.

All of this makes infrastructure management a highly time- and effort-consuming task forcing businesses to spend their time and money just on keeping the IT infrastructure working instead of focusing on innovations and service delivery.