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Hyper-Converged Infrastructures, Storage Virtualization, or Software-Defined Storage: Is There a Clear Path Ahead?

The move to hyper-converged infrastructures (HCI) is on! 

However, many CIOs hit the brakes when it comes to knowing how to implement HCI initiatives and not wreck the IT budget.  Certainly—one doesn’t want to replace all the existing equipment in the data center with converged infrastructure appliances all at once.  Is there a way to use existing infrastructure and still take advantage of hyper-convergence and software-defined infrastructure while planning for equipment replacements down the road?

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The simple answer is YES.  And by building on existing infrastructure and leveraging commodity x86 equipment—CIOs can experience significant CapEx savings compared to hardware replacements.  Certainly CIOs’ ears prick up when they hear figures of nearly 50% savings,1 but what does this mean for an IT department?  Are there any other advantages to creating a virtual SAN now versus just waiting to implement HCI appliances as hardware refresh cycles come due?

It is critical that differences between software-defined storage (SDS) and storage virtualization be understood.  While there is some overlap between the two—an ideal solution combines both SDS and storage virtualization for maximum benefit to the organization.

  • Software-defined storage shifts the hardware layer that provides critical services such as deduplication, snapshots, and replication into the software layer. This allows an SDS storagevmware_vsan.png layer to be placed over existing storage resources that do not have these advanced features.  As a result, older storage resources gain new functionality without having to replace an entire storage frame.  These critical features are moved into the hypervisor layer, where they can be integrated at a much deeper level.  The hypervisor has much more control and can help drive more application-centric policies regarding storage performance, capacity and redundancy.

  • Storage virtualization on the other hand, employs a larger scale. Storage virtualization combines multiple pools of storage (either hardware-defined or software-defined) into one or more logical containers.  This typically increases capacity, enhances performance, and enables storage tiers by consolidating multiple storage resources into virtual volumes.  These storage pools can then be managed by storage-driven policies, enabling more control at the virtualization level. 1

Virtual SAN to Fuel Your Data Center

An ideal solution for a move towards HCI covers both by defining storage through software and driving large-scale storage virtualization into logical structures—essentially creating a virtualized storage area network (SAN).  There are some advantages to the virtual SAN approach, particularly using VMware vSAN.  Here are some relevant points to consider:


  • Leverage a well-known and respected virtualization platform. vSphere is one of the leading virtualization platforms in the world.  VMware vSAN uses the same management style and consoles to seamlessly blend your compute virtualization strategy and a new storage virtualization strategy.  Installation, management, and administration of vSAN are easy and familiar to your IT department because they’ve been using vSphere for years.

  • Native integration to vSphere and vCenter. Not only is the management metaphor similar—but vSAN integrates natively to vSphere and vCenter.  This has many advantages to your IT department.  The native integration means your storage and compute virtualization platforms work seamlessly together to give you excellent ROI, delivered through a common vCenter management interface.  And because vSphere now expands to AWS—your virtualized storage just works—no matter where your computing is taking place on-premises or in the cloud.

  • Easy expansion of critical services. Let’s face it—your storage is involved in much more than just management of disk space.  Changes in any storage directly impact other parts of IT like disaster recovery (DR), high-availability (HA), and data replication initiatives.  vSAN offers turn-key compatibility with services such as back-up, replication, HA, and DR to minimize disruptions to critical services and maximize your storage investment across multiple IT disciplines.


Accelerate the Journey with Clearpath

While the promises of HCI and storage virtualization are enticing enough to attract CIO attention, quite a bit of confusion remains about the correct approach to take in order to reach the desired destination.  Hardware vendors typically favor an HCI approach that favors specific converged infrastructure appliances.  There are certainly some advantages to employing purpose-built appliances and your overall strategy should be compatible with such converged infrastructures. 

Software vendors—on the other hand—tend to stress the SDS benefits of using existing or commodity hardware to reduce costs.  This certainly appeals to CIOs who want to get the most value out of their previous IT investments.  Ideally—you should have a solution that takes into account both options for maximum flexibility to enjoy the benefits of storage virtualization now while moving forward with HCI initiatives.

Getting started with HCI and virtualized storage solutions doesn’t have to be a bumpy path for organizations.  Clearpath can help you decide how to proceed forward with an SDS and HCI solution that is best for both today, and down the road.




  • TechTarget: Search Server Virtualization: What's the difference between SDS and storage virtualization?
  • VMware Internal Analysis: December 2016. Based on 20TB all-flash vSAN vs. leading all-flash array pricing (Pure).

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