HCI Cometh: Thoughts on the Forrester HCI Wave Report

Aug 24, 2016 by Stewart Sonneland

Hyperconvergence Comes of Age

In a relatively short time, we believe Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) technology has matured to the point where it must be considered as a compelling option for IT and Operations Managers today. 

The first hyperconverged systems appeared on the market just five years ago in 2011. Initially we at Strategic Hardware had concerns about flexibility in scaling these systems as well as performance constraints when HCI was supporting virtualized environments.

The good news is that, more recently, we’ve seen real advances made in some of the leading HCI solutions now on the market. These advances in capabilities, flexibility and feature sets have really changed the conversations we’ve been having with our clients across the country around HCI.

With the release of Forrester’s HCI Wave Report a few weeks ago, we thought this would be a good time to highlight i) what we see are some of the advances in HCI technology, ii) some of the drivers for HCI, iii) a recent case study from one of our clients and iv) an HCI technology we’re particularly bullish on.

HCI: A Highly Evolved Solution

As noted above, we see important advances having been made recently with leading HCI vendors. We believe these evolutionary improvements in HCI solutions are key. The Forrester Report names a few of these technology upgrades and we touch on a few important ones here.

  • Efficient Erasure Coding. Scale-out architectures have a need to protect against an appliance or node failure so that systems are highly available. A common approach to protect against node failures is to simply replicate data in each appliance to at least one other appliance in the system. This approach has some serious drawbacks in terms of scalability, performance and cost but is the easiest approach to implement. For example, distributed erasure coding is a patented approach developed by Pivot3 (one of the three leading vendors in the Forrester Report) where parity is calculated internally to each appliance and then distributed across the array or cluster. The distributed parity approach limits the amount of data that has to be sent between appliances so that performance scales linearly and capacity efficiency improves as the appliance count in an array increases.


  • Flexible Deployments and System Expansion. Early HCI offerings were appliances that would typically come in a few varieties offering more compute or storage. However, we had clients who shied away from these solutions as not being flexible enough for their environments. For example, we had a client who had plenty of storage capacity but not enough compute. With older systems, they felt they would be locked into buying storage they really didn’t need. In contrast, leading HCI vendors now offer complete flexibility both in architecting initial HCI systems to suit a particular environment as well as scaling for future growth regardless of whether the requirement is for more performance, storage, networking  or compute or some combination of those essential HCI elements.


  • Support of Multiple Hypervisors. As with the examples above, early HCI solutions were limited in their support of Hypervisors. Most were built for VMware with a few for Hyper-V. This was obviously a limiting factor particularly for environments that used both hypervisors. Again, the good news here is that the top HCI solutions now offer multiple hypervisor support which we see as another important consideration for most of our clients.



Drivers for HCI Adoption

We believe these improvements made in maturing HCI solutions are significant enough to change the question from “Why would you deploy HCI?” to “Why would you not deploy HCI?”. The Forrester Report includes some of these drivers and we touch on a few of them here.

  • Ease of Management. Legacy hypervisor based infrastructure has proven often complex and difficult to manage. The ubiquitous adoption of virtualization nearly everywhere across most data centers, lead to equally growing levels of management complexity for most IT professionals. Added to this is the fact that many of our clients are working with smaller and smaller IT teams as their companies have forced them to accomplish a growing workload with with less IT staff.

From the Forrester Report: 

Legacy hypervisor-based infrastructure exposed too many underlying system details, unnecessarily adding to operational complexity. The routine task of adding capacity — particularly storage and compute capacity — became increasingly onerous, distracting I&O (Information and Operations) professionals from tasks that deliver more value to their companies’ BT agendas. Tech management professionals are demanding tighter management integration across virtualization and storage silos to boost the efficiency of their infrastructures to match customer demands.

  • Integration. As noted above, a big selling point of leading HCI solutions today is the tighter integration they offer across storage, compute and networking. This is significant because of the growing complexity of data centers and IT environments today


  • Cloud-Like Resource Pools. Cloud operators have their economic model figured out. Hyperconvergence brings to enterprise IT a cloud-like economic model that provides faster time to value for data center expenditures and lower total cost of ownership for the entire solution. Hyperconvergence offers the economic benefits of the cloud while delivering the performance, high availability, and reliability the enterprise demands.

From the Forrester Report:

A flexible cloud computing model has proven central to nimble adaptation for quickly changing customer expectations. As I&O pros around the globe increasingly virtualize their infrastructure, operating ever-larger cloud-like infrastructures has gained a higher profile. Hyperconverged platforms disrupt the traditional hardware infrastructure vendor landscape because they let customers build scalable virtualized infrastructure without requiring silo-focused expertise in areas such as storage and storage area network (SAN) management. (Emphasis added)

  • Buying Cycle Efficiencies. HCI can streamline purchasing, deployment and use of the essential elements of IT infrastructure. With HCI an IT pro has just one platform/appliance to keep track of. This includes support (and this should be a major consideration for an enterprise), EOL considerations, etc. HCI, then, offers the ultimate “one throat to choke”. This, then, is another facet of the simplicity HCI offers, perhaps a more practical consideration but important none the less.

A Recent Case Study

There are many use cases for HCI. These include VDI infrastructure as well as cost-efficient general VM and analytics clusters. Strategic Hardware recently worked with a Seattle client — a bio firm — whose case for choosing HCI might prove helpful.

Faced with an aging server infrastructure (some servers have just passed the six-year mark), the firm knew they needed to invest heavily in compute resources, particular to address growing requirements necessitated by the company’s research arm.

At the same time, the firm had made a significant investment two years ago in a flash storage array that, for a variety of reasons, was not giving them the performance which was increasingly being demanded.

Those two factors alone (and there many many others) were enough to convince this company to embrace HCI and they purchased a four-node Pivot3 cluster in August. As of this writing they company is in the midst of a POC, very positive reports have come back and we no reason to believe they won’t continue.

An HCI Solution We’re Bullish On

Forrester performed a 28-critieria evaluation of 12 leading HCI vendors: Atlantis Computing, Cisco, EMC, Gridstore, HPE, Huawei, Nutnaix, Pivot3, Scale Computing, SimpliVity, Stratoscale and VMware. Of these 12, Forrester named three vendors as market — or Wave — leaders: Pivot3, Nutanix and SimpliVity.

While each of these vendors made it to the top of Forrester’s HCI pool for various reasons, Strategic Hardware is keen on the HCI solution from Pivot3. Here are some of the factors for our positive outlook on Pivot3:

  • Advanced Erasure Coding. We believe Pivot3’s patented erasure coding technology is the best of breed. This gives the platform the highest storage utilization in the field.


  • Distributed Scale-Out Architecture. Storage and compute resources from each hyperconverged node are made available to all VMs and applications for maximum performance at scale.


  • Efficient Operating Environment. Optimized for minimum resource consumption, vSTAC OS bypasses the hypervisor for superior storage performance to support more applications.


  • Dynamic QoS. Policy-based quality of service engine ensures predictable, guaranteed performance and protection for applications based on business priority.


  • Simplified Management. Based on VMware vSphere, management is made easy via a vCenter Plug-in for single-pane-of-glass management of HCI and flash arrays from one console.


  • Flexible Deployment Options. Multiple platforms and form factors available for HCI deployment and seamless integration of existing servers, storage and applications.

Conclusion

Given the evolution of leading HCI solutions coupled with growing needs in IT today — like simpler infrastructure management — we believe Forrester is spot on in saying that “hyperconvergence is an idea whose time has come”. Indeed, current HCI offerings are far more advanced than their earlier predecessors and thus should make HCI technology a compelling option when a company or enterprise is considering expanding or upgrading compute, storage and/or networking resources today.

Stewart Sonneland

CEO

 

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