Learn about the benefits of hyperconverged infrastructure, how it works, typical use cases, and vendors in the marketplace.
What is Hyperconverged Infrastructure?
Hyperconvergence is an IT framework that unifies computing, storage, networking and software into a single system in an attempt to minimize data center complexity and increase scalability. Platforms that meet this description are called hyperconverged, which is a software-centric architecture that tightly integrates and virtualizes all these resources in a single system that usually consists of x86 hardware.
Hyperconverged platforms include a hypervisor for virtualized computing, software-defined storage, and virtualized networking, and they typically run on standard off-the-shelf servers. This 4-layer stack provides lots of performance power, cost savings and saves rack space, while removing the need for an external SAN. This is a true software-defined data center (SDDC) design. That’s why it is also referred to as hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI).
A hyperconverged system can be a fully integrated appliance solution from a single vendor or it can also be purchased as standalone software that can be installed on your existing x86 servers. Both options (hyperconverged appliance and standalone software) can equally provide a full array of features and benefits. The main differences are related to costs, benefits, and deployment options.
HCI offers plenty of flexibility for your budget. However, the benefits you gain will fluctuate according to your level of investment. Typically, the hardware will comprise 80% of your total investment, while software can entail around 20%. These factors allow you to be creative and mix the right hardware and software according to your needs.
Therefore, the amount of performance you want to generate out of this hyperconverged infrastructure model is totally up to your business goals and application requirements. You have a world of possibilities within a box capable of running your highest workloads better than your traditional SAN/host design, and each vendor will present you solutions starting from entry-level HDD appliances to high-end all-flash HCI appliances.
Another one of the benefits of hyperconverged infrastructure is the ability to stack up appliances, also called “nodes,” while gaining both compute power and storage capacity simultaneously. This is convenient for scaling as your business grows. It truly simplifies your budget projections for the next year because you know exactly how many nodes you will need to acquire according to your growth rate.
When it comes to the SAN-like functionalities, HCI is just as capable while eliminating the latency hiccups found with traditional host-to-SAN connectivity requirements. With hyperconverged solutions, both the storage and hosts reside in the same physical box, augmenting response time.
Therefore, there is more to gain by switching to hyperconverged solutions than staying put with a traditional SAN—not only is it easier to scale out with HCI, but you can also spread the data across multiple nodes for higher redundancy. In some cases, you can have 2 or 3 replicas of the same data distributed. However, having more replicas of your data will reduce the total usable space available in your hyperconverged cluster.
Hyperconvergence allows the integrated technologies to be managed as a single system through a common toolset. Most hyperconverged integrated systems require a minimum of three hardware nodes for high availability and can be expanded through the addition of nodes to the base unit. A grouping of nodes is known as a cluster.
What is hyperconvergence? To fully understand how it works, you need to create a mock-up design of your own environment to have a more realistic idea. You must start by asking yourself some basic questions:
How much compute power do I need (CPU and memory for VMs)?
How much usable storage capacity do I need in total (across the HCI cluster)?
How many replicas of my data do I want actively available (for high availability)?
Do I need to spread the data across two separate data centers for greater redundancy (metro-cluster)?
How many hypervisor flavors do I have (ESXi, Hyper-V, XenServer, etc.)?
Based on your answers, you will need to do some basic math to figure out the hardware specs for each node in your HCI cluster. You can also contact our technical experts to help you make these calculations to build out the exact hardware specs per node.
Once you determine your hardware requirements, your next step is to figure out how many nodes will be required to keep your VMs running around the clock, even if there is an unexpected disaster and you lose a few nodes. The number of nodes that can fail within a cluster varies across different HCI vendors.
Each node will need a hypervisor installed and configured. Next step is to also configure the internal networks for VM traffic, storage I/O traffic and VM management. The best practice is to separate all the different types of traffic and not try to push them through one or two network links. It will simply get oversaturated at some point and will cause major latencies.
If you are buying a hyperconverged appliance, it will likely come pre-installed with virtual SAN controllers on each node, which controls the local storage and handles the I/O traffic using the internal virtual network paths. Each virtual SAN controller is essentially a regular VM running in your hypervisor, and it manages the local node hardware resources.
Normally, there is a single management console that connects to all nodes in the cluster and allows you to manage every virtual SAN controller. This makes it easier to execute daily tasks from one window instead of needing to log in to multiple SAN environments.
If you were to go with the software-only approach, you will need to verify your existing servers can meet the minimum requirements before you install the software on such hosts. Hyperconverged software is a flavor of SDS (software-defined storage), and it needs the proper hardware to maximize the benefits it provides.
Typical Use Cases of Hyperconverged Infrastructure
Hyperconvergence began in smaller use cases, such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), but enterprises now commonly use the technology to simplify the deployment, management and scaling of IT resources and to reap CapEx and OpEx advantages.
Many major database systems have begun to certify their database software to run on hyperconverged appliances. Big-name players like SAP, Oracle, Hadoop, Splunk, and Microsoft SQL Server have all approved several hyperconverged solutions. These architectures require high-end hardware to meet the high-workload demands by big data applications.
If HCI can handle OLAP and OLTP workloads, then it can pretty much handle just about any other application workload. This can include CRM software, email servers, web servers or even EMR/EHR systems. The road to scalability has become clear through the adoption of hyperconverged infrastructure across all verticals and environments.
Hospitals are gradually implementing HCI or converting small departments as a testing phase before doing a full migration. Even Wall Street has gotten involved in the action by ways of NASDAQ turning to hyperconverged systems to meet its operational demands. Also the MLB Networks has adopted the hyperconverged model to improve their media and entertainment environment.
How Hyperconverged Infrastructure Is Different from Converged Infrastructure
Potential adopters sometimes get hyperconverged and converged solutions mixed up. There are several similarities that make both solutions extremely attractive depending on your environment requirements. However, the main fundamental difference is that converged solutions are hardware-focused and hyperconverged has a software-defined focus.
Converged appliances unify compute and storage from a hardware perspective, which also provides the benefit of running applications locally for better performance. These applications can range from relational databases, Exchange, file servers, to web servers and even VDI. Nonetheless, this option offers zero integration between the host and the storage layers.
Hyperconverged infrastructure, on the other hand, provides tighter integration between the multiple layers and components within the box through software. This makes the management of your whole environment much more practical and efficient. You have a full view of all your storage free space, and you can decide to move virtual disks from one node to another node in the cluster without interrupting active VMs. This is a fully integrated system that makes admin tasks easier to execute.
Hyperconverged infrastructure began as the domain of startups such as Maxta, Nutanix, Pivot3, Scale Computing, and SimpliVity. As a sign of HCI’s maturity, larger server and storage vendors such as Cisco, Dell EMC (including VMware), HPE, Lenovo, and NetApp have moved into the market. Over the past several years, some of the larger vendors have acquired a few of the HCI startups. Not only did they buy the smaller companies, but they have developed HCI-branded products of their own as well.
In other cases, the HCI software-only companies have created partnerships with the server hardware giants to create appliances. Such alliances have made it easier for the consumer to pick a preferred HCI software and deploy it on top of any HP, Dell, Lenovo, or Cisco server. This is true flexibility and agility that only software-led initiatives can offer.
The most popular hyperconverged vendors are DataCore, Nutanix, HPE SimpliVity, VMware vSAN, Dell/EMC VxRail, and Pivot3. When it comes to making your final decision on who to choose from this pool of vendors, you will first need to determine if you want a turn-key HCI appliance or go with the HCI software-only approach. They each present multiple pros and cons, which you will need to consider, depending on your short-term and long-term goals.
DataCore’s hyperconverged software-defined solution gives you maximum hardware flexibility and CapEx/OpEx savings. Freedom to go all-flash or hybrid with any server manufacturer. You can even mix servers from different vendors without experiencing compatibility issues.