There’s more to hyper-convergence than hype – it’s transforming enterprise IT

Stuart Andrews, Computerworld UK

Monday 20 February 2017

Simpler, more flexible and more scalable, hyper-convergence brings a range of business and technical benefits to the data centre. By reducing costs and complexity, it has the potential to transform enterprise IT. There’s more to this technology than hype.

The data centre as we know it is under pressure, and traditional infrastructure is struggling to cope. Enterprises are setting ambitious goals for business transformation, and keen to take advantage of cloud-based services and business analytics. The exponential growth of data poses both opportunities and challenges. When you’re building a next-generation business, you need the infrastructure to match. Existing architectures just aren’t fit for the task.

Why? Mauro Iotti, Storage & Next Gen IT Product Director EMEA at Lenovo says that ‘decades of supporting large-scale business applications have left many of us with infrastructure that has grown too complex. It’s too hard to optimise, too expensive to scale and too awkward to manage. The strain is restricting our business’ ability to innovate at a time innovation is the fastest route to a competitive advantage.’ Iotti feels that the answer lies in hyper-convergence. ‘It’s more than just another hot trend’ he says, ‘it really could transform enterprise IT.’

So, what is hyper-convergence?

The basic concept is simple. Traditional enterprise IT architecture separates those elements of the system that handle computation from those that handle the network or manage storage. Hyper-converged architecture works differently, combining all the necessary virtualised compute, storage and network assets into one integrated unit, which we usually call a ‘node’.

Each node is basically one single, commodity hardware box, designed and supported by just one vendor and controlled via a software layer. One node can be combined easily with other nodes in a cluster, delivering a resilient, high-performance architecture with pooled resources. What’s more, all these resources can be managed through a single interface. That’s the beauty of hyper-convergence.

This might not sound revolutionary, but the business benefits and technical advantages of hyper-convergence have made it a hot topic in the enterprise IT community. ActualTech’s 2016 State of hyper-converged Infrastructure Market Report suggests that adoption in the EMEA region jumped from 27 percent to 46 percent between 2015 and 2016. IDC expects global sales of hyper-converged systems to reach nearly $4 billion by 2019, up from $2 billion last year.

READ MORE: What hyper-convergence means for you

Why the hype?

The growing popularity in hyper-convergance is due to its promises to provide a compelling mix of technical and business advantages. By simplifying infrastructure, it delivers a rock-solid groundwork for a more agile, responsive approach to IT.

Tikiri Wanduragala, EMEA Senior Consultant at Lenovo believes that ‘enterprises are seriously looking for ways to reduce the complexity of their IT. Conventional architecture involves the purchase and management of individual servers, not to mention the storage area network (SAN) and the software and network infrastructure to support them. Adopting hyper-converged infrastructure can strip out much of that work, leaving you with one appliance managed through one common management framework. That can have a real impact on IT and on the business as a whole.’

In fact, an appliance like Lenovo’s Converged HX series, packs all the computer power and network or storage infrastructure for that node within the one box. Everything is VM-centric and software, not hardware-defined, so it’s easy to add nodes to an existing cluster, add a new cluster or clone virtual resources in minutes. The software, from the hyper-convergence market leader, Nutanix, takes on all the heavy lifting for you.

What’s more, this software-defined nature and the pooling of resources bring two more advantages. First, it enables those resources to be used more efficiently, as Wanduragala explains. “With the traditional data centre, you dedicate resources to an application, and tie their capacity down to that project’ Wanduragala says. ‘With a software-defined approach, you specify the capacity you need, and the resources get allocated more flexibly – such as processing, storage and networking. It’s a far more efficient use of resources.”

Secondly, it makes it easier to create workload-specific configurations that enhance performance for key business applications. It doesn’t matter whether you’re planning to run Exchange or SharePoint servers, SQL databases or virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI); hyper-converged infrastructure can be tweaked to fly through your workload.

This kind of flexibility boosts scalability. Hyper-convergence takes a building block approach to enterprise IT. Want to add more computer power and more storage? Just purchase and deploy more appliances. The building blocks are also relatively inexpensive because they’re based on commodity storage and x86 architecture. Instead of making large and risky investments in servers or a SAN, you can scale up at a granular level that suits your company’ needs—all with an easier, faster procurement process. You could start with as few as three Converged HX Series appliances and scale up from there, keeping your initial costs down but providing endless scope for future growth.

Making IT life easier

Because it’s based on virtualisation and software-defined, hyper-converged infrastructure is a natural fit for automation, which helps simplify the management and deployment of virtual systems. Meanwhile, with one common management framework there’s no need to work with a range of control panels or tools for your compute, storage and network assets. Tasks that require major work and specialist expertise with conventional architecture can be accomplished in less time by less specialist staff. That’s good news for projects you want to get moving fast and for your IT experts, who can focus on their more strategic goals.

As a bonus, hyper-convergence plays into high availability and strong disaster recovery; in fact, as virtual machines and data can be so easily cloned and restored, these capabilities come practically baked in. Finally, as Wanduragala explains ‘working with one appliance from one supplier means you only have one point of contact for support. Buy appliances from Lenovo and the buck stops with us; no ifs, no buts.’

A compelling case for business

It’s the business benefits, however, that make hyper-convergence so exciting. Just consider the cost savings potential: lower purchase costs, reduced management costs and a more effective use of resources. Not only are you making your IT cheaper to run, you’re freeing up your IT team for work that could really benefit the business.

Hyper-convergence also aids business transformation goals. Because hyper-converged architecture makes it easier and cheaper to deploy new applications, you have more room to innovate and can get new projects up and running faster. The time between a great idea and extracting value from it becomes shorter.

This works hand-in-hand with a shift towards IT as a Service. Simplified management and automation make it easier for enterprise IT teams to make that transition, where employees can access the IT resources they need, on demand. IT becomes a force for empowerment, employees get what they want faster and the IT team doesn’t have to be quite so involved – a win/win for everyone concerned.

If you’re moving towards a Hybrid Cloud deployment – and most forward-looking enterprises are – then hyper-converged architecture is a perfect fit. That software-defined, virtualised nature is perfect for mixing private and public cloud services. Throw in the benefits of business continuity and disaster recovery, and hyper-convergence isn’t so much hype as just a smart investment.

Look beyond the hype

While it’s tempting to dismiss hyper-converged architecture as another ‘hot topic’ or fad, it’s anything but. As Guy England, Director of Data Centre Group at Lenovo UK & Ireland puts it, ‘by reducing complexity, enhancing scalability, improving operational efficiency and supporting greater agility, hyper-converged architecture delivers an ideal platform for the next-generation data centre.’ If you’re still handling enterprise IT the old way, it’s time to think about moving to the new. The business and technical benefits are just too powerful to ignore.

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