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Evaluating hyper-converged architectures: Five key CIO considerations

Simplicity and cost savings are among the benefits of hyper-converged architectures, but the biggest draw for CIOs may be how these systems make IT teams more business-ready.

Plain IT convergence offers IT organizations a major convenience -- integrated and pre-assembled stacks of heterogeneous vendor infrastructure, including servers, storage and networking gear, that help accelerate new deployments and quickly support fast-growing applications.

But IT hyper-convergence goes farther to integrate IT infrastructure into simple modular appliances. Where pre-converged racks of infrastructure can provide good value to enterprises that would otherwise buy and assemble component vendor equipment themselves, hyper-converged architectures present a larger opportunity to not only simplify IT infrastructure and save on capital expenditures (CAPEX) but also help transform IT staff from internally focused legacy data center operators into increasingly agile, business-facing service providers.

With hyper-converged architectures, IT organizations can shift focus towards helping accelerate and enable business operations and applications, because they don't spend as much time on, for example, silo troubleshooting, stack integration and testing, and traditional data protection tasks. The decision to adopt hyper-converged architectures is therefore something that business folks will see and appreciate directly through increased IT agility, cloud-like IT services, realistic BC/DR, and a greatly improved IT cost basis.

The case for hyper-converged architectures

The decision to adopt hyper-converged architectures is therefore something that business folks will see and appreciate directly through increased IT agility, cloud-like IT services, realistic BC/DR, and a greatly improved IT cost basis.

Hyper-converged solutions take advantage of software-defined resources that run inside the server in place of external physical storage and networking. Because computing continues to become more powerful, dense, and commodity priced, hyper-converged vendors can host everything in the same box, including an embedded hypervisor. The resulting Lego™ like IT bricks of virtual machine hosting infrastructure make deployment, expansion, and support simple. For the stressed IT staff that can't afford to maintain silo management depth, hyper-converged architectures are easy to adopt. (But even in the best run IT shops on traditional architectures, migrating to hyper-convergence can still speed deployment, reduce both CAPEX and OPEX, and enable IT transformation.)

Hyper-converged architectures are essentially optimized virtual machine, machines. It's true that early hyper-converged solutions aligned well with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) applications. But with increasing virtualization in the data center, it makes less and less sense to run specialized physical architectures in favor of optimized virtual hosts. And many vendors are now aiming to deliver hyper-converged solutions for high-end databases, mission-critical applications and apps with Web/cloud scale-out requirements.

Five key benefits

For IT organizations analyzing the case for hyper-converged solutions, here are five key benefits.

    1. Fast deployment and easy management provides less risk to new project rollout, a one-step patch/upgrade process, and one-call support on the back end. The end user provisioning experience can be far more "cloud-like."
    2. CAPEX costs are predictable and OPEX is lower due to the simplified architecture, availability is high across the hyper-converged cluster. In addition:
          1. All infrastructure investment is pooled and shared preventing resource isolation and waste
          2. Additional layers of supporting infrastructure can be simplified or even eliminated (e.g. WAN optimization, backup targets, load balancers)
    3. With various sizes and formats of hyper-converged appliances, end users can expect and experience the same IT services everywhere -- in the data center, local branches, even in remote and branch offices (ROBOs).
    4. Data protection gets a boost from built-in backup, WAN optimization, and replication functions
    5. Quality of Service is "tunable." If performance is slow, one can add more performance tuned boxes; if capacity is low, one can add capacity nodes.

When to jump in

However, hyper-convergence is not for everyone -- or at least, not all at once. It is a complete new architecture requiring a wholesale infrastructure conversion. If your servers, storage, and networking are all looking dated, this might be exactly the best time to jump in with both feet.

Otherwise, look for initial and incremental hyper-convergence migration opportunities at the edges of the organization that aren't currently well served by existing silo-organized data center capabilities. We've seen success here quickly accelerated up and across enterprises as both IT and business leaders recognize the total beneficial impact.

About the author:

Mike Matchett is a senior analyst and consultant at Taneja Group, specializing in the management of IT data center solutions. Currently he is focused on IT optimization for virtualization and convergence across servers, storage and networks, especially to handle the requirements of mission-critical applications, big data analysis, and the next generation data center. He has worked at a senior level in services, marketing, and product management at companies ranging from Dell Storage and BMC to successful startups. Most recently he was a CTO/co-founder of a social media startup applying machine learning to augment human capability. He began his IT career implementing secure networks for federal agencies after serving as USAF intelligence officer in Desert Storm and receiving his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from MIT.

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