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Converged & hyper-converged infrastructure

(Hyper-)Converged Infrastructure has become an established technology in the last few years, with a mix of startups, established vendors and some surprising entrants offering systems.

Converged infrastructure may combine infrastructure components like servers, storage, networking and software components into a unified solution. Software components will generally include a virtualisation component like VMware, KVM or Hyper-V and can include other features for management, data handling, automation, orchestration and cloud connectivity.

Two popular converged infrastructure vendors include VCE and NetApp. VCE – originally a joint venture between VMware, Cisco and EMC (with Cisco now only holding a minority interest) –  consists of Cisco networking and storage networking components, Cisco UCS servers and select options of EMC storage from VNX and VMAX to XtremIO  has the distinction of the direct involvement of VMware providing the virtualisation component. VMware itself has released a reference architecture with their VMware EVO:Rail  and EVO:Rack, which allows other vendors to create hyper-converged systems based on VMware’s design. NetApp offers a similar design to VCE’s converged systems with the FlexPod architecture. The main difference with NetApp’s solution is that it replaces the EMC storage component with NetApp storage.

The advantage of these converged environments is three-fold:

  1. Vendors provide an extra management layer on top of the converged system simplifying overall management of the environment
  2. Vendors perform additional testing and can provide improved update management (e.g. for firmware)
  3. The components of converged infrastructure can work independently on their own, e.g. servers or storage can be used for other purposes outside the converged infrastructure.

The 3rd point is the main differentiator to hyper-converged infrastructure, as hyper-converged systems are generally much tighter coupled. Several hyper-converged “servers” come as a 2U rack unit, which will converge processing, memory, networking and storage in this unit. From there hyper-converged systems may scale out to a number of nodes.

HP is just one of the established companies selling a hyper converged system. Readily available in Australia and by now established hyper-converged vendors are Nutanix and SimpiVity.  The disadvantage of hyper converged infrastructure can be a lack in flexibility.

Convergence does not stop here, but includes specialised vendors like Teradata (data warehouse), specialised solutions for databases by Oracle, specialised software to turn existing server hardware into converged infrastructure (e.g. Atlantis USX) and reference architectures for convergence (EMC VSPEX).

Overall the wide range of offerings provides flexibility for companies to select the solution that is fit for purpose. Regardless what the requirements are – be it ease of management, reduced cost, improved reliability – there will be an infrastructure solution that will fit selected criteria; although there will rarely be an “one-fits-all”.