HyperConverged Infrastructure (HCI)

Posted by Richard Jones, xByte Sales Engineer on May 24, 2022

The term HyperConverged Infrastructure (HCI) has become an industry buzzword that has been applied to a number of different new computing technologies.

The misuse of the term has caused confusion for many IT professionals looking at HCI as an infrastructure solution. I will shed some light on what HCI really means and why it might be the right IT solution for you.

First, let’s define what HCI is. The best definition I have found combines all the foundational building blocks of an HCI solution.

HyperConverged Infrastructure “is an IT framework that combines computing, storage, networking, and virtualization technology into a single system, often referred to as a ‘node’. A hyperconverged infrastructure is a software-defined system that unifies elements of a traditional data center: storage, computing, networking, and management. Management of all resources can be shared across all instances of a HyperConverged Infrastructure because the software-defined elements are implemented at or via the hypervisor.”

* Source: Unitrends

As a software-defined platform, four main software components make up an HCI platform:

Storage Virtualization: This is the process of abstracting physical storage from multiple storage devices so that it appears to be a single storage device.

Compute Virtualization: This creates a virtual version of computer hardware platforms, operating systems, computer networks, storage devices, etc.

Networking Virtualization: This refers to the pooling of physical network resources to make them work as either a single virtual network or multiple independent virtual networks to improve server performance.

Unified Management: This allows storage, computing, and networking resources, regardless of their physical location, to be located, grouped, and supplied to workloads.

In a HyperConverged Infrastructure, the architecture is software-defined, meaning all the components are tightly integrated and cannot be broken into separate parts. They are virtualized.

  • Take advantage of commodity servers without dependency on proprietary hardware or vendor lock-in
  • Run the latest hardware at higher utilization rates while avoiding over-provisioning
  • Avoid technical silos and simplify workload deployments
  • Simplify/centralize systems and lifecycle management
  • Reduce Capital Expense (CAPEX) by 50%
  • Reduce Operational Expense (OPEX) by 30%

HCI is designed to solve challenges brought about by traditional 3-tiered architecture:

  • Expensive to build
  • Complex to operate
  • Difficult to scale with siloed workloads
  • Hard to manage with multiple management tools
  • Systems resources are either under or over-utilized
  • Not agile enough to meet today’s application demands
  • All network traffic flow is North to South with added latency

HCI is built on Spine–Leaf Network with load balancing technologies for virtualized network, compute, storage and workloads across the platform. They are monitored across the system based on system resources and centrally managed as an entire ecosystem. In the past few years, the volume of east-west traffic has grown due to virtualization and data center trends such as HCI. Today, network controllers, virtual machines (VMs), and other devices perform various functions and services that previously ran on physical hardware. As these components relay data to each other, they increase traffic on the network, which in turn can cause latency issues that negatively impact network performance. For example, if hosts on one access switch needs to quickly communicate with systems on another access switch, uplinks among the access layer and aggregation layer become congested.

Software-defined networking (SDN) provides another level of control and management to east-west traffic. Organizations that deploy a software-defined network on a leaf-spine fabric can take advantage of the equal nature of each port and retain the advantages of security zones, traffic engineering, and virtual overlay networks. With an SDN controller that manages edge policies for each port, policies can be moved with a workload. This makes the fabric more agile and responsive to business needs, thus making east-west traffic management more efficient.

Top HCI Platforms:

VMware vSAN is a software-defined storage platform that supports HCI environments. Aggregated data storage devices form a virtual storage pool. vSAN integrates with vSphere, providing cloud virtualization for servers. The main benefit of using this HCI is its direct integration with other VMware products (vRealize Operations, DRS, etc.).

StarWind HyperConverged Appliance (HCA) with its all-flash, simple HyperConverged system and comparatively low prices, StarWind is the ideal HCI for smaller enterprises still needing exceptional performance and support. A HyperConverged Appliance, or HCA, is composed of two servers minimum. Clusters are also composed of two nodes for failover: if one node fails, the other can take over.

Dell EMC VxRail offers full integration with VMware stack, which includes vSan for storage. VxRail also offers VMware Tanzu, a Kubernetes solution depending on a company’s needs for cloud, traditional app development, hybrid cloud, PaaS, or native Kubernetes pods.

Nutanix’s Acropolis Operating System (AOS), Nutanix has its own hypervisor known as AHV (built on Linux KVM). AOS is Nutanix’s software-defined storage solution which also integrates into its management platform.

Azure Stack HCI is a cloud-based solution that can be run on-premises. Azure Stack HCI runs Windows and Linux virtual machines in either a data center or an edge environment. Storage Spaces Direct is a feature of Azure Stack HCI, and Windows Server enables you to cluster servers with internal storage into a software-defined storage solution.

Use Cases for HCI:

Datacenter consolidation/mixed workloads – Smaller data center footprint, lower TCO, endless update/refresh cycles, data consolidation in one integrated solution, and reduces the cost and complexity of ongoing operations.

Edge – Multi-site remote locations experiencing application and data growth that require simplified management and protection. It provides the enterprise with features needed to run what is essentially a small data center in a compact, all-in-one system.

Business-critical applications – With HCI, business-critical applications run faster and are easier to manage than traditional 3-Tier infrastructure. HCI enables accelerated performance, high data efficiency, and easy scaling for critical applications.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) – VDI deployments deliver key capabilities, including ultra-fast application provisioning, predictable performance at peak demand, providing more desktops on less hardware, high-performance graphics support (GPU), simple management, and scalability.

Containers – HCI is great for containers and microservices application development, particularly for the emerging breed of cloud-native applications. These new application development architectures need a modernized infrastructure approach like HCI to achieve the speed, simplicity, and insights necessary to drive IT transformation.

HyperConverged Infrastructure is not only a buzzword. It is a revolutionary way of thinking about IT infrastructure that reduces IT investments in both money and manpower. Although it may be difficult to determine whether a solution is truly HyperConverged, just converged, or some other pretender, it is worth investigating HCI solutions to make sure your organization can gain the maximum benefit of modern IT infrastructure. Ask us, and we can help you on your journey to HCI.

If you’re interested or have more questions, contact xByte today, [email protected], and we can help get you started with an HCI platform.