Hyperconverged infrastructure has quietly become one of the hottest hardware trends in all of IT the last two years. HCI offers a compelling solution for complex IT environments, and enterprises that were early adopters of the technology have taken its potential to the bank.
It is more than capable of supporting demanding mission-critical applications, beyond just traditional desktop virtualization or database workloads, all with greater performance, agility and cost savings.
HPE, Dell EMC, Cisco Systems, Lenovo, Nutanix, Pivot3, Cohesity, HyperGrid, Maxta and others are crowding the space. While the competition is all good for the potential buyer, it's only natural that a shakeout in this market--via acquisition or old-fashioned attrition--is probably going to happen in the next couple of years.
The hyperconverged systems market is distinct from the converged market. Hyperconverged refers to platform offerings that share computing and storage resources, based on software-defined storage, software-defined computing, commodity hardware and a unified management interface. Hyperconverged systems deliver their main value through software tools, commodotizing the underlying hardware.
The HCI market surpassed $2.2 billion in global revenue in 2016, up 110 percent compared with 2015. The market touched $4 billion last year and is on its way to $5 billion-plus in 2018. [To see a larger view of the chart at upper left, right-click on "View Image."]
Thus it’s prime time for HCI, and the right moment for industry leaders to take advantage of the technology for mission-critical workloads. With this in mind, here are some key trends from the perspective of Kaustubh Das, Vice-President of Product Management, Data Center Group at Cisco Systems, that are driving accelerated adoption of HCI and best practices for overcoming implementation challenges.
Data Point No. 1: Mission-Critical and Next-Generation Workloads
Mission-critical workloads are now more important than ever in a world driven by increasing demand for real-time interactions between machines and people. At the same time, new workloads associated with edge computing, internet of things (IoT), big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are becoming more integral to the fabric of business strategy, enabling organizations to unlock the economic benefits of their data through actionable insights that influence key metrics such as efficiency, cost savings and competitive advantage.
Many HCI solutions have matured to the point where considerations such as latency, IOPS and scalability--once potential pitfalls to Tier 1 workloads on HCI--are now fully supported. In edge environments, HCI also can take the headache out of the necessary storage and compute scalability, while eliminating the perpetual fear of WAN latency (which can often cost a business upward of $1,000 per second, according to some anaysts).
Data Point No. 2: Containers and the Cloud
Modern workloads are being developed in the cloud or container platforms, and as developers move and put those workloads into production, they are ultimately hosted in a cloud: In a recent TBR report, 54 percent of respondents reported leveraging HCI for hybrid cloud and another 30 percent are leveraging HCI for private cloud. Those same developers and IT practitioners need an on-prem platform that enables them to move workloads around to keep pace with the agility of public cloud solutions. As a highly virtualized solution, HCI can streamline those efforts and act as a fully equipped private cloud solution that mirrors the flexibility, agility and scalability of public cloud infrastructure. This is especially beneficial, because many organizations continue to grapple with data compliance and regulation issues in the public cloud.
Data Point No. 3: Hybrid IT
Alongside the maturation of cloud-computing platforms came the simultaneous growth in hybrid IT environments and computing strategies, which enable organizations to operate workloads between on-premises data centers and cloud platforms for greater flexibility and cost efficiency. However, in many cases the public cloud is not the best fit for certain workloads (whether due to the cost of hosting, compliance concerns, latency issues, etc.), and HCI technology provides a simple solution: the agility of cloud with the control and governance of on-premises.
Data Point No. 4: Digital Transformation
Digital transformation has left organizations of all sizes frantically trying to determine the best way to adopt emerging technologies to keep a competitive edge in their industry. HCI can be an ideal platform to embrace this movement. Designed to virtualize core workloads on a consolidated platform, organizations can purchase only what they need to operate existing workloads and scale up as their company grows.
Utilizing a unified common management platform across its virtual environment, HCI solutions streamline common IT operations and deliver total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) savings over legacy 3-tier architecture. While IT budgets remain relatively flat overall, the savings delivered by HCI solutions can free up budget and staff resources that can be reinvested and dedicated to the adoption of emerging technologies. Further enhancing its value, these emerging technologies can be integrated into the HCI environment to create a future-proof platform capable of being the backbone of any digital transformation strategy.
Data Point No. 5: Infrastructure and Workload Modernization
Many enterprises run their business operations on aging infrastructure that can no longer keep pace with the demands of their internal IT clients, or the requirement to leverage massive amounts of new data from growing numbers of external sources. HCI allows companies to modernize their application backbones without disruption of established business processes. The improvement in performance, the reduction in data center footprint and the ability to add capacity on demand mean companies can protect their investments in core applications such as SAP and Oracle while modernizing them with integrated, multi-cloud management, sophisticated data analytics, automated cyber-security, and ML and AI functionality.
Data Point No. 6: Resource Optimization
A recent study conducted by 451 Research found that 63 percent of organizations currently describe their current workload or service provisioning process as “highly manual” or “manual with limited automation tools,” leaving IT departments resource-constrained. HCI allows businesses of all sizes to do more with less (including both monetary and employee resources) and ultimately empowers them with an operational edge that comes without the typical associated capital and operating expenses. The built-in automation capabilities of HCI allow IT to spend less time provisioning, integrating and operating infrastructure and spend more time adding value to the application lifecycle process, such as managing virtual machines, applications and software. Similarly, HCI affords organizations the opportunity to scale as they grow, rather than overinvest in compute, storage and networking capacity that sits underutilized or even unused.
Data Point No. 7: Implementation Considerations
So, where do we go from here? As enterprises turn toward HCI as an enabler of next-generation workloads and applications, there are three key implementation considerations to keep in mind:
- Evaluate the chosen solution carefully. This is especially critical for businesses that are exploring HCI solutions that are not pre-integrated, because the impact to existing network architectures is significant and often overlooked. For example, underestimating the amount of connections--and the number of cables per node--could easily eat up the available switch ports and leave IT in a bind.
- Right-size and optimize. While HCI has greatly matured during the last several years, its performance can vary greatly across the board. Organizations must ensure the solution is not only right-sized for the performance needs of specific workloads and applications (taking into account features such as IOPS, node count, drive latency, etc.) but also optimized by configuration to ensure that the business is getting the best value.
- Prepare for integration with legacy technology. HCI is designed to be simple and quick to deploy, but it also requires the existing environment to undergo an audit, of sorts, to identify any potential integration challenges with legacy infrastructure, software and management platforms. For organizations, that traditionally works with a single vendor. An HCI solution may pose a management challenge (such as: How do I achieve a comprehensive view of my infrastructure?). Similarly, tech debt is often top-of-mind for organizations considering an investment in new solutions.
- HCI delivers significant cost efficiencies and offers a lower overall total-cost-of-ownership (TCO), but it also must be weighed against existing investments.