26 Aug

Converged vs. Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

Like the use of the word “Digital” or “HD”, these two terms are often misused by manufacturers to position the solution at a targeted opportunity.   I will not name any specific vendor, but I have seen in certain cases a sales person call the same solution a “Converged” as well as a “Hyper-Converged” So what is the real definition?

Generally speaking, there are two approaches companies can take to building a converged infrastructure:

  • The hardware-focused, building-block approach of solutions like  VCE (a joint venture of EMC, Cisco, and VMware), simply known as converged infrastructure;   NetApp Flexpod’s are also fit into this category.  Dell FX platform of servers are also being called Converged because they bring Compute network and storage together.  They all can have a hypervisor installed on the hardware but that does not make them a “hyper-converged” solution.
  • The other approach is built on leveraging software to provide capabilities that encapsulate a all of what the converged infrastructure solutions provide as well as other features into a single appliance or platform, that because the building block for scaling out the solution. This is what we dub hyper-converged infrastructure. These solutions include but are not limited to; Simplivity, Nutanix, VMware VSAN, Maxta, Scale Computing as well as a number of even newer technology vendors that are getting into this space.

Recently I had the good fortune to be able to go visit the corporate headquarters of one of Storcom’s technology partners and meet with their CEO and founder.  The purpose of this blog post is to discuss and potentially educate our readers about the differences between what is called a Converged Infrastructure solutions and what is termed as a Hyper-Converged solution and the evolution of the two.   Storcom represents a number of vendors that produce both types of solutions, I am not trying to give a specific opinion on what I think is the best solution rather educate and give some insight.

I think it is first important to lay the framework as to why we are talking about hyper convergence in the first place.   Over the last decade extreme growth and adoption of virtualization within IT infrastructure have changed the landscape for most organizations in some way.  In the X86 open systems market we have seen a shift towards more and more integration between storage , compute, network and the hypervisor.  This is what has fueled companies like Simplivity, Nutanix, Maxta and even VMware to develop their platforms as well as a host of newcomers.   At the same time the larger existing “legacy vendors” have also tried to get into this space by taking existing hardware and combining it together to provide what they may call converged or even hyper-converged solutions. What we need to disseminate is what the “converged” solutions are really providing.

I think it’s also important to understand the role that companies like Google , Facebook and Amazon have had in this process.  They all built their platforms on the premise that they wanted to shrink the entire stack into a single platform using commodity low cost hardware that they could scale out massively as they needed to grow as well as provide a very high level of redundancy across the data they they service.

After sitting down with CEO and Founder Doron Kempel from Simplivity and hearing his perspective it became clear that the only way to really develop a true hyper-converged solution is to build a platform for the mainstream enterprise businesses of today from the ground up.

Solutions like VCE (VMware, Cisco, EMC) Vblocks and NetApp FlexPods were not build from the ground up to accomplish the task of shrinking what traditionally took 6 or 7 products into one platform.  Although they may do a good job at it ,  there is still a level of complexity that no matter how hard they try they simply can’t hide. More complexity usually means more costs somewhere else whether it be in hardware or administrative overhead, even if they can match the functionality of a technology vendor who have purpose built software and hardware they still need to do this by certifying and integrating all of the components and in a lot of cases if specific features eg. if replication is needed they still may need an additional product to accomplish this.

This is the same paradigm shift that legacy vendors had to go through when storage vendors that performed block level virtualization came to the market forcing the legacy storage vendors to retrofit their products to provide the same functionality these products that were designed from day one to accomplish.

The goal of the Hyper-converged solutions like Simplivity and the family of products that are now available that fit into that mold provide is to shrink down the entire stack of products we in IT are used to managing , storage, compute, network, data protection , WAN optimization, disaster recovery and most importantly the Hypervisor into a single product and platform that can be very easily managed.  Unlike their big brothers at Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. ease of use for the typical IT administrator is tantamount to their product’s success.

As technology is advancing we are starting to see more and more companies getting into the hyper-converged space because it undoubtedly solves the fundamental challenge of maintaining and managing of resources that used to take multiple products.  In my discussions with Doron Kempel from Simplivity he made it clear that this was ultimately the direction and vision of his company and they built it that way from day one.  It is important to point out is that each one of the vendors in this field bring something to the table, features or functionality that may be better then the next. This drives innovation which is good for the consumer. This, as well as my discussions with Kempel, leads me to believe feature sets that the hyper converged solutions like Simplivity will provide are going to keep getting better.

Unfortunately for the larger monolithic solution providers it means bolting together pieces and parts from their portfolio or multiple vendors portfolios to even start to accomplish what this next generation of technologies can provide. This is not to say that these vendors solutions don’t work or do not provide a certain value for companies that may be more focused on name brand recognition. They will always have their place in IT infrastructure solutions.

What I hope to see is continued innovation that leads to IT administrators managing their infrastructure more easily and giving them extra time to focus on the projects and initiatives that are being rolled out.  With all innovative solutions that break the traditional mold of how we design, deploy and manage IT infrastructure, comes a new set of challenges.  One area that I think will set some of these solutions apart will be the flexibility to expand.  Unlike the traditional storage, compute and network solutions, expanding singular IT resources within hyperconverged infrastructure can be difficult. With the addition of storage comes automatic additions of compute and networking or vice versa.  How companies like Simplivity, Nutanix and some of the other new kids on the block address this will help them get a foothold in the market by providing better ROI then the next vendor.

The next 18 months will be interesting for all of these vendors whether they are a true hyper-converged or not.  I have already seen a lot of really cool and useful new features from a number of vendors we follow.





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