Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) has garnered attention by offering a new approach that breaks the traditional silos between compute and storage. Although an increasing number of organizations are adopting it, deployments are for the most part at the periphery of the data center or in applications such as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Hold on to your hats, though, because in the coming year as HCI enters its second phase, a major change will take place with far-reaching importance for cloud computing.
Initial HCI offerings have appealed primarily to customers who were looking for a simpler and more cost-effective alternative to traditional enterprise storage. HCI accomplishes this goal by moving the storage data plane and control plane from the legacy storage controller to the hypervisor. As a result, people can now create shared storage services by pooling disks that are directly attached in the same industry-standard x86 servers that where once ran just the compute side of VMs—hence the term hyperconverged. This situation leads to a new storage model that’s particularly well suited to applications running in virtual machines.
These first-generation solutions also created IT efficiencies at the organizational level. By making storage management a simple extension of how you manage VMs and virtual hosts, HCI also removes organizational boundaries that once existed between server and storage teams, simplifying IT processes and standardizing roles
But what about networking? Early HCI solutions have had little to offer there. As we enter HCI’s second phase, however, all signs point to network virtualization becoming integral to HCI, breaking down another traditional IT silo and greasing the wheels of modern software-defined infrastructure distributed across private and public environments.
No More Silos
Bringing networking into the fold is an exciting prospect because it unlocks the full potential of HCI, beyond just storage. By adding network-virtualization capability, HCI evolves into a complete cloud infrastructure platform that delivers both highly dynamic and programmable compute, storage and networking services under a single management interface and employs simple commodity hardware. Traditional IT silos fade away, and we see the birth of the true software-defined data center (SDDC).
This situation in turn enables further streamlining of IT processes. No longer is it necessary to maintain multiple teams with specialized skills: one team with expertise in networking appliances, another to handle storage and so on. In their place, we’ll see the emergence of the new “cloud admin” role, whose job will be to manage infrastructure as a unified whole by way of collaborative, multidisciplinary team.
This new role will have responsibilities not just in the on-premises data center, but also in the cloud. Once HCI integrates with networking, it eases some workload-transition issues, enabling movement of workloads to the cloud and back with minimal downtime.
A better-integrated and software-defined infrastructure also enables organizations to more fully use automation across the life cycle of their infrastructure and workloads. Everything from the deployment and provisioning of resources to creating VMs, allocating storage and assigning security policies can now be more easily automated and dynamically controlled. As a result, IT staffers are free to concentrate on activities that create value for the business rather than on the rote maintenance that now dominates timesheets. Collaborative groups of cloud admins free from such distracting busywork will be able to devote their energy to boosting company agility, customer experiences and overall innovation.
The Missing Piece
These changes really only become fully fungible if you virtualize all aspect of the data center, including the network. This fact is even more important for organizations that plan to move toward a hybrid cloud model, because a traditional networking approach can constrain them at the switch, firewall, security or another level. Network virtualization makes network management more fluid, making it easier to consume infrastructure across a network of data centers—owned or rented—and allowing workloads to move across multiple environments without complex reconfiguration.
The hybrid cloud model is increasingly attractive to a variety of enterprises, a trend that looks to be strengthening. By 2020, according to Gartner, “hybrid will be most common usage of the cloud.” And why not? Using a hybrid cloud model, enterprises seeking to optimize separate business functions and product groups can outfit them with the cloud setup that is right for them, boosting both productivity and responsiveness. Fully realizing the benefits of a hybrid cloud model will require companies to effectively manage and streamline access, and in some cases movement, throughout the complex network of on- and off-premise infrastructure.
In this sense, the second phase of HCI is the key to realizing the promise of hybrid cloud. More-flexible and more-scalable storage and computing only gets you partway there. Gaining the full benefits of the hybrid model calls for an HCI solution with an integrated, virtualized networking component that can speed workloads throughout the multiple environments common to a hybrid cloud business. How well various vendors manage to deliver this highly desirable and, for some businesses, increasingly nonnegotiable component will be a determining factor in how the HCI market shakes out over the next couple of years.
Of course, the large-scale transition to next-generation HCI won’t happen overnight. But the availability of unified cloud platforms that deliver highly dynamic infrastructure services and the elimination of IT silos that the second phase of HCI promises will be compelling enough that even large enterprises with investments in traditional infrastructure will be forced to take notice.
If your organization is planning a significant hardware refresh in the near future, the time to begin evaluating HCI solutions is now. Given what’s just over the horizon, expect this market to take off in 2017 with alarming speed.
About the Author
Alberto Farronato is Senior Director of Product Marketing at VMware and is responsible for integrated private cloud and hybrid cloud platforms. Previously, he led product marketing for VMware’s solutions for storage, hyperconverged infrastructure, data protection and server virtualization. Having over 12 years of experience in the IT industry, he worked for several leading technology providers including Accenture and EMC. Alberto holds a BS/MS in Electrical Engineering from the Politecnico of Milano, Italy, and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.