This was originally published in June 2020

Meeting fast-evolving data center requirements is challenging.  

Unfortunately, most IT infrastructure, which often consists of sluggish and hard-to-manage components, makes it increasingly difficult for organizations to keep up with the quick turnaround they need to stay relevant. And this challenge seems to grow more and more each year.

That's one big reason that companies are increasingly turning toward hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). Along with other benefits, HCI offers the scalability, flexibility, agility, security — and more — required by today's data centers.  

What Is hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI)?

Hyper-convergence uses software to integrate compute, software-defined storage, networking and virtualization into a single data center infrastructure. HCI provides a unified platform that can scale quickly and easily to meet changing computing and storage needs.  

At their core, these solutions can reduce data center complexity, improve time-to-value and reduce operating costs.

Virtualized compute and storage resources in HCI are accessed over a standard Ethernet network. The software-defined infrastructure enables the streamlined deployment and maintenance of a private or hybrid cloud environment. It also supports self-provisioning and workload portability to help optimize productivity.

Converged infrastructure vs. hyper-converged infrastructure

While both systems have the same components and help simplify data center management, converged infrastructure is quite different from HCI. Compared to software-defined, fully integrated HCI, components in a converged network are separable and, therefore, more cumbersome to manage.

HCI uses servers as building blocks — each time a new server is installed, the network appropriates its resources (e.g., computing capacity and storage) and delegates them to where they're needed. This allows HCI solutions to offer a higher level of flexibility, simplicity, micro-scalability and automation capability.  

Such full integration eliminates the use of separate servers and network storage while delivering data-centric workloads on-demand.

The benefits of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI)

For most organizations, the key selling point of HCI is clear: Hyper-convergence de-silos and simplifies infrastructure, meaning that HCI is more agile from an operational perspective.  

Here are a few of the other main benefits that an HCI delivers:

Enhance performance

An HCI allows you to deploy any workload while maintaining a high level of performance. It's particularly suitable for handling intensive workloads, such as enterprise apps and SQL servers.

Lower costs

Since all components are integrated onto a single platform, you can minimize storage footprint, power usage and maintenance expenses. Thanks to HCI's flexibility and scalability, you don't need to over-provision to accommodate future growth. As such, you can better control the total cost of ownership (TCO).

Ensure accessibility

An HCI solution uses a single platform to manage both applications and servers, which allows users to prioritize the health and accessibility of the applications.

Increase scalability

An HCI is made up of "nodes" within a cluster. You can quickly add resources to the infrastructure by connecting a new node to the system. New resources are automatically identified and integrated. You can also configure an HCI to scale compute and storage capabilities separately.

Improve agility

The simplicity of HCI allows organizations to deploy a system quickly without the need for IT specialists in every resource area. Automation helps simplify management, so you can free your IT staff to focus on high-value strategic initiatives.

Support multiple cloud environments

Hyper-convergence simplifies the implementation of — and the transition to — a hybrid cloud environment. Thanks to the high workload portability, you can move data and applications seamlessly between on-premise services and public clouds.

Ensure security & data integrity

HCI enhances the security of on-premise IT solutions with features such as self-encrypting drives. The tools also offer a high level of visibility as well as built-in backup and recovery.  

What to look for in an HCI solution?

To reap the benefits of HCI, look for a solution that can support any application deployment model.  

It should have low latency and low input/output operations per second (IOPS) variability, ensuring that it's fast and consistent enough for running mission-critical applications. You should also consider the level of integration with existing tools, which you may decide to keep even if you're changing the operational model.

Your solution should integrate with any cloud environment and support multiple hypervisors. Additionally, evaluate the scalability of the solution. It should support your current IT needs and be easily adapted to meet the demands of any workload or use case in the future.

If you need help exploring your options, consider our HCI Briefing.

Get the most out of HCI.
Explore more HCI resources