Weighing the Various Options for HCI

    The market for hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is set to soar in the coming years as the enterprise strives for greater scale, resource density and cloud-like flexibility while keeping both cost and complexity of data systems under control.

    But not all HCI platforms are alike, and in some circumstances it might be better to deploy more loosely coupled converged infrastructure or stick with a traditional data center model altogether.

    Grand View Research estimates that the global HCI market will approach $14 billion by 2024, driven primarily by the desire to shed existing SAN and NAS architectures and perhaps transition away from PC-based user access to virtual desktops. But this expansion is not likely to be uniform across all economic sectors. Verticals like banking, health care, telecom and government are seen as lead adopters, having generated about half of the HCI activity so far. However, diversity among the user base is expected to increase over the next decade or so.

    The two key changes that HCI brings to the table are unified, software-defined storage and advanced data fabrics, says tech consultant Trevor Potts. With these technologies in hand, the enterprise has the ability to federate storage across the fabric, making it available to any processor in the node. This eliminates the need for a separate storage architecture, allowing the entire infrastructure to be encapsulated within a single module that can then be connected to other modules for unprecedented scale across highly dense physical footprints. This model becomes even more effective with an open fabric, which allows the HCI cluster to integrate with third-party and even legacy solutions.

    Many HCI solutions, in fact, are pure software designed to run on white box hardware, but even here there are pitfalls, says Barry Phillips, CMO for developer Maxta Inc. For one thing, hypervisor software should be compatible with existing hardware without having to install new hardware to bridge the gap. It should also allow you to refresh hardware or add capacity as needed, not simply add new modules, and the software licensing model itself should not lock you into a given vendor’s appliance. Since HCI is all about building flexibility into data infrastructure, it makes little sense to adopt an inflexible platform that limits choices going forward.

    And while it is not terribly important which hypervisors the HCI platform supports, the enterprise should be aware of how it deploys and provisions them, says TechGenix’ Angela Karl. Licensing on a per VM basis can get very expensive if the system is not automatically configuring them in a way that matches your performance and reliability requirements. As well, hypervisors are usually cheapest when purchased as part of a suite of products, such as a full vSphere deployment rather than individual ESXi deployments, so this should be configured into the HCI management stack. In the end, it doesn’t matter much to users what hypervisor they are using, but it can matter a great deal to the enterprise.

    HCI may be seen as the next cutting-edge technology, but in fact it is already approaching its second decade on the market. In the end, an IT platform is an IT platform, meaning that HCI is likely to bring the same basic choice to the enterprise: an engineered system that offers simplicity and integration at the expense of vendor lock-in, or an open solution that requires some specialized skill on the part of the enterprise to build and manage.

    Before venturing into this new world of infrastructure, it might help to take a few moments to decide which approach is best for your business model.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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