Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) has pushed its way to the fore of enterprise infrastructure discussion for a good reason. As a purpose-built system managed by a shared set of tools, it’s predictable, flexible, and simple to use and manage. And Gartner predicts that sometime this year (2020), “at least 20% of all business-critical applications will have moved from traditional infrastructure to HCI.” 1
So, should you dive in?
Not before you consider a few things.
HCI can be excellent when it works, but it isn’t the right fit everywhere.
Consideration #1: Is your workload static or dynamic?
Most HCI solutions are better for static workloads because of the way that they scale.
So, what is a static workload?
An example of a good-fit static workload would be 5000 non-persistent VDI instances where no one instance requires more than 200 IOPS. With a properly sized HCI config, users will be able to access their virtual desktops quickly, and the enterprise-grade resiliency of HCI ensures that their desktop will always be available when they need it.
Why is static better for HCI?
For most (but not all) HCI solutions, to scale one resource (say CPU performance), you have to scale all the resources by adding new nodes that include storage and memory as well.
If your workload is dynamic or unpredictable, this linear scaling can create a significant loss of hardware efficiency, leaving a large amount of one resource type sitting unused — required for the proper growth of another area, but dormant.
Consideration #2: Does HCI fit in your environment?
When it comes to your environment, you face two primary considerations: price and performance.
Does the size of your environment justify the capital cost?
Because the minimum starting point for a config is about $90,000, HCI is not an economical fit if you’re an SMB customer with only a few servers. Sure, the servers themselves will be easier to manage, but performance will be about the same, and you’ll probably have a real hard time convincing your CFO that the small amount of time you save is worth it. As the number of servers grows, however, that time savings (and therefore operational expenses) can become a major factor in the decision.
At scale, HCI can also help you circumvent the need for specialized storage knowledge by allowing your server team to directly manage their own storage needs inside of the HCI management interface.
How will licenses affect your choice?
Licensing may play a role in whether or not HCI is the right choice for your particular application. Some licenses, like Microsoft SQL, based on virtual CPU cores would potentially be a good fit. Still, for those applications, like Oracle, that are licensed based on physical CPU cores, HCI can become prohibitively expensive. (Thankfully, it is possible, however, to limit your exposure even in these scenarios if HCI would otherwise be a best-fit solution.)
From a performance perspective, QoS allows HCI to run high-performance SQL databases. And while some manufacturers claim that flash-based storage enables these workloads to run on their implementations, we do not recommend HCI for mission-critical, high-IOPS workloads. HCI might work in some limited instances for certain types of tier-1 applications, but those mission-critical workloads still tend to be best assigned to dedicated hardware in a more traditional 3-tier architecture.
Consideration #3: Do you need to Segment your Workloads?
HCI can be a good fit when you need to segment workloads from each other.
For example, if you have management VMs for hardware, they should not live on the equipment they manage (unless you want the management to be unreachable during an outage). This scenario presents a perfect use case for HCI – providing a place for all of the management VMs to live in an enterprise (fully redundant and resilient) fashion. With this implementation, management and guest traffic remain separate, and storage can be placed on a dedicated network.
Enterprise technology isn’t about being able to use something that’s trending (although when the stars align, we can enjoy the excitement), it’s about using the technology to create a better experience for your users.
If you can answer affirmatively to at least two of the above considerations, then HCI might be a good fit for your workloads. At the very least, it’s worth talking to a solution architect. They will take a look at your environment and the specific problem that you’re trying to solve and help you find the right technology.
Not sure if HCI is the right fit for your workloads? We can help.
- Gartner Forecast Analysis: Integrated Systems, Worldwide, 2Q18 Update. ↩