Digital Story: A Deep Dive into Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

Hyper-converged IT infrastructures are becoming increasingly mainstream, but many enterprise stakeholders remain unclear as to what hyperconvergence really entails — and why it matters.

At the beginning of July 2018, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) unveiled its first software-optimized hyper-converged infrastructure system, the SimpliVity 2600. This represents but the latest in a string of cutting-edge infrastructural offerings HPE has brought to market since acquiring hyperconvergence pioneer SimpliVity for $650 million in January 2017.

The new, compact (17.64” by 33.02”) two-node cluster was designed with virtual desktop systems in mind, but a number of observers have pointed out that it’s also ideal for supporting edge computing applications like the software that typically runs on Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

While the IT hype cycle tends to have a fairly pronounced ebb and flow, it’s becoming increasingly clear that hyperconvergence will have a distinct role to play in the future of enterprise IT. That said, as is often the case with any emerging tool or technique, there’s still quite a bit of confusion swirling around what “hyper-converged infrastructure” really means and how and when it’s useful in an enterprise IT setting.

With that in mind, we’ve laid out everything enterprise stakeholders need to know about this exciting development in IT infrastructure design.

Differentiating Between Convergence and Hyperconvergence

Much of the confusion regarding hyper-converged infrastructure stems from its terminological proximity to “converged infrastructure.” While both were conceived to help enterprises overcome the myriad problems created by siloed IT infrastructures, convergence and hyperconvergence are anything but identical in practice.

Converged Infrastructure

A converged system bundles all the hardware and software needed to complete a single IT task — storage, processing, networking, etc. In short, this bundling alleviates the hassle associated with hardware configuration and ensuring hardware and software compatibility.

Converged infrastructure vendors address any configuration or compatibility issues prior to product delivery, which guarantees unparalleled performance and reliability, but limits enterprise IT teams’ flexibility. A converged system is going to be able to execute its dedicated task perfectly, but it’s not going to be able to support unpredictable workloads like those found in DevOps environments or big data analytics.

While the components of CI systems can be easily removed and repurposed, adding components can often prove prohibitively expensive. In other words, CI systems do not scale well, comparatively speaking. And because converged architectures still rely on discrete rack-mounted components, the software layer isn't substantially different than that of traditional hardware-centric systems.

Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

Hyperconvergence is a far more software-centric approach to IT infrastructure design. In a hyper-converged infrastructure, compute, storage, and networking resources are all tightly integrated into a system that is controlled via a single software-defined data center management platform and a virtualized software layer known as a hypervisor. Enterprises can purchase a hyper-converged system as a hardware/software bundle or as software that can be layered over their existing hardware.

Most hyper-converged systems require three fully-provisioned virtual servers — or “nodes” — to function reliably, but scaling a system up is simply a matter of adding a new node. In a sense, the fact that each node functions as its own mini-data center is at once the biggest value-add and the biggest drawback of a hyper-converged system.

On the one hand, the “self-sufficiency” of each node makes infrastructure management easier than ever, as it enables IT administrators to shift workloads around their systems in real time without having to worry about testing for software compatibility or configuring a new server. On the other hand, the high degree to which IT resources are integrated within a hyper-converged node means that when an enterprise wants to add, say, more storage, it must also add — and pay for — more compute and networking resources, as well.

Fortunately, many hyperconvergence vendors recognize the inefficiency of this “package deal,” and industry insiders predict that it’s only a matter of time before vendors develop supplementary nodes that are disaggregated into discrete compute modules, storage modules, etc.

The Promise of Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

Its all-or-nothing scaling notwithstanding, hyperconvergence offers enterprises a number of significant benefits, many of which relate to convenience and ease-of-use — two essentials in enterprise IT.

Indeed, while it leaves something to be desired from a cost efficiency perspective, hyper-converged nodes’ comprehensive resource integration not only helps IT specialists assemble and configure new pieces of infrastructure in record time, but also enables generalists to administer the entire system — something that previously required a great deal of management expertise and/or vendor guidance.

As such, hyperconvergence is particularly valuable for enterprises hoping to dedicate the bulk of their time and resources to optimizing the more operational aspects of their IT. Infrastructure maintenance and management can be a huge drain on an IT budget, but with a hyper-converged infrastructure, everything functions — and stays functional — right out of the box.

Further, cutting-edge hyper-converged systems like the SimpliVity 2600 deliver advanced functionalities like data deduplication and compression, as well as virtual machine and/or container management tools, both of which will prove pivotal as the enterprise IoT continues to expand and diversify.

Getting the Most out of Your IT Infrastructure

When all is said and done, a hyper-converged infrastructure greatly eases the substantial administrative burdens inherent to traditional — and, to a lesser extent, converged — IT setups. The ease with which hyper-converged systems can be scaled up or down allows for unbeatable responsiveness to fluctuations in an enterprise’s IT resource demands, which is why hyperconvergence is often characterized as an on-premises alternative to the cloud.

That said, capitalizing on everything a hyper-converged infrastructure has to offer requires you to ensure that everything running on that infrastructure is optimally designed and managed — including enterprise networks.

At Turn-key Technologies (TTI), we have nearly three decades of experience helping enterprises design, deploy, secure, and manage high-performing wired and wireless networks. Our team of expert technicians has the know-how necessary to help any enterprise get the most out of the IT resources at its disposal, whether they’re hosted on a traditional, converged, or hyper-converged infrastructure.

Reach out today to see how TTI can help you optimize your enterprise network!