Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is a term that inevitably comes up when people are talking about the cloud. However, it`s important to understand what HCI is, its role, the impact on cloud computing and hybrid infrastructures and how to apply this technology in your IT strategy.
What is HCI?
HCI combines a business’s compute, storage and networking infrastructure into one box, virtualising traditional hardware systems into a single software-defined infrastructure. HCI includes, at a minimum, virtualised computing (a hypervisor), a virtualised SAN (Storage Area Network) and virtualised networking (software-defined networking, or SDN).
The combination of these elements with management software allows businesses to gain a holistic view of their entire environment from a central location. Businesses are able to effect changes across their entire computing, storage and networking infrastructure from a single touchpoint, duplicating them wherever they are necessary.
What are the benefits of HCI?
HCI leverages software to enable a single server to do the work of multiple traditional servers, so it takes up less space in a server room. For larger organisations that require massive amounts of compute power and storage, replacing multiple servers with a single, small unit results in relatively large cost savings on physical space.
Organisations are able to scale with HCI, giving them the flexibility to adapt and grow their IT as their business grows. It’s easy to add more nodes, for storage or to increase performance, as and when required, allowing the business to easily scale their IT up and out.
Management, updates and support are incredibly simple. Updates are centrally enabled, rolling out across the entire environment from a single point – the same point from which the environment is managed. Should any issues occur, organisations have a single point of contact to log calls and escalate.
HCI is fast to deploy and integrate with your existing infrastructure. Most applications loaded onto an HCI are pretested and easily integrated, and installation is as easy as loading the software and enabling the desired functions. For this reason, and less architecture being required, organisations benefit from a reduced need for resources and a reduced operational cost.
Faster deployment and speedy changes also mean that businesses can get to market faster. Heightened performance, easy, quick updates and scalable compute and storage gives businesses the agility they need to adapt quickly to market demands, reaching their target ahead of competitors.
Finally, businesses benefit from flexible cost options. There are many ways that businesses can invest in HCI, from a purchase model for on-premise solutions to cloud-based solutions that offer pay-for-what-you-use and monthly operational cost models.
Does HCI enable cloud-readiness?
Thanks to virtualisation, HCI assists businesses to become cloud ready. It mimics cloud architecture, helping businesses to receive a cloud experience while on-premise, creating a multi-tenant environment.
HCI is generally considered the first step towards moving to the cloud. Once HCI is implemented, moving to the cloud becomes as easy as dragging and dropping the applications across, effecting a few small changes and working as before.
But I’ve heard…
There are a number of misconceptions about HCI, predominantly due to lack of understanding around what HCI is and what it does. It sounds complicated when, in fact, it’s quite easy to implement, use and maintain. The ability to manage storage, servers and switches from a single point simplifies operations and enables quicker adoption and adaptation.
Another misconception is around cost; HCI sounds expensive and it can be more expensive to implement initially. However, when one amortises the support, maintenance and management costs of a traditional system versus HCI, it’s easy to see the long-term savings which vastly outweigh those of traditional systems. The return of investment on HCI over a period of three to five years is significantly higher than that of a traditional environment.
Organisations are often wary to leverage HCI for business-critical applications, however this is usually only common among businesses who have not implemented virtualisation of any kind. The high availability and increased performance of HCI allows any application to be run seamlessly and with less risk of failure than maintaining separate servers for mission critical applications.
The only time it does not make sense for businesses to implement HCI is if they have business critical proprietary applications that are hard coded to their hardware, where there is no room for change or moving to a more standardised way of working.
However, it is important to remember that HCI is not a silver bullet that can solve any business problems. Organisations should ensure they assess their requirements and determine their outcomes before deploying HCI, to ensure they receive the full spectrum of benefits offered by HCI.