Hyperconvergence brings in the future


HCI (hyper converged infrastructure) is largely being seen as the next phase in the journey towards software defined dynamic infrastructure and offers more benefits than converged infrastructure. HCI, with a software defined interface on top of commodity hardware, offers a shared pool of compute, storage and networking resources. It promises to do away with the limitations of silos of IT infrastructure and vendor lock-in.

According to Gartner, HCIS will be the fastest-growing segment of the overall market for integrated systems and the market for hyperconverged integrated systems (HCIS) will grow 79 % to reach almost $2 billion in 2016, propelling it toward mainstream use in the next five years.

Anand Chakravarthi, Area Vice President – Middle East Sales at Pivot3 says, “Converged infrastructure provided an on-ramp to more comprehensive, software-defined solutions like hyperconvergence. While enterprise-sized companies have typically been the most aggressive with adopting converged infrastructure, some SMBs have bought in as well, seeking benefits of agility and lower capital expenditures. But IT professionals still face certain problems with converged infrastructure – for one, lack of visibility and control of their own environments, also vendor lock-in and being forced to buy more than what they need, which drives up costs and consumes valuable floor/rack space.”

Hyperconvergence, while still in the early stages of adoption in the Middle East, is seen as the next logical step in the evolution of software-defined infrastructure. It radically simplifies data management, provides a single shared resource pool, and goes beyond servers and storage to make many legacy services like data protection products such as backup and replication obsolete, opines Anand.

He adds, “Customers in the region are very sensitive about their data and HCI is a great platform with low TCO, much lesser datacenter footprint, as gateway for their local secure system for critical data; non-critical mass data can then be moved to the cloud. Such tiers help the customer achieve the best return of their investment and data security.

Shams Hasan, Enterprise Product Manager, Dell Middle East says that there is a common misconception in the industry that to take advantage of Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) opportunities Customers need to have experience and/or, adoptions and implementations of conventional “converged infrastructure” but this is far from true.

He adds, “HCI solutions usually come in a package of their own – for example the Dell PowerEdge XC series offers appliances that come bundled with Dell’s globally recognized rack-server technology and Nutanix’s software to provide Customers a best-of-breed HCI solutions.  So, HCI solutions actually offer customers who may not have yet taken advantage of conventional “converged infrastructure” solutions the opportunity to leap-frog the trend and go straight to HCI.”

Kartik Shankar, Senior Sales Manager, StorIT Distribution doesn’t pick sides and opines that says that converged and hyper converged infrastructure both help efficiently manage resource-hungry software applications, which is why many regional organizations are adopting either of these approaches. He elaborates that both approaches have their pros and cons but must be chosen wisely to meet specific requirements.

He adds, “In converged infrastructure approach, best-in-class of compute, network, storage and server virtualization products are engineered together to address solutions that require ultimate flexibility and massive growth. These solutions are managed, maintained, serviced and supported by a single vendor. Due to its standardization, most of the time it becomes very difficult to add additional aspects and variants of a traditional datacenter other than its core aspects. However, this is compensated with robustness and reliability. Whereas, Hyper converged infrastructure (HCI) is a software defined approach towards converged infrastructure, which make it easier to add different traditional datacenter aspects. However, it cannot handle solution requiring highest flexibility and it can turn into an expensive approach for requirements with massive scalability. So it is very important to analyze the requirements, before opting for either converged or hyper converged infrastructure.”

Adoption rates in the region might be modest at the moment but the awareness is growing about the advantages that HCI offers.

Anand adds, “In terms of regional dynamics, every customer we have met is keen to evaluate HCI; they may not be deploying HCI presently, but they are definitely aware of the trend and potential benefits of aligning IT with business strategy. Those who have deployed, with the help of dynamic solutions from Pivot3, are now more aware of the capability to expand beyond singular use cases and into running multiple workloads in addition to VDI, server virtualization, remote office and backup and disaster recovery on the same hyperconverged system.”

Why HCI?

Customers moving to HCI are doing so to gain increased data efficiency, resource utilization, simplicity of federated management and the flexibility to merge with existing infrastructure.

Anand adds, “While to many in the industry, there’s a thin line between converged and HCI, converged still has some limitations. Converged systems typically include just server and storage resource components and don’t solve fundamental data management challenges – essentially, it still provides the functionality of traditional storage array, merely migrated into a virtualization platform. Converged also doesn’t provide the levels of performance and efficiency needed to break the chains of siloes in legacy IT environments.”

As business are becoming more data-driven and workloads are becoming increasingly more diverse, digital technology opportunities for the business require significantly faster response times in terms of every phase- planning, acquiring, testing and deployment. These business realities put higher pressure on the IT function to enable business innovation amidst even more un-predictable capacity and cost expectations, whilst ensuring higher rates of success on innovation, risk, and gambles. HCI offers this advantage to start small and scale with requirements.

Shams adds, “Un-predictability in any system is managed through good strategies of low-upfront costs and ability to grow rapidly as business demands grow.  HCI beats conventional “converged infrastructure” in two key dimensions as it has the ability to start small, which has the advantage of low up-front CAPEX; and it has the ability to grow at a much more granular scale, which gives customers better control of the budget and ability to align technology growth to business workloads.”

Converged and hyper converged infrastructure approach gives the customers more control on their IT environment compared to the traditional approach. It helps IT resources to spend more time to enhance their business by planning and deploying new IT initiatives rather than getting involved in less technical activities like break and fix, trouble shooting, evaluating individual components of the datacenter for compatibility etc.

Kartik elaborates, “The primary benefits of converged/hyper converged infrastructure solution include centralized management, better control and simplification of IT resources management, which in turn reduces the manpower and time required to manage these resources. It offers reduced initial deployment time (from 6-8 months to a few weeks) so that the software projects can go live much faster, and the faster provisioning of resources (from month to couple of hours). Scalability, cost effectiveness and reduced foot print in data centers are other key factors as well as improved operational efficiency, service and support.”

Blend or replace?

Costs could be a bottleneck in these times of economic challenges confronting most sectors globally and regionally. However, this technology upgrade would give them resources to address some of the economic challenges, as some early adopters are arguably already realizing the benefits.

As Anand elaborates, cost will always be a factor for customers, but the bottom line is that they’ve already invested in an infrastructure expansion or upgrade. So rather than turning their backs on their existing IT investments, they can start small and scale out as needed, effectively implementing an HCI environment with one box and build towards a more software-defined infrastructure over time.

He add, “As we’ve seen with converged, there’s often a requisite ‘rip and replace’ operation involved. When adopting a hyperconverged strategy, customers need to be on the lookout for these capabilities that allow them to blend in and phase out separate server and storage, effectively buying what they need when they need it.”

He claims that Pivot3 are probably the only HCI vendor that coexist with existing infrastructure.

“It should be mentioned that not all HCI vendors can offer the level of scalability that Pivot3 does – as you add to the HCI system, Pivot3 scales out for both or either compute and storage, most competing HCI vendors can’t do that. This is why Pivot3 is enabling the reality of the software-defined data center – it’s not something that happens overnight, it’s a journey that requires building blocks and linear scalability controlled by the customer.”

Shams says that customers with good IT planning and strategy practices find that transitions to HCI is actually not expensive at all, even effectively zero delta compared to any data-center evolution, upgrade, or refresh.  A container strategy is a key approach to introducing HCI into existing infrastructure. That is because HCI solutions are often deployed for specific workload needs and hence can be “mutually exclusive” to the rest of the compute infrastructure stack.

He further opines, “Customers with long-term relationships with Dell take advantage of the seamless systems management and interaction across the different technologies – racks, conventional “converged infrastructure’, and HCI – to be able to embrace New IT trends (such as HCI) as part of their regular data-center evolution, upgrades, and refreshes. Bringing the right vision, ensuring a broad approach, and affording customers the broadest portfolio of the most trusted hyper-converged infrastructure solutions ensures our customers have zero bottle-neck to New IT trend adoptions.”

Kartik comments that container based deployments with HCI are seeing an increased demand as this solution will produce the most flexible application packaging with HCI becoming the foundation as it provides great flexibility and a combination of resources for cloud services.

He adds,HCI deployments can be done without a ‘rip and replace’ strategy. The solution can be introduced into existing environments as part of normal technology refresh cycles, where it could refresh and replace all traditional IT components as individual refreshes over a period of time.

However, Anand opines that whether container- or block-based, these aren’t broad level options customers consider when they are exploring their options or making a decision. He elaborates on concerns that customers need to address through their enquiries before deciding to go for a HCI solution.

He says, “While HCI simplifies and shortens application life cycle management, which container-based deployments also contribute to, it really depends on what workloads customers want to run. In this sense, certain questions to ask when considering HCI vendors are if it allow you to prioritize storage performance to critical workloads and can it scale granularly alongside data center needs; does it offer assurance levels to ensure that critical services and applications are not impacted in extreme demand scenarios and does it have the built-in ability to deploy multiple, mixed workloads on a hyperconverged platform as well as standalone flash torage products.”

There are solutions for SMB customers as well to choose from and gives them benefits of enterprise features and scalability as growth demands. As Shams opines, HCI is particularly good for SMB customers because it has the ability to start small and has the ability to grow at a much more granular scale, giving customers better control of the budget and ability to align technology growth to business workloads.

Karthik says, “Even though the hyper-convergence approach is largely associated with large enterprises, HCI is a good option for SMBs as it removes IT complexity, reduces operational costs, increases scalability and agility and saves times and valuable resources. HCI offers SMBs a software defined and scalable method of deploying virtualised IT workloads thus offering them the benefits of the cloud to the premises. While HCI solutions are seeing a demand from Government, oil & gas and banking, in the past two years, there have been more opportunities in SMB and mid-market segments as well.”

StorIT represents some leading vendors when it comes to hyper converged infrastructure as well as converged infrastructure and open platform converged infrastructure. The distributor promotes EMC VxRail, a fully integrated, preconfigured, and pre-tested VMware hyper-converged infrastructure appliance family.

Pivot3 offers a hyperconverged solution for small-to-medium organizations in the commercial, government and education markets.

Anand adds, “HCI makes available all the features and benefits typically only found in enterprise SAN and virtual server environments for the SMB market. They can realize the benefits of enterprise IT capabilities, including shared storage, server consolidation and built-in failover, at a cost-effective price point and without the need for advanced IT skills.”

Taking to market

More leading vendors are taking their HCI solutions to market and one can expect more announcements as this technology gains further ground.

Dell claims its hyper-converged infrastructure portfolio in alliance with leading brands, offers customers the industry’s only single source for the broadest portfolio of the most trusted hyper-converged infrastructure solutions.

Shams says, “In April this year, Dell announced improved performance on the Dell PowerEdge XC Series, the industry’s first Nutanix-powered systems,in addition to being able to resell the latest EMC hyper-converged offerings including VCE VxRail Appliance Family, VCE VxRack Node and VCE VxRack System 1000 FLEX.  Dell’s channel partners have access to the broadest portfolio of HCI solutions, as well as industry leading services and support.”

Pivot3 which  been present in the region for over five years now with several key customers, has significantly expanded enterprise IT channel initiatives over the past year. The company recently hired a large regional distributor to take its enterprise HCI and PCIe Flash storage business to the channel and has ramped up its channel engagement and partner discussions.

“We have an aggressive channel strategy with many partner programs planned throughout the end of the year and into 2017. With the flexibility, performance, scalability and availability in the solutions that Pivot3 offer tied to the several hardware platforms that we can support, provides the IT channel the flexibility to offer solutions to their customer’s unique workloads that fit the business requirements in the most cost effective way.”

Concurrently, as more vendors bring to market solutions based on HCI and as more customers realize the benefits of moving towards software defined infrastructure, HCI will gain further traction in the next couple of years.