Tag Archives: Converged

Data Center Architecture: Converged, HCI, and Hyperscale


A comparison of three approaches to enterprise infrastructure.

If you are planning an infrastructure refresh or designing a greenfield data center from scratch, the hype around converged infrastructure, hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and hyperscale might have you scratching your head. In this blog, I’ll compare and contrast the three approaches and consider scenarios where one infrastructure architecture would be a better fit than the others.

Converged infrastructure

Converged infrastructure (CI) incorporates compute, storage and networking in a pre-packaged, turnkey solution. The primary driver behind convergence was server virtualization: expanding the flexibility of server virtualization to storage and network components. With CI, administrators could use automation and management tools to control the core components of the data center. This allowed for a single admin to provision, de-provision and make any compute, storage or networking changes on the fly.

Converged infrastructure platforms use the same silo-centric infrastructure components of traditional data centers. They’re simply pre-architected and pre-configured by the manufacturers. The glue that unifies the components is specialized management software. One of the earliest and most popular CI examples is Virtual Computing Environment (VCE). This was a joint venture by Cisco Systems, EMC, and VMware that developed and sold various sized converged infrastructure solutions known as Vblock. Today, Vblock systems are sold by the combined Dell-EMC entity, Dell Technologies.

CI solutions are a great choice for infrastructure pros who want an all-in-one solution that’s easy to buy and pre-packaged direct from the factory. CI is also easier from a support standpoint. If you maintain support contracts on your CI system, the manufacture will assist in troubleshooting end-to-end. That said, many vendors are shifting their focus towards hyperconverged infrastructures.

Hyperconverged infrastructure

HCI builds on CI. In addition to combining the three core components of a data center together, hyperconverged infrastructure leverages software to integrate compute, network and storage into a single unit as opposed to using separate components. This architecture design offers performance advantages and eliminates a great deal of physical cabling compared to silo- and CI-based data centers.  

Hyperconverged solutions also provide far more capability in terms of unified management and orchestration. The mobility of applications and data is greatly improved, as is the setup and management of functions like backups, snapshots, and restores. These operational efficiencies make HCI architectures more attractive from a cost-benefit analysis when compared to traditional converged infrastructure solutions.

In the end, a hyperconverged solution is all about simplicity and speed. A great use case for HCI would be a new virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployment. Using the orchestration and automation tools available, you have the ideal platform to easily roll out hundreds or thousands of virtual desktops.

Hyperscale

The key attribute of hyperscale computing is the de-coupling of compute, network and storage software from the hardware. That’s right, while HCI combined everything into a single chassis, hyperscale decouples the components.

This approach, as practiced by hyperscale companies like Facebook and Google, provides more flexibility than hyperconverged solutions, which tend to grow in a linear fashion. For example, if you need more storage on your HCI system, you typically must add a node blade that includes both compute and built-in storage. Some hyperconverged solutions are better than others in this regard, but most fall prey to linear scaling problems if your workloads don’t scale in step.

Another benefit of hyperscale architectures is that you can manage both virtual and bare metal servers on a single system. This is ideal for databases that tend to operate in a non-virtualized manner. Hyperscale is most useful in situations where you need to scale-out one resource independently from the others. A good example is IoT because it requires a lot of data storage, but not much compute. A hyperscale architecture also helps in situations where it’s beneficial to continue operating bare metal compute resources, yet manage storage resources in elastic pools.



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Converged Vs. Hyperconverged Infrastructure: What’s The Difference?


Traditionally, the responsibility of assembling IT infrastructure falls to the IT team. Vendors provide some guidelines, but the IT staff ultimately does the hard work of integrating them. The ability to pick and choose components is a benefit, but requires effort in qualification of vendors, validation for regulatory compliance, procurement, and deployment.

Converged and hyperconverged infrastructure provides an alternative. In this blog, I’ll examine how they evolved from the traditional infrastructure model and compare their different features and capabilities.

Reference architectures

Reference architectures, which provide blueprints of compatible configurations, help to alleviate some of the burden of IT infrastructure integration. Hardware or software vendors provide defined behavior and performance given selected choices of hardware devices and software, along with configuration parameters. However, since reference architectures may involve different vendors, they can present problems in determining who IT groups need to call for support.

Furthermore, given that the systems combine components from multiple vendors, systems management remained difficult. For example, visibility into all levels of the hardware and software stack is not possible since management tools can’t assume how the infrastructure was set up. Even with systems management standards and APIs, tools aren’t comprehensive enough to understand device-specific information.

Converged infrastructure: ready-made

Converged infrastructures takes the idea of a reference architecture and integrates the system prior to shipping to customers; systems are pre-tested and pre-configured. One unpacks the box, plugs it into the network and power, and the system is ready to use.

IT organizations choose converged systems for ease of deployment and management instead of the benefits of an open, interoperable system with choice of components. Simplicity overcomes choice.

Hyperconverged: The building-block approach

Hyperconverged systems take the convergence concept one step further. These systems are preconfigured, but provide integration via software-defined capabilities and interfaces. Software interfaces act as a glue that supplements the pre-integrated hardware components.

In hyperconverged systems, functions such as storage are integrated through software interfaces, as opposed to the traditional physical cabling, configuration and connections. This type of capability is typically done using virtualization and can exploit commodity hardware and servers.

Local storage not a key differentiator

While converged systems may include traditional storage delivered using discrete NAS or Fibre Channel SAN, hyperconverged systems can take different forms of storage (rotating disk or flash) and present it via software in a unified way.  

A hyperconverged system  may use local storage, but it can use an external system with software interfaces to present a unified storage pool. Some vendors get caught up in the definition of whether the storage is implemented locally (implemented as a disk within the server) or as a separate storage system. I think that’s missing the bigger picture. What’s more important is the ability for the systems to scale.

Scale-out is key

Software enables hyperconverged systems to be used as scale-out building blocks. In the enterprise, storage is often an area of interest, since it has been difficult to scale out storage in the same way compute capacity expands by incrementally adding servers.

Hyperconverged building blocks enables graceful scale out, as capacity may increase without re-architecting the hardware infrastructure. The goal is to unify as many services using software that acts as layer separating the hardware infrastructure from the workload. That extra layer may result in some performance tradeoff, but some vendors believe that the systems are fast enough for most non-critical workloads.

Making a choice

How do enterprises choose converged vs hyperconverged systems? ESG’s research shows that enterprises choose converged infrastructure for mission-critical workloads, citing better performance, reliability, and scalability.  Enterprises choose hyperconverged systems for consolidating multiple functions into one platform, ease of use, and deploying tier-2 workloads.

Converged and hyperconverged systems continue to gain interest since they enable creation of on-premises clouds with elastic workloads and resource pooling. However, they can’t solve all problems for all customers. An ESG survey shows that, even five years out, over half the respondents plan to create an on-premises infrastructure strategy based on best-of-breed components as opposed to converged or hyperconverged infrastructure.

Thus, I recommend that IT organizations examine these technologies, but realize that they can’t solve every problem for every organization.

Hear more from Dan Conde live and in person at Interop ITX, where he will co-present “Things to Know Before You (Hyper) Converge Your Infrastructure,” with Jack Poller, senior lab analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. Register now for Interop ITX, May 15-19 in Las Vegas.



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