Managing data centre infrastructure has never been for the fainthearted. Siloed hardware, coupled with large data volumes and high-performance expectations, results in real challenges, with IT pros experiencing limited visibility into the performance of mission-critical business applications.
These perennial, though increasingly avoidable annoyances, explain why hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI)—a simplified IT framework providing a view of computing, storage, and networking in one flexible package—has become popular.
HCI is by no means the new kid on the block, and it’s going through a second spring right now.
In fact, vendors are billing it as the ultimate, easy-to-manage, plug-and-play data centre strategy. And widescale proliferation of HCI shows no signs of slowing, with a report published by Technavio forecasting the global HCI market size to will grow by US$24.56 billion during 2019 – 2023.
Best of all, since HCI has entered the mainstream, its popularity is spurring more and more vendors to simplify management, enable integration, and become more affordable.
However, HCI architecture isn’t unicorn magic. Organizations making the switch need to be mindful of what it can and can’t achieve.
A Data Centre Evolution
HCI is the next stage of data centre evolution following its predecessor, converged infrastructure (CI). CI resolved many issues facing the management of traditional data centre infrastructure—simplifying the deployment, management, and monitoring of storage, network, and compute components.
But under the covers, CI remains discrete components flying in close formation. Instead, HCI rejects bespoke customization, with components that can’t be separated by design. HCI presents and configures all these resources as a single mechanism via the HCI management layer.
Coupled with streamlining key data centre components, HCI helps overcome one of the longstanding challenges presented by traditional data centre infrastructure—the ability to scale without increasing complexity.
Supported by commodity hardware, single-vendor communication, and software-defined elements, enterprises can expand and adapt based on their individual needs and changing demands. Perhaps HCI has cloud to thank. Enterprises have realized future scalability benefits are enhanced by taking advantage of modern virtualization in the age of software-defined everything.
Entry costs may also interest IT pros in an HCI approach, as the need for large, intertwined infrastructure purchases can be diminished.
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Equally, due to its modularity and reconfigurability, enterprises can start small and grow resources as needed, expanding capacity by deploying additional modules.
And those advantages aren’t lost on Azure and AWS, who’ve developed Azure Stack and Amazon Outpost as their HCI flavours for on-premises workloads.
Simplifying environments, reducing costs, increasing manageability, scaling flexibly, increasing operations automation, all while reducing the need for specialized domain expertise, makes for an attractive new IT option.
But beware rushing headfirst into hyperconverged infrastructure. It’s crucial for enterprises to set out a clear path for deployment. The trick is learning how and when HCI can be employed most effectively and efficiently in your unique environment.
Visibility Fueled by Insight
As all elements are virtualized and software defined, IT pros are empowered to centrally manage applications—the focus of modern IT.
It allows admins to make more time for innovation and troubleshooting by delegating (most) details of systems, networks, and other resources to HCI architecture.
This approach significantly improves the management of hybrid cloud environments and optimizes the delivery of business applications without hindering performance.
But HCI cannot achieve this alone—adoption should be fed by new insights HCI provides if enabled. “Visibility is crucial” makes for a handy IT pro mantra when replacing traditional infrastructure with a sleek new HCI solution. As with migrating to cloud, there’s no substitute for the performance metrics of your application.
You know your apps well, especially if you’ve been watching them on-premises for years. But only after migrating will you unexpected production performance effects reveal themselves, good or bad.
Make sure your application components are well-instrumented before and after migration, then compare and adjust. Only rarely will the comparison be like for like.
The application performance management included with HCI generally provides basic visibility across the resources under HCI’s purview.
However, as with any single vendor’s tech, enterprises and IT pros quickly find included “free” monitoring lacking when troubleshooting past basic HCI infrastructure.
As has been the case in IT for decades, an agnostic toolset with HCI awareness provides added granularity and insight needed to understand and compare performance throughout the data centre.
Again, monitoring and comparing historical performance of an application and its dependences following re-platform isn’t just reassuring—it’s how leadership proves the ROI of HCI in the first place.
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The critical reason into why this clear view is so important is poor visibility can negatively affect the end-user experience—as is the case with any new technology.
The unique difference with HCI is a lack of visibility can prove costly, leading to the over-provisioning of resources and wasted capital expenditures.
It’s not uncommon for enterprises to purchase more HCI infrastructure than they need, much to the delight of some HCI sales teams.
Without full visibility, the organization will never know they’re paying over the odds for more HCI than they need.
Data centre management can be a complex and laborious task. But, with the advent of hyperconverged environments boasting enhanced efficiencies through automation and a simplified view of application and network performance, this will soon change for the better.
But enterprises mustn’t fall victim to the hype. While HCI is, in theory, an out-of-the-box solution, it requires new expertise and insight for an enterprise to scale and allocate resources and realise its true potential.
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