While many organizations are moving toward hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) models for a variety of reasons, there are some areas that need to be considered when mapping out your own storage solution with an HCI approach.
First of all—there are two main driving forces toward HCI: cost savings and efficiency gains. Many software-defined HCI storage solutions are designed to run on commodity hardware, which means many organizations can either repurpose existing hardware or purchase lower-cost commodity x86 compliant storage – and let the hypervisor layer determine the storage operation and function—something typically done by bare-metal, storage specific hardware that was often proprietary. With solutions like VMware vSAN demonstrating 50% cost savings over industry-leading proprietary equipment—it’s no wonder CIOs are looking towards HCI as a storage solution of the future.1
The efficiency gains promised by HCI storage solutions come mainly in increased storage performance and reductions in operating expenses. A large part of this savings comes from the common management and administration of a virtualization platform that covers all three pillars of the traditional data center: compute, storage, and network. However, the interweaving of all components of the data center into a hyper-converged infrastructure also means IT departments need to take careful note of how the network and the storage will interact.
Gear Up for an Ideal HCI Solution
There is little doubt that HCI solutions like VMware vSAN will have a profound impact on the design, operation, and optimization of any organization’s data center. The shift to hyper-converged infrastructures not only changes how data centers are designed, it naturally shifts importance from the discrete elements that make up the architecture. Using HCI powered by vSAN converges the storage responsibilities onto the virtualization hosts, and the fabric that connects them. This means that storage I/O traffic that once moved across an isolated fabric to a storage array now runs on IP networks.
But what does this mean to your HCI solution? As any network engineer can tell you, TCP/IP was built to accommodate the potential for unreliable delivery of data. While it does a good job, there is often little understanding of the level of impact that both transient and persistent conditions in a network create that impede performance. An occasional dropped packet may not be noticed while surfing the Internet, but with HCI, the impact could be significant, as HCI relies on the inter-host connectivity to deliver storage I/O in a consistent, and timely manner.2
Basically, the convergence of infrastructure means not only contemplating your storage solution itself—but also the network fabric that connects them. Because storage is moving away from traditional “big iron” appliances and Storage Area Networks (SAN) to an HCI approach, storage can no longer be treated as an sovereign island in the IT ocean. Storage is increasingly seen as an inherent part of the IT infrastructure of an organization, an asset that is managed by teams of generalist IT professionals and not dedicated teams of storage specialists.3 This often means IT professionals will share duties across all three disciplines of compute, storage, and networking through the virtualization layer.
Cruise Control Reset: Making HCI Work for You
CIOs are looking for software platforms and tools to manage their entire IT infrastructure in a scalable, efficient way that eliminate IT silos. This is the value that HCI delivers – operational simplicity and scalability. HCI is not about the storage platform, but the software-defined storage (like VMware vSAN) that powers the solution through a common virtualization platform.
Hyper-converged infrastructure is the natural evolution of the virtualization revolution. Software-defined computing was bound to expand into other IT pillars—promising the same benefits: advanced features, lower CapEx, and better efficiency delivered through commodity hardware.
When considering your HCI storage solution, it is wise to remember it is a converged solution. This means uniting both computing virtualization and network operations as well as your storage. These two other pillars need to be considered carefully when contemplating which HCI storage solution you want to pursue. Luckily—some vendors like VMware have a complete virtualization platform and strategy that spans compute, network, and storage virtualization—as well as allows flexibility to expand easily to the cloud or remain on-premises.
If you want to get the most benefit out an HCI storage solution, but may have reservations on where to begin or what you should focus on, Clearpath is here to help you navigate a confident course. Clearpath can design and deliver a complete HCI solution - one that looks at all three pillars of your traditional data center and unites them for a true hyper-converged solution that can drive value for years to come.
VMware Internal Analysis: December 2016. Based on 20TB all-flash vSAN vs. leading all-flash array pricing (Pure).
VMware Blogs: Reliable Network Connectivity in Hyper-Converged Environments: February 2018
VMware Blogs: The Future of Storage and Data Management: A Long-Term Perspective: February 2018