Hyper-Convergence Basics
Hyper-Convergence Basics

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to discuss Hyper-Convergence basics.  Hyper-convergence is generally defined as an IT framework that consists of a combination of computing, storage, and networking. Hyper-convergence was first used in 2012 by Arun Taneja, an analyst for the Taneja Group. This framework is intended to reduce the complexity of multiple systems, hence, converging all the essential parts in one single framework. Greatly increased scalability is also an added feature of a converged setup. Defined as Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), this framework is a virtual representation of the hardware components found in most data centers.

Components of a Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI)

HCI consists of a hypervisor, i.e. virtualized computing, software-defined networking (virtualized networking), and a virtualized software-defined storage. These are the main components of a hyper-converged infrastructure. In a nutshell, the IT framework presents a virtual existence of the hardware-based components.  Computing, storage, and networking are performed on a software-based setup in the same way that it would be done on a hardware system. The result of hyper-convergence is simplification when it comes to managing data centers.

Virtual Infrastructure and Software-defined Storage

The term software-defined storage (SDS), is a marketing term for software used to manage storage of data on virtual computers. This allows one to create storage policies, allocate resources and manage data without involving any kind of management hardware. SDS works by combining the storage capacity of multiple physical drives into one large storage pool.  This storage can then be assigned to different virtual machines as the situation dictates.  Software-define-storage can also control data and storage management policies across your virtual environment.  Policy management is often related to the de-duplication of data, replication of data, taking snapshots, thin provisioning, and backup. The implementation of software-defined storage can be done in addition to an existing storage area network (SAN), or by using network-attached storage (NAS) and/or traditional servers.

Working with HCI

Hyper-converged infrastructure combines storage, networking, and computing into a single graphical user interface (GUI). In order to run HCI, we must first create virtual servers in our hypervisor of choice.  The hypervisor, such as VMWare or Virtual Box, can be install on any Commercial Off-the-Shelf Servers (COTS). HCI infrastructure typically uses COTS for storage devices as well. Business-critical applications such as application servers, enterprise databases (such as Oracle and SQL), and Exchange Servers run perfectly on a hyper-converged infrastructure, all within one physical device.

In some cases, applications that need special hardware with complex specifications cannot be run on HCI. It’s important to thoroughly test all critical applications before investing in hyper-convergence.  Otherwise, HCI is capable of running almost all applications and operating systems and can be run on any x86 hardware. It supports Nutanix software-defined storage solutions, as Maxta and Pivot3.

These solutions produce a complete stack of infrastructure, including compute, storage, security, virtualization and networking. The ability to assign resources to applications on the fly can boost any application of any type to the desired scale. Another appliance under the category of hyper-convergence technology includes a VcRail.  VcRail makes use of VMware, VSphere, and a virtual SAN (VSAN).  This solution only requires 2U of rack space. This appliance consists of four nodes that host vSphere and each of the nodes contains its respective drives.

Difference between Converged Infrastructure and HCI

The main difference between simple converged systems and hyper-converged systems is that HCI integrates the computing, server, and networking components into nodes while in simple converged, these components remain distinct and are not combined into nodes. Multiple nodes can be combined in HCI to create pools of resources, simplifying resource management. Since resources cannot be pooled, in simple converged environments storage cannot be shared between all virtual machines. Finally, simple converged infrastructure works on hardware while HCI is software-based.

Benefits of Hyper-Convergence

The potential benefits of a hyper-converged system are many. The single greatest benefit, however is the single interface for managing compute, network, storage from a single interface that integrates into your hypervisor. All of your resources for both your hardware and software layers can be managed from a single place. When all the functional elements are consolidated at the hypervisor level, in combination with the federated management, this results in the elimination of the traditional inefficiencies which are normally incurred at data centers. This reduces the total cost of ownership for data centers. Since the concept of a single building block is used, HCI reduces the cost by consolidating many virtual resources in a single physical unit.

Hyper-convergence is also easy to implement into new and existing IT environments. That’s good news for the companies. They can begin with a small setup and then build the resources as their needs grow. And, the initial implementation requires less upfront investment and hardware than physical or simple converged systems. This can amount to significant savings in IT labor and consultation. Long term invest and administrative overhead for data center power and space, licenses, disaster recovery and backup are also greatly reduced.

Why HCI?

Given its tremendous benefits, HCI is becoming more common as companies look for more scalability, increased computation and easier storage management. As mentioned earlier, it can prove helpful for small businesses all the way up to large data centers. HCI is a definite option if companies want to evolve and grow without outgrowing their technical infrastructure. Further, as the need and usage of hybrid cloud environments continues to increase, so will the need for software based hyper-converged infrastructure to efficiently manage them.

The potential advantages of the hyper-converged system are summarized in the form of points below:

  • Scalability
  • Cost Efficiency
  • Agility
  • Data Protection
  • Software-defined Storage Integration
  • Pooling of Resources
  • Global Management
  • Policy-based Data Protection
  • Ease of Use
  • Less Administrative Overhead
  • Easy Implementation
  • Reduced Resource Load
  • No Architectural Requirements

Buying the Hyper-Converged Infrastructure and the Role of Vendor

Hyper-convergence can be implemented as a simply appliance, or a software-only model. HCI hardware and software can usually be purchased as either an integrated appliance or a package of hardware and software, from a single vendor. Nutanix, Dell EMC, and HPE/SimpliVity are among the popular vendors. When you receive an HCI-based appliance or Hyper-convergence software, setup is usually a simple affair and minimal effort is required for its installation and configuration. Your IT partner will make sure that the installation is completed correctly and that your resources are being properly allocated to your different VMs in your hypervisor.  Troubleshooting, maintenance and administration of your systems are usually available from your vendor ala carte or through a service plan.

Disadvantages of Hyper-Convergence

The biggest single draw back to implementing hyper-convergence is the lack of any standard configuration.  Since your hyper-converged solution will combine all your resources into a single system, you will be very dependent on a single vendor and their interpretation of what hyper-convergence should be.  Therefore, it is extremely important to properly vet your vendors and only do business with a trusted and experienced partner.

Other drawbacks can include the number of network ports required for implementation, sometimes using up to a total of eight.  Third-party integrations can also be a headache.

Conclusion

To sum up, we can conclude that, since computing needs differ greatly from system to system, a greater level of scalability is often needed.  HCI provides that, while also providing an easy, integrated management system and a superior licensing model. Whether it will be right for you and your organization can only be determined through stringent testing and consulting with your IT partners.  Still, it has worked brilliantly for many organizations and should be consider as a potential solution for your business.

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