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Demystifying Hyperconverged Infrastructure for SMBs

14 Dec 2016 by Amanda Best

The word hyperconverged (also spelled hyper converged) may or may not be a buzzword for you depending on your circles. If you’re in IT, you’ve definitely heard it before. And if you’re currently exploring this option, you’ve found it’s a heavy topic that requires lengthy due diligence. This is why, according to ActualTech Media’s 2015 survey, more than 54% of those who haven’t purchased hyperconverged solutions plan to in the next 24 to 36 months. The buyer’s journey does not happen overnight.

If you’re not in IT, maybe you are, or report to, the Chief Finance Officer (CFO), VP of Marketing and Sales, or the Chief Operations Officer (COO). If so, you may have never heard this word. Although you never thought you’d be interested in data center systems, it’s an important term for you, too. I’ll get to how it affects you, but first let’s go through a quick history lesson, and the technological benefits of hyperconverged solutions. Please stay with me, here. I promise, you care.

Evolving infrastructure systems

Over the last few years, hyperconverged infrastructure has disrupted the integrated systems market. This relatively new but significant change in the data center is rapidly gaining steam. But what is a Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI), and how will it benefit small and medium businesses?

Let’s start with the predecessors of HCI. It all originated with integrated systems, or, unified computing. Integrated systems simply incorporated existing hardware and software for compute, storage and virtualization functions into one appliance. Integrated systems were good — they allowed customers to deal with a single vendor from purchase to end-of-life support.

On the downside, when customers needed more power, they had to purchase and bolt on big blocks of infrastructure, much of which probably wouldn’t be fully used for some time. So, upgrading meant wasteful buying.

Then came Converged Infrastructure (CI). It offers simplified management, faster deployment times and additional virtualization capabilities. Requiring fewer human resources, CI lowers Operational Expenses (opex). CI also requires less cabling and fewer network connections, resulting in lower Capital Expenses (capex).

But converged solutions still utilize the traditional storage array functionality. On top of that, companies are finding that converged infrastructure components aren’t necessarily compatible with legacy systems. And these pain points led to innovation.

Enter hyperconverged infrastructure

Hyperconvergence has all of the benefits of CI, but it goes a step further by providing a software-based management solution. That software layer is where the magic happens; it allows users to pool and manage resources more efficiently. It allows automation and simplified processes.

Major innovations in HCI mean not only technical advances, but improvements in operational efficiency. It conquers some of the problems the business has been pressuring IT to resolve for years — reducing Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) being one of the biggest wins. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits from a technological perspective:

Simplified management- By further simplifying tasks through integration and automation, HCI eliminates the need for deep, specialized expertise in storage and networking, and ongoing training on myriad disparate platforms. An IT generalist can operate HCI via the user interface in the software layer.

Utility savings- By merging the data center into one appliance, businesses gain cost savings in space, heating and cooling. Maybe your organization manages several data centers that can be consolidated by adopting a hyperconverged system.

Storage- As business continues to collect and analyze vast amounts of big data, hyperconverged solutions — that include built-in Software Defined Storage (SDS) — allow for superior storage management in the software layer, via deduplication and compression. This basically eliminates the need for costly, space consuming Storage Area Networks (SANs) and the additional management that goes along with them.

Backup and recovery- Another standard feature of many HCI solutions is the backup and recovery capabilities. Data efficiency and protection afforded by hyperconvergence makes backup and Disaster Recovery (DR) between sites inherent, eliminating the need for a Wide Area Network (WAN) accelerator.

Virtualization desktop infrastructure (VDI)- HCI can offer a very efficient platform for VDI because of the deduplication capabilities previously discussed. Now thanks to the advanced storage architecture included in HCI, like flash storage and caching layers, VDI becomes a strong use case.

Private cloud- With all of the capabilities described above, hyperconvergence affords organizations a prime platform for the private cloud. “HCI…simplifies private cloud storage allocation…since all the server drives form a pool within a single namespace,” explains cloud computing expert Jim O’Reilly.

This bar chart explains the realised and expected benefits of hyperconverged infrastructure adoption, as of 2016 for current and planned adopters.
Reduce costs: 37%, 45%. Accelerate deployment time: 31%, 20%. Improve operation efficiency: 28%, 42%. Improve scalability: 27%, 29%. Reduce impact of infrastructure tasks. Improve backup/data recovery. Improve service and support. Redeploy staff to more critical tasks. Increase agility of VM provisioning. Reduce training required.

Business benefits of HCI

There are plenty of reasons your CEO has heard hyperconverged solutions might actually change the business for the better, and although I’ve touched on them above, let’s talk about them as they relate to business outcomes.

TCO savings- If you’re working off a legacy infrastructure or operating 100% in the cloud, and you plan to stay in business the next five to ten years, it’s a good idea to think about your long-term infrastructure plan. Having hyperconverged, on-premise solutions will save your company money not only in equipment over time, but in opex with reduced labor and certification.

The cloud is great for SMBs, but a look at financial forecasting will show that companies spend twice as much as on-premise solutions in the long run. As of 2016, the greatest reported benefit of modernizing to hyperconverged systems has been the total cost savings, according to the 2016 ActualTech Media study above.

Agility and scalability- In addition to long-term cost savings, hyperconverged solutions help businesses to become more agile and scale operations as business gets busier or slower over time. It also provides the platform to keep scaling up without having to constantly replace infrastructure that quickly meets capacity or becomes outdated.

Improved application delivery- Running applications locally, on a system built to sustain heavy workloads, can significantly improve availability of mission-critical apps.

Business continuity- Down time can mean lost profits, potentially enough to jeopardize the company entirely. HCI reduces down time and also provides DR, a feature many midsize businesses currently lack, allowing your company to overcome major setbacks.

At the end of the day, small businesses have the same needs as large businesses and fewer resources. Hyperconvergence enables businesses to operate like enterprises, on a smaller budget with fewer assets. The hyperconvergence adopters that start from scratch may even have a leg up on the legacy-bound enterprises by gaining the ability to respond to business needs quickly.

For questions about how to implement the right solution in your data center, talk to one of Insight’s experienced specialists.