Organizations have become increasingly reliant on technology, and traditional storage area network (SAN) infrastructure is struggling to meet today’s IT demands.
Since the current SAN architecture is getting complex and difficult to administer, it cannot scale effectively or flexibly to keep up with the rapidly changing IT requirements of modern SaaS and similar applications. As a result, IT teams spend too much time and resources provisioning, operating, and maintaining an insufficient infrastructure for the businesses’ current or future needs.
You can reduce the complexity of today’s data centers by using hyper converged infrastructure (HCI). This blog introduces the idea of HCI and then goes into the details of how it works, its benefits, and how modern enterprises can benefit from an HCI solution.
Let’s start with the basics.
Table Of Content
- Why Are Current Datacenter Designs Getting Obsolete?
- So, What is Hyper-converged Infrastructure?
- Who Invented Hyper-converged Infrastructure?
- How Hyper-converged Infrastructure Works?
- What Does Hyper-converged Infrastructure Include?
- The Benefits of Hyper-converged Infrastructure
- The Drawbacks of Hyper-converged Infrastructure
- Uses of Hyper-converged Infrastructure
- Why is Backup A Necessity with Hyper-converged Infrastructure
Why Are Current Datacenter Designs Getting Obsolete?
Business organizations are constantly on the lookout for new IT capabilities to improve the efficiency of their operational procedures. At the same time, when investing in any new IT infrastructure (addition or upgrade), the cost and efficiency of the systems are crucial factors to consider.
Data centers are a crucial element in operational workload management for internal business applications. Data centers offer the computing, storage, and networking resources needed to run business operations, internal applications, and any interfaces with third-party applications.
While the rise of cloud computing has significantly impacted the architecture of data centers, some data and processes are still best suited for on-premises data centers. For instance, public clouds may only always be appropriate for storing and processing critical and confidential data. But, again, on-premises data centers are too costly to build and operate.
So, What is Hyper Converged Infrastructure?
Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) has been introduced as a new data center architecture to address the drawbacks of the earlier infrastructure designs.
It’s a software-centric data center architecture that unifies all elements of traditional data centers, such as computation, storage, networking, and virtualization, into a single unit. This architecture design minimizes the complexity of running a data center and can be scaled as required by the scale of business operations.
In a typical HCI design, the connections between computing, storage, and other resources are made using software tools, as opposed to the conventional hardware-based architecture. All software that supports hyper-convergence runs on the industry standard x86 servers, with hypervisors used for virtualization in HCI.
As a result, a hyper-converged server is a hardware device that contains all components required to run a hyper-converged data center, including computing, storage, and networking components. HCI can be implemented using servers purchased from a single vendor or setting up software tools on existing hardware components.
While the hardware-based HCI implementation provides higher integration and optimization capabilities, the standalone software approach cuts the hardware cost.
Organizations adopt HCI because of a simplified architecture that supports cloud integration and lower operational prices. According to a report by Allied Market Research, in 2018, the HCI market size was valued at $3.18 billion, and they predict that it will reach $33.16 billion by 2026.
Who Invented Hyper Converged Infrastructure?
It is unclear who invented the phrase “hyper-converged infrastructure” and where and when it was first used.
The idea of convergence was first developed to solve the problems with the 3-2-1 design, which grouped hardware components into clusters. Before the development of hyper-converged infrastructure, IT infrastructure management teams would combine several pieces of hardware and software to create a converged infrastructure (CI) as a collection of technologies.
Organizations needed efficiency, stability, and scalability, which old infrastructure could not offer, as dependence on technology increased to keep up with changing business requirements. Hyper-converged infrastructure is a development that tackles the storage and complexity issues in ever-expanding data centers.
Although it is unknown where the phrase “hyper-converged infrastructure” first appeared, Nutanix is thought to have been the first IT company to release Complete Cluster, an HCI-specific product, in 2011.
The Difference Between Converged and Hyper Converged Infrastructure
Converged Infrastructure (CI) is a data center management architecture that incorporates HCI-like elements like computation, storage, and networking. Additionally, CI offers data center management solutions that are both effective and affordable, regardless of the data center architecture used.
Both CI and HCI aim to simplify data center operations, but they also differ in some ways. Remember that HCI is not meant to take the role of CI. The fundamental distinction between the two systems is that while CI is hardware-based and uses pre-configured components, HCI uses a software-defined approach.
The parts must be integrated even if the same company supplies CI’s hardware and software. Each component is separable, allowing for the reuse of a server or storage component removed from the CI system. These parts function separately and can be scaled up or down to meet shifting business needs.
Because it is implemented as a virtualized environment, the software-defined method used in HCI provides complete integration between components. HCI is more adaptable and scalable when compared to CI. Additional compute and memory capacity can be introduced within the system, either by adding components to the existing infrastructure or by adding new units (by deploying new servers).
How Hyper Converged Infrastructure Works?
To the surprise of many, hyper-convergence is more of a marketing phrase than technical jargon. A downside of this is that finding a standard definition or standard guidelines to implement an HCI system is not easy. In fact, you can find several vendors that provide HCI solutions to customers.
Here’s an example of a vendor delivering HCI solutions.
Using cutting-edge server management software called vCenter server, VMware, one of the top providers of HCI solutions, converted the industry-standard x86 servers and direct-attached storage into HCI.
The vSphere hypervisor, vCenter server, and vSAN, an enterprise-class storage option, makeup VMware’s HCI solution. The underlying resources are abstracted and dynamically allocated to a virtual machine-based application through virtualization software. LUNs, volumes, and data services are no longer maintained (or needed), thanks to VMware’s storage policy system, called Storage Policy-Based Management (SPBM).
Rules are used to build policies that specify performance and availability. Virtual machines can be governed under these policies, which can be modified when the needs change. To reduce the volume (and thus costs) of storage attached to the HCI solution, vSAN can conduct compression and deduplication.
Let’s take another example:
Distribution and management are the two key components of Nutanix’s HCI platform, another popular HCI solutions vendor. The distributed solution provides networking, virtualization, and storage services for guest applications over a cluster of nodes. The entire HCI solution can be managed from a single location that can be a node within the HCI infrastructure.
What Does Hyper Converged Infrastructure Include?
An HCI platform is a software-defined platform that’s made up of four primary software elements:
Storage virtualization: In HCI design, physical storage is abstracted from several storage devices to make it appear that there’s a single large storage device.
Compute virtualization: This component appears as a virtual replica of the compute-related hardware, operating systems, and computer networks. In some cases, the storage devices are also virtualized in this component.
Networking virtualization: The physical network resources are pooled and made to function as either a single virtual network or a number of separate virtual networks. This virtual setup greatly increases network performance.
Unified (simple) management: This critical component makes it possible to locate, collect, and provide storage, computation, and networking resources to workloads regardless of their location.
The Benefits of Hyper Converged Infrastructure
HCI’s software-defined methodology and highly virtualized environment offer enterprises various unique advantages, including:
HCI offers centralized and simplified management by connecting various hardware components into a single physical appliance. As a result, all data center activities may be controlled from a single control location.
IT teams need to add new resources to the infrastructure as the business requirements grow and change. Thanks to the software-based approach, new nodes can be quickly added to the cluster, and HCI software recognizes and integrates them.
HCI uses effective data management techniques like self-encrypting discs, deduplication, and snapshotting. Additionally, HCI offers options for backup and disaster recovery, enabling a high level of data security.
Due to the complexity of hardware-based data center systems, full automation is challenging to achieve. However, HCI’s software-defined design enables simple data center automation, either at the control layer or through a dedicated layer that operates at the top of the HCI management layer.
The cost of electricity, hardware, maintenance, and support can be decreased because the HCI combines computation, storage, and networking components into a single unit.
The Drawbacks of Hyper-converged Infrastructure
We talked about the strengths of HCI solutions. Let’s now examine the negative aspects. There is a handful that is noteworthy:
HCI provides both compute-centric and storage-centric nodes. However, when you increase linearly, typically by adding a new node, you must buy a small amount of all computational resources. The price might be higher than expanding a storage array with discs.
While having a single vendor may be an HCI advantage, using several vendors also has benefits. Other suppliers might have more appealing features at competitive costs. Utilizing alternative technologies and providers could be challenging if you are committed to a single HCI solution. When selecting an HCI solution, ensure you are well-informed of the roadmap and upgrade guidelines.
(Lack of) External Hardware Connectivity
Nearly all servers today can be virtualized. However, physical servers and clusters are still sometimes needed. In these circumstances, some hyper-converged systems can expose block storage through iSCSI. However, other hyper-converged solutions can cause silos in your infrastructure. In contrast, a single SAN array can easily support both a physical and virtual environment. Additionally, only some hyper-converged systems support connection to pre-existing storage arrays.
Uses of Hyper Converged Infrastructure
A standard 3-tiered architecture, which uses discrete servers, storage, and networking components, presents problems that HCI intends to address.
The traditional three-tiered structures are:
Expensive to build
Challenging to scale
Not adaptable enough to satisfy the demands of today’s applications
HCI simplifies the complexity, expense, and danger of traditional infrastructure by:
Matching policies to workloads instead of using segregated hardware structures.
Using automation to deliver services more efficiently
Offering the solution through a single interface allows consistent and extendable management throughout the platform, reducing complexity.
Why is Backup A Necessity with Hyper Converged Infrastructure
Although the native hypervisors on HCI systems can take snapshots, they are not backups in and of themselves. A snapshot saves the data of a virtual machine (VM), including its power status, disc, RAM, virtual network interface cards (virtual NICs/vNICs), and files, as a point-in-time virtual duplicate.
Before executing system updates, altering installed software, or installing/uninstalling additional components, snapshots are widely utilized as a failsafe rollback point. Since they may be used frequently in a “rinse and repeat” manner during software development and validation cycles, they are helpful for development purposes.
Because they are stored on the same array as production data and are not protected from disc failures, hardware issues, or assaults against the array, snapshots are not dependable backups.
Snapshots are not meant to be used as backups, according to best practices from VMware, one of the biggest hypervisor providers on the market. Some of the limitations are as follows:
VMware recommends an aggregate of 32 backups in a sequence. They recommend 2-3 for optimal results.
Individual snapshots should not be used for more than 24 hours and 72 hours.
The size of snapshot files grows as the snapshot is kept longer. System performance suffers, and storage locations may run out of space faster.
In contrast, backup files are generated separately from the virtual machine. Although most current backup technologies use VM snapshots to copy data, they are not dependent on the snapshot staying in place.
A backup creates a stable copy of the VM for recovery purposes. Backups are easily downloaded and saved on additional storage or copied to another destination to be stored in a relaxed state, quickly ready for recovery.
Backups are critical to business continuity because they allow recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs) to be met. Snapshots do not guarantee either of these goals.
Using hyper-converged architecture, your server and storage systems are combined into a single, easy-to-manage solution that can be easily hosted on off-the-shelf hardware. This provides significant savings in operational expenses, such as power and cooling expenditures.
The hyper-converged infrastructure comprises NAS, SAN, and S3 object storage and support for industry-standard hypervisors. Hyper-converged solutions include SCVMM Virtual Storage
Devices and built-in cloud connectivity to public and private clouds. As a result, they are an excellent choice of infrastructure for SMBs, SMEs, and large organizations.
Q. What is the purpose of hyper-converged infrastructure?
Hyperconverged infrastructure is commonly used for streamlining and simplifying VDI, enabling complex IT and storage requirements while being cost-effective. They’re also used to set up edge computing infrastructure with no specialized on-site IT teams.
Q. Do HCI systems provide their own hypervisor?
In most cases, hyper-converged infrastructure combines computation, networking, storage, and virtualization into a single system. Hyperconverged platforms often run on conventional off-the-shelf servers and contain a hypervisor for virtualized computing, software-defined storage, and virtualized networking.
Q. What do hyper-converged solutions rely on?
Converged solutions rely on hardware and use many standard IT products with simplified design and administration. Hyper-converged systems employ hardware-agnostic software, whereas converged solutions rely on hardware and use many custom-built IT products with complicated architecture and management.
Q. What are the principles of hyper-converged infrastructure?
The most critical principle for the hyper-converged infrastructure is that it is hardware virtualized by software. Infrastructure activities are separated from physical hardware, and all hyper-converged infrastructure components must work together for optimal performance.