With software-defined approaches changing the way today's data centers are being constructed, some IT leaders might believe that the underlying hardware is inconsequential for a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). However, upon closer inspection, they will find that hardware features and differentiation are essential to HCI.
The secret to achieving the highest level of power and performance from HCI is to have the underlying, yet interdependent, hardware and software work in concert to create the best possible integrated system. In this case, “system” is the key word.
Choosing the right HCI solution—be it a turnkey, integrated appliance, or rack-based system with built-in lifecycle management and automation or a “build-your-own” approach—will be dependent upon where you currently stand in your IT transformation journey and what your goals and business needs are.
A build-your-own approach works well for organizations of any size looking to modernize storage, servers or networks with the flexibility to choose components. Organizations that choose to consume or buy an HCI solution are looking to modernize, automate, and transform IT. These organizations tend to value turnkey solutions that are pre-configured, pre-tested, and pre-validated to predictably and quickly deliver value.
With so much emphasis placed on the software in software-defined infrastructures, the hardware is often overlooked. Don’t make this mistake. It takes real work to make components behave as a system and to maintain the “system-ness” of a solution.
If you’re deploying HCI, it’s important to take a heavy measure on the decisions you’re making. Along these lines, here are the top five reasons why hardware is essential to successful HCI deployments:
1) Hardware configurations should be catered to your needs and workloads. For years, IT professionals have selected hardware that best supports their workloads. While white-label servers can make good compute engines, better results in your data center can be achieved with hardware that is specifically optimized for HCI to the extent it is developed with and for specific HCI stacks. Hardware solutions can be made powerful enough to handle the most demanding workloads and deliver highly predictable performance and availability, as well as have the flexibility to be configurable to match any HCI requirement. This means flexibility in terms of processor, memory, storage, network connectivity, GPU, form factor, power budget, and the list goes on.
2) As HCI becomes the platform for your IT transformation, overall quality matters. We have seen a shift in HCI use cases over the past several years from virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), one of the first uses of HCI, to more mainstream and mission-critical applications. Two years ago, almost every customer I talked to asked, “What workloads are appropriate for HCI?” One year ago, they would ask, “What workloads should I not move to HCI?” Now, I have yet to be asked a similar question. Rather, the conversation has shifted to building private and multi-clouds on HCI. The rapid innovation across the board in the HCI space enables these platforms to support the majority of customer workloads with few exceptions. Most deployments are for mixed workloads in cloud environments. As HCI becomes the IT platform for core workloads, you need to look beyond only configuration options to the reliability, stability, and service of these systems as the bedrock of your data center. Your business depends on it.
3) A holistic systems approach reduces staff time needed for routine maintenance. Software and firmware lifecycle management are not typically considered exciting. An engaging discussion of their benefits will not make you the hit of the cocktail party. Still, management of the different software and firmware components in your environment is something that has to get done and can be time-consuming. The rate of change can be high and the updates critical. The degree to which your hardware and software function as a system—epitomized by a jointly engineered HCI solution—will determine how much time IT spends managing and maintaining your infrastructure versus delivering real value back to the business.
4) The most valuable hardware solutions allow you to get the most from your software. With the right mix, organizations gain elasticity and the automation of resource provisioning, as well as increased reliability and quicker response times, by pooling and extracting infrastructure resources. This is key for the deployment of private, multi-cloud and cloud-native workloads. A hyper-converged infrastructure that underlies any of these modes of cloud deployment needs the ability to not only present the hardware resources to those workloads coherently but also to maintain and manage the lifecycle of those same components as they change according to the needs of the cloud services and workloads. Not to mention, it needs the ability to manipulate both the physical network and software-defined network topology and configuration in context.
5) Quality global hardware and solution support can resolve a problem in minutes versus days…or never. Support is a pain point for many organizations, but with complementary hardware and software, it doesn’t have to be. If you elect to build your own HCI solution, you should expect to deal with your own internal support plus multiple third-party hardware and software vendors. Alternatively, if you consume HCI as a turnkey solution, you may work with just two support teams (one for hardware and one for software) or even just one support team for everything if the solution was jointly engineered, requiring fewer points of contact in a time of need.
When it comes to HCI, look ahead to the future of your business. Think of the business outcomes you want to achieve including to drive revenue and growth, speed development, and stay ahead of your competitors. No matter what your goals are, a modernized IT architecture will be key to achieving them.