Hyperconverged Systems Show Promise in Reducing Data Center Complexity

The architecture, from such vendors as Dell, Lenovo, HPE and Hitachi, enables organizations to more easily deploy, manage and scale their environments.

Hyperconverged systems

When Derek DePasture joined BluePearl Veterinary Partners as a senior network engineer in October 2014, the company had about 27 locations and 1,300 employees around the country. Within 12 months, those numbers had grown to 56 locations and almost 3,500 employees.

The fast-growing chain of emergency and specialty veterinary hospitals had a hub-and-spoke model for its IT infrastructure—all of it being run by about a dozen IT professionals, according to DePasture.

"As we've grown, we've kept a very lean [IT] staff," he told eWEEK.

Several years ago, company officials decided to shift from the hub-and-spoke model to a centralized data center and went looking for the technology they'd need to make the move.

The old infrastructure was based on Dell's PowerEdge VRTX converged offering, with integrated compute, storage, networking and management software configured to serve branch and remote offices. VRTX is a good product, but it couldn't scale the way BluePearl needed, DePasture said.

Among the products IT officials investigated was Cisco Systems' Unified Compute System (UCS) Mini converged infrastructure system. However, at about the same time, Cisco announced HyperFlex, the networking vendor's addition to the quickly expanding hyperconverged infrastructure market that was announced in March in conjunction with software partner SpringPath.

HyperFlex comprises Cisco's UCS servers and software-defined storage (SDS) technology created with SpringPath, a startup that Cisco has invested in. It also leverages Cisco's Nexus switches to help create an integrated networking fabric and UCS Manager software.

For DePasture and his colleagues at BluePearl, HyperFlex addresses the company's technical and financial needs. It's a product that is easy to deploy and manage. It can scale as the business demands grow. At the same time, the company won't have to increase its IT department or bring on specialists in such areas as storage-area networks (SANs) or VMware.

"It's going to allow us to maintain the level of our IT staff," he said, noting that management of the infrastructure is done through a single pane of glass. "The scalability is easy and set up is very easy—and as a systems administrator, that's very important. I don't want to spend four hours in the data center setting up servers. … We can scale as needed."

From Converged to Hyperconverged

The hyperconverged infrastructure space grew out of the push by OEMs that started five or more years ago to offer converged systems that pre-integrated systems with computing hardware, disk storage, networking gear and systems management software. The goal has been to give organizations data center systems that are easy to deploy, manage and scale, are cost effective and are virtualized.

Hyperconverged infrastructure began hitting the scene in 2014, with a key difference being that they combine storage and compute functionality into a single, highly virtualized server-based solution. Top-tier systems makers over the past couple of years have been building out their hyperconverged portfolios, often in partnership with the growing number of vendors—such as VMware as well as newer players like Nutanix and SimpliVity—that sell software for hyperconverged environments. Smaller appliance makers like Pivot3 also are making a push into the space.

The hyperconverged segment is now the fastest growing segment in the larger converged infrastructure market, according to IDC analysts. In the first quarter, while the overall converged infrastructure space grew 11 percent year-over-year to $2.5 billion, the hyperconverged segment jumped 148 percent, to $371.9 million.

In 2015, hyperconverged infrastructure was a $981.91 million market, according to IDC Research Director Eric Sheppard. By 2019, it is expected to increase to more than $4.7 billion. Gartner analysts expect the space to reach $2 billion this year, and almost $5 billion by 2019.

It comes at a time when organizations are seeing the complexity and cost of their data centers increase, driven by such trends as mobility, data analytics, the proliferation of mobile devices, the growing adoption of virtualization and the cloud.

They're looking for ways to reduce their capital and operation costs, to bring more scalability and flexibility to their infrastructures and to make it easier to deploy and manage their environments. At the same time, these businesses also want to transform their IT departments, moving away from groups of IT specialists to staffing their data centers with generalists.

"The value of hyperconvergence to the customer is simplicity," Radhika Krishnan, executive director and general manager of Lenovo's Converged/Hyperconverged and Networking business unit, told eWEEK.

Hyperconverged infrastructures also give businesses the benefits of a cloud environment without having to go to a public cloud, allowing the strong management and security working within their own environments, according to Todd Brannon, director of product marketing for UCS at Cisco.