The Ultimate Guide to Hyperconvergence

Published by on June 27, 2018 in Net Admin

The Ultimate Guide to Hyperconvergence

It is no secret that technology is evolving at an unprecedented rate. As applications and hardware have become more resource-intensive, traditional legacy infrastructure is struggling to keep up. Storage has become particularly complex, as IT professionals have found themselves constantly attempting to supplement their resources so that they don’t incur poor performance. Likewise, the disparate infrastructure used to maintain data centers has led to complex environments that are difficult to navigate with accuracy.

When it is difficult to navigate your infrastructure, it is next to impossible to incorporate any kind of scaling. Upscaling your infrastructure rests on being able to account for your current levels of usage, and at what point you need to up your storage threshold. As a result, hyperconvergence, and hyperconverged infrastructure have emerged as exciting new solutions.

Hyperconvergence is one of the most promising parts of the movement towards virtualizing IT resources. Whether it’s for increasing the scalability or performance of physical hardware, using hyperconvergence has become a go-to method of creating virtual abstractions of on the ground resources. In other words, the main method of achieving a software-defined data (SDDC).

What is Hyperconvergence and Hyperconverged infrastructure?

Hyperconvergence or hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a system that brings computing, storage, and networking together into one virtualized umbrella system. A hypervisor is used to conduct virtualized computing, networking and storage. Hyperconverged infrastructure offers a single point of management that can’t be replicated within a traditional hardware-based environment.

Physical resources have many limits in terms of scalability. Organizations are boxed in not just by the cost of purchasing new equipment but also space as well. Hyperconverged infrastructure allows organizations to allocate resources on a virtualized basis and sidestep the constraints that physical infrastructure poses.

Why is Hyperconverged infrastructure important and how can it help an enterprise?

HCI is important because it allows you to create a scalable data centre environment with one piece of infrastructure where you can allocate resources. However, the HCI stacks also offer utility in allowing administrators to combine storage, computing, and networking requirements. This provides you with an infrastructure platform that can be expanded as your requirements increase. The stack also allows organizations to work without the need to worry about managing physical infrastructure.

When working under a HCI, most of the infrastructure you need to purchase is relegated to nodes alone. In a traditional network you commonly have to purchase storage, servers, and network components relentlessly in order to keep pace with your ongoing development.

It is also worth noting that a HCI connects all your information to one management portal. This means that the staff has to spend less time administrating because everything is in one place. Reducing the amount of time spent on administration allows you and your team to focus on more important tasks.

Likewise, in the event that something fails, you won’t be left scratching your head because there is no single point of failure. It is not uncommon for traditional networks to experience downtime when a key component fails. The virtualization of HCI helps you to react and stay up during those moments when components fail. This is true whether you’re working on one or multiple geographical sites.

Which workloads need Hyperconverged infrastructure?

Anyone looking to deploy virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), applications, databases, or cloud services would be well advised to consider using HCI. Most organizations opt to use HCI for VDI because it is easy to upscale. IT administrators can tell how many nodes they need in order to sustain a virtual desktop based on the maximum virtual desktops per node.

The most important thing is to look at the needs of workloads on a case by case basis. No two workloads are the same. However, due to the scalability and flexibility of HCI it does particularly well for virtual desktop infrastructure and Tier 1 applications (including SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Exchange, and SQL Server). In other words, hyperconvergence is mainly used to deploy virtual machines.

The main reason why HCI is great for VDI workloads because traditional infrastructure struggles to keep up on this front. In a traditional infrastructure, logical unit numbers and storage volumes need to be mapped to virtual machines. In the short-term this is a minor inconvenience but when tweaking with your storage and technical infrastructure on an ongoing basis this is extremely difficult and time consuming to manage.

Likewise, the visibility gained by a HCI solution is worth its weight in gold. Monitoring a VDI workload relies on being able to see right down to the minutiae of individual resources and clusters. In traditional networks, an administrator is constantly juggling configuration, security and handling policy concerns. A HCI solution helps to centralize the network monitoring process and minimize the legwork needed to maintain disparate systems.

It also helps in managing infrastructure health. Just like network monitoring software allows you to monitor the health of your network, a HCI solution provides you with a centralized platform for you to view the health of your network infrastructure. This makes it easier to adapt when the VDI’s usage spikes (an element that can cause issues on a traditional infrastructure network).

With cloud services, hyperconvergence works best as a fundamental strategy rather than an aspiration. When implementing a service, it is advisable to start small and upscale over time so that you can develop solid foundations for your HCI.

What is the difference between Hyperconverged and Converged infrastructure?

At their core, converged and hyperconverged infrastructures are used to combine the computing, storage, and networking components of a physical network. That being said there are a number of differences. The most pronounced difference is that hyperconverged infrastructure is based entirely within software, whereas converged infrastructure needs hardware. This has the advantage of much closer integration between each component within the system.

Converged architecture is attached to the physical server whereas hyperconverged systems has a storage controller function to stand in. As a result, HCI automatically shares storage to a virtual machine.

One of the most significant advantages HCI offers is that being software-defined you can change your infrastructure configurations in many ways that can’t be replicated with CI because of its physical limitations. However, converged systems have the advantage of being less expensive to deploy and simpler to manage.

If we go a bit further into the distinction between the two, CI combines computing and storage resources into a single appliance. No network hardware is needed in this system except a hypervisor. In contrast, HCI uses software to control all devices that rest on the hypervisor.

Leading Hyperconvergence providers

Nutanix

Nutanix is one of the biggest names in the hyperconvergence space. From launching their first HCI product in 2011, Nutanix has become an authoritative voice within the industry. Nutanix systems have an excellent centralized infrastructure management solution which allows users to manage their networks effectively. HCI’s use of machine learning and artificial intelligence help to make Nutanix even easier to use.

One of the main advantages of its products is that there is no single point of failure. This means that you don’t run the risk of losing your service or data if something goes wrong. There are also disaster recovery solutions in place in the event that a key component fails.

Dell EMC

Dell EMC has a reputation as one of the most versatile bodies of hyperconverged infrastructure. Two of the most popular include VxRail appliances and VxRack systems. Dell’s EMC VxRail and VxRack systems research indicate that 59% of organizations had a lower cost of operations and 22% less spent on hardware and maintenance. Perhaps the most impressive statistic is that these systems offered a 619% average five-year ROI.

Cisco

Cisco is also a household name within the world of hyperconverged infrastructure. Cisco recently deployed its Hyperflex solution for a luxury retailer called Liberty London. Cisco HyperFlex was connected with VMware providing the company with a solution that was easy to use. It also had the advantage of functioning as a disaster recovery solution. Scalable solutions are something that has characterized Cisco’s approach to hyperconverged infrastructure as a whole.

Pivot 3

Another key provider of HCI solutions is Pivot3. Pivot3 claim to be “the only hyperconverged infrastructure provider with an Intelligence Engine that “eliminates resource contention”, “automates data’’ and prioritizes resources to your most important workloads and lets you consolidate them on one infrastructure with confidence”. Pivot3 was one of the first HCI providers on the market.

The Pivot3 Datacenter Series is a solution that is marketed specifically towards larger organizations, looking for Quality of Service Monitoring. The 2U Flash solution can support a maximum cluster size of 16 nodes and 256, 384, 768, and 1536GB of RAM.

Use cases of Hyperconverged infrastructure

Virtualization – HCI is used to enable virtualization; virtual management applications operate within the hypervisor to integrate with the network’s hardware layer. This provides organizations with a reduced need for data center resources and makes IT decisions much quicker.

Upscaling – Many organizations have varying needs of resources. As a result, HCI is used for those scenarios where an organization needs to adopt new resources quickly. For example, you can allocate network, storage, and computing resources on a virtualized basis almost instantly. This is true whether expanding an existing site or creating a new one from scratch. In short, HCI keeps up with organizations looking to upscale.

Automation and Analytics – Providers like Nutanix provide users with a range of applications to conduct automation and reporting. Tools like VMware vRealize Automation can create custom interfaces for Nutanix to interact with. This means users can customize their user experience to gain a clear perspective to view their network health.

Supporting Containers – Hosting containers on a virtual machine allows the user to migrate containers and ensure consistent storage over the long-term. This can protect applications in the event of failure and ensure widespread service availability.

Implementing Hyperconverged infrastructure

The key to implementing hyperconverged infrastructure effectively within an organization is to launch a pilot project. A pilot project will help you to evaluate whether HCI is right for your infrastructure. The main way it does this is by showing you exactly how your performance improves, and its benefits in capacity consumption.

Once the organization is satisfied with the results of the pilot project and is sure of HCI’s value, it can start to implement it in phases. Depending on the organization’s goals, you can act as soon as you can.

What are the challenges of Hyperconverged infrastructure?

Problematic Deployment

One of the main challenges raised by hyperconverged infrastructure is resource usage. This is seen most prominently in the I/O blender effect. The I/O blender effect is the name given to an issue where bottlenecks emerge in multiple locations within the hardware/software stack. According to StarWind, “In the case of a server running a hypervisor and several virtual machines, the I/O path becomes more randomized”. The virtual machines all generate their own “random’ and ’sequential” I/O.

The result is that these multiple income streams “don’t take long to populate the disk storage with a clutter of randomized bits that take longer to write, retrieve modify, update and delete”. The end result is unresponsive storage.

While there is a fix to this it requires a degree of specialist knowledge in order to implement. As such, Hyperconverged Infrastructure needs to be deployed with caution in order to make the onboarding process as smooth as possible.

Capacity Planning

Eliminating the worry of upscaling physical infrastructure comes at the price of having to implement meticulous capacity planning. Your computing resources are divided up by lots of different devices that eat up your capacity constantly. As a result, you have to implement long-term capacity planning to make sure that your system resources keep pace with your needs as an organization.

Overhead Costs

Installing a new application with hyperconverged infrastructure also raises a range of overhead costs itself. When adding a new application, you need to support it with at least one virtual machine, which needs to be configured and protected against data breaches. In addition, any WAN optimization devices or load balances need to accommodate for these new virtual machines.

While hardware often works out to be more expensive, there is a clear cost associated with maintaining hyperconverged infrastructure.

Multiple Management Interfaces

Another one of the challenges raised by hyperconverged infrastructure is the number of management interfaces you have to work with. Each component from hypervisors to storage devices has a unique interface that must be interacted with. Unlike physical infrastructure, this means that once a fault occurs vendors can resort to pointing fingers. In addition, it can actually be more difficult to upscale your network infrastructure due to the differences in how each service operates.

Security

One of the most pervasive challenges raised by hyperconverged infrastructure comes in the form of security. Centralized control infrastructure is great for managing an IT environment, but it does occupy a point of vulnerability to external threats. Addressing these threats and staying protected relies on having a high standard of technical knowledge.

Ultimately administrators need to know the workings of hyperconverged infrastructure like the back of their hand. The key to overcoming this challenge is to use tools that are designed to work alongside HCI and hypervisors but it still relies on a large amount of technical knowledge.

Policy-based security: The secret ingredient to HCI adoption

Given that HCI raises a number of security concerns, it is necessary to adopt a specific policy towards upholding the service. The most important thing to recognize is that by adopting a HCI solution you are changing your security requirements. Any old security procedures you had will be out of place because the structure of your infrastructure has changed dramatically.

By adopting HCI, organizations move far beyond the realm of simply deploying a hardware and antivirus platforms. Once your infrastructure becomes flexible through the use of HCI, you need a security policy that can flex and keep pace with it. Centering the construction of your security policy around applications and servers rather than ports will help you evolve in line with new threats.

Hyperconvergence: A scalable solution

Given the diversity of structures that hyperconvergence supports, it is no surprise that most services today are operating some kind of virtualized infrastructure. Organizations with intentions to upscale their network infrastructure are transferring to hyperconverged infrastructure to eliminate the physical and manual concerns that come with upgrading physical hardware.

Even though usage requirements are getting higher, storage solutions and networks are constantly being improved, so there is the chance of hardware decreasing in price in the next few years. However, enterprises working towards a long-term solution place less emphasis on flogging hardware to death but on how to deploy network infrastructure that is scalable and simple.

Securing the scalability of your network is the only way to ensure the longevity of your service. Large organizations’ needs are constantly evolving. It can be nigh impossible to incorporate capacity planning in this environment without the use of scalable solutions like hyperconverged infrastructure. Hyperconvergence is clearly one of the most important innovations for the modern network.

 

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