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Converged & hyper-converged infrastructure

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Converged & hyper-converged infrastructure


(Hyper-)Converged Infrastructure has become another booming technology, with a mix of start-ups, 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 – the joint venture between VMware, Cisco and EMC (with Cisco now only holding a minority interest), which 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. NetApp offers a similar design with the FlexPod architecture, which from a hardware perspective replaces (obviously!) 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 can have something like 64 cores, 1 TB of RAM, sufficient 1GbE and 10GbE ports and space for 24 disks. From there they will scale out to a number of nodes (32, 64 or more/less).

HP is just one of the established companies selling a hyper converged system. Then there are a number of new entrants like Nutanix and SimpiVity. To complicate things further, VMware has released their blueprint for hyper converged architecture – EVO:rail with EVO:rack to follow – which can be built and sold by OEM partners. The disadvantage of hyper converged infrastructure can be a lack in flexibility, as most hyper converged systems cannot use external storage arrays; another drawback – which can also be seen as an advantage – is the lock-in to a vendor. The advantage lies in the fact that as most or all of the solution is created by a single vendor, the resolution of any support issues should be much improved. 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 not be an “one-fits-all”.

July 2015

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