Keeping up with accelerated growth of business applications and the massive amount of data they create is a colossal challenge. Traditionally, this was handled by deploying IT resources in a silo-like model. This meant that one set of resources would be dedicated to one specific technology, business application or line of business. The glaring disadvantage with this approach was that, it rendered organizations incapable of support varying usage loads. They were forced to adopt a single configuration based on a set of raw assumptions with no scope for flexibility.
This inordinate lack of agility further led to rapidly increasing operation costs and lost productivity. Furthermore, it also meant that organizations could not afford new IT initiatives.
Where do Converged Infrastructure and Hyper Converged Infrastructure fit into this rather depressing picture?
First, a quick introduction to both these terms:
These are integration systems which package different hardware and IT components into a single box to cater to the data center needs of a modern business. They are the plug and play version of a data center appliance. Typically, the creation of additional capacity would take considerable time and effort, involving complicated purchase and integration decisions, making converged and hyper-converged infrastructure an ideal choice for businesses
Converged and Hyper-converged Infrastructure are the latest buzzwords in the data center world. They are changing the organization of data center infrastructure in different ways.
CI (Converged Infrastructure) combines the 4 key components of a data-center – compute, storage, networking and server virtualization – onto a single appliance while Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) integrates these four components through software. Converged infrastructure (CI) is more flexible than its hyper-converged variant, and that is its key differentiator.
To understand which one is for you, it is important to know how they simplify the creation of data center infrastructure and how they are different:
Converged & Hyper-Converged – A Deep Dive:
Converged Infrastructure is simply a way to package IT infrastructure like servers, storage and networking into a single optimized computing solution, along with software for system orchestration and management. The result is accelerated application delivery and increased operational efficiency. This architecture is generally used to centralize and manage IT resources, consolidate systems and improve resource utilization rate. They also allow the easy establishment of private cloud service delivery. All of these features are available also at a lower cost when compared with the traditional mode of adding data center capacity.
Converged Infrastructure brings about cost efficiencies in multiple ways:
- Eliminating the need to invest on facilities such as space, air conditioning, power, cabling and so on.
- There is increased storage, network hardware, CPU utilization and virtualization, which directly results in cost savings
- It brings together both storage and compute into one dynamic and robust tool. This diminishes deployment and support costs and also simplifies overall management and maintenance.
On the other hand, hyper-converged infrastructure which is a neologism of CI is a software driven integration of a similar architecture. It provides integration, flexibility in scaling and crash management options, through virtualization and automation mechanisms. It is enabled by software driven integration of different IT components along with storage, networking, virtualization and computing infrastructure.
Use case scenarios:
An established business enterprise might opt for CI to reduce cost and operational inefficiencies. CI devices which are subject to rigorous testing for interoperability ensure high reliability and are perfect to run big platform applications such as Enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, customer relationship management (CRM) applications and others.
Molina healthcare, was able to leverage converged infrastructure to successfully save time and resources. They were also able to avoid any outages due to data overload in their demanding mission-critical application.
A young company, on the other hand, might opt for design that is not as flexible but is more abstracted to reap time and maintenance efficiencies. HCI can be used to build web-scale data centers, but not everyone needs that kind of capacity. Enterprises should consider technical and business drivers beyond scaling when opting for hyper-converged infrastructure. For instance, Agilis Networks, who were on the hunt for a robust, responsive platform and storage system for its customer facing services opted for HCI to support all of their external B2B applications.
Advantages of CI:
- Single vendor end to end support.
- Accelerated and simplified data center deployment with very few errors.
- Boost in performance and resource utilization.
- Common management interface without trial and error tuning.
Disadvantages of CI:
- Though vendor handles the integration, users still have to pay for the proprietary hardware and management software.
- Technology updates become slower due to the rigorous testing that such devices are subject to. A new processor may be out for months before it is integrated into a CI device.
Advantages of HCI:
- Cloud bursting or disaster management options come handy with HCI.
- Seamless management and expansion options of computing, storage and networking devices.
- Numerous services can be integrated like backup, data duplication, WAN acceleration and SSD storage or cache.
Disadvantages of HCI:
- Capacity expansion is simply the addition of more boxes rather than application-driven architecture.
- The data center will not have the flexibility of choosing the vendor management software that is best suited for a particular application.
Converged or Hyper-Converged? Which one is for you?
While both systems include storage, networking and compute in one package, converged systems have some additional advantages.
The choice mainly comes down to one factor: Amount of flexibility required.
Both systems make virtualization easy by providing pre-defined combinations of matched hardware components that are tested for interoperability.
CI adopts a hardware-based approach to virtualization, whereas a HCI is actually a software-defined infrastructure built on top of physical components. This extra software layer takes some of the flexibility available with CI systems from HCI systems.
The components in a CI system can be used to accomplish a common goal, or each can be deployed to a different purpose. In HCI systems, software governs how the individual components are used.
Another advantage that CI systems offer is the ability to use a reference architecture, which involves the use of existing or new hardware to build the equivalent of a pre-built converged system. EMC offers such a reference architecture with EVO: RAIL
Whether you are using building block or reference architecture approach, CI systems are less expensive compared to HCI as there are no added software costs. Some HCI supporters argue that the initial higher costs associated with HCI are offset by the lower maintenance costs in long run.
In the end, the choice between CI and HCI comes down to its utility for the application in question. Well established or web-scale Giants have to decide whether they prefer the standardized and standalone infrastructure design of CI systems or the lower overall maintenance costs of HCI. If a more detailed evaluation of which system would best suit your enterprise and application is needed, using a IT resources expert to help you is the way forward.