What is Hyper-Convergence?

Hyper-convergence is a software-centric architecture, or HCI (hyper-converged infrastructure) for short. It integrates compute, storage and virtualization resources in a single system that is generally powered by stacks of x86 hardware.

Let’s Take a Step Back

To power an IT solution you need basic building blocks, like LEGOs that we often use around the office as a quick way to visualize in tangible ways what we are trying to build. Essentially at the end of the day, that’s really what an IT system is: just a machine to do work.  The building blocks are Compute (CPU and Memory), Communication (Network) and Storage (Disk or Solid State).

Data centers through the years have been built within silos that are separated into these concepts and each has its own administrator. They build storage area networks that are managed by storage admin, switch and network controllers that are managed by network admin, and racks of flashing lights that perform the crunching operations to make things tick. Each silo has experts and tools to manage them separately – hyper-convergence is what occurs when your combine them.

A hyper-converged platform typically integrates Compute, Storage and Communication within an intelligent, automated, software-defined data center (SDDC) management system, and software layer that defines the operational aspects of that infrastructure. Be mindful that just because it is an SDDC architecture, it is not necessarily hyper-converged.  It can still feature disparate, non-integrated hardware platforms and components which contradict the hyper-convergence definition.  A hyper-converged system allows the integrated technologies to be managed as a single system through a common tool set.  There are several startups, such as MaxtaNutanix and Pivot3 betting on hyper-convergence’s success. Its continuing maturity has larger server and storage vendors, such as Cisco, Dell EMC (including VMware), Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), Lenovo and NetApp, moving into the market so it is picking up steam.

So why is it important?

Hyper-convergence helps improve the management of virtual IT environments, serves as a building block for the cloud, and changes the roles of IT teams. Client’s should know exactly what they are getting when purchasing HCI, with a guarantee that the various components will work well together and are easily managed. When it is time to add and scale IT resources, the process should be as simple as buying and linearly plugging in another auto-discoverable node from your hyper-converged systems vendor.  Perhaps, most importantly of all, there is no longer a need for IT to separately manage and configure servers, storage, hyper-visors and network devices in a hyper-converged environment.

However…

It is important to note that HCI is not “the Cloud”. HCI can be seen as a stepping stone between x86 virtualization with a classic infrastructure stack and cloud computing. HCI has been focused on making the infrastructure easier to use, relieving the burden of shepherding individual clusters of hardware so we can focus on the workloads.  HCI stops there – it can be considered creating hyper-efficiency in a data center that can become a cloud enabler for organizations. HCI is about making today’s IT easier. It changes nothing about how workloads are used and very little about how the infrastructure is interacted with.