Hyperconverged infrastructure fast-tracks IT transformation in the cloud age

July 25 2019
by Christian Perry


Digital transformation means different things to different organizations, particularly as they embark on the transformative journey. However, the ultimate manifestation of digital transformation inevitably transforms how organizations serve customers, employees and partners and enables more effective market disruption on multiple levels. These are tantalizing business benefits that continue to drive investment and change in many IT environments, but the pace of change can be sluggish as organizations work to determine the best path forward. Multiple factors can contribute to a slow transformation pace, including investment barriers, delayed refresh of existing infrastructure, and even hybrid cloud preparation as IT and business leaders hedge on the best route forward with on- and off-premises workload deployment. However, HCI (hyperconverged infrastructure) increasingly serves as an accelerant for digital transformation.

The 451 Take

Developing an effective infrastructure modernization strategy is no small feat, regardless of organization size. Even as IT teams scramble to update their infrastructure and personnel with software-defined IT capabilities and knowledge, respectively, business requirements loom large above a larger IT landscape that has business leaders increasingly considering public cloud services for all workload deployments. But a transformative beacon shines in the form of HCI, which already is fast-tracking digital transformation strategies for a rising number of organizations. As HCI deployments continue across a wide range of workloads and use cases, the impact on core operational metrics, including VMs under management and server infrastructure ROI, is becoming clear.

HCI assumes a transformative infrastructure role

Fast-tracking digital transformation has become a priority for many IT teams as they seek to accelerate IT modernization to keep up with business requirements, particularly as public cloud services expand in scope and capability. However, substantially overhauling legacy infrastructure to enhance automation and orchestration is a difficult endeavor without extensive internal expertise or investment in third-party IT services. Even these efforts can still result in IT ecosystems that are ultimately a patchwork of modern applications on legacy hardware that can be difficult to manage and maintain.

Instead, a rising number of organizations are investing in HCI, which delivers instantly virtualized, software-defined destinations for most workloads. Early deployments of HCI typically featured limited, workload-specific use cases designed to simplify historically difficult implementations, such as VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure). Continued innovation and support for broader workload sets – as well as broader overall acceptance – has shifted HCI into a far more strategic role in workload deployment plans. In turn, we see deployment locations expanding to cover the breadth of enterprise computing, from core/centralized datacenters to the edge (see Figure 1 below), as shown in results from our recent Compute Infrastructure, Workloads and Key Projects 2019 study.

Figure 1
Figure 1: HCI locations: now vs. 3 years

In particular, edge locations are slated for significant HCI growth in the next three years, rising from 9% today to 21% in three years. Vendors are actively pursuing the edge opportunity with HCI products geared for remote locations; for example, products used to capture and process data from video surveillance cameras on city streets or industrial sites. HCI vendors are not alone in the rush to build edge-centric infrastructure, but they hold an advantage over stand-alone infrastructure vendors due to HCI's small, consolidated form factor, ease of deployment and ease of management. Because organizations typically do not deploy extensive IT teams, if any at all, outside of centralized datacenters, HCI becomes increasingly enticing as those same organizations seek to leverage edge opportunities (such as market expansion and differentiation) afforded by data-producing IoT devices. HCI platforms can be remotely managed from a centralized datacenter and generally need less hands-on configuration and maintenance than stand-alone servers and storage.

HCI puts digital transformation on a fast track

Evidence of HCI's transformative impact is materializing in several areas of the enterprise. One is the penetration of VMs (virtual machines) in IT environments, which are generally harbingers of successful transformation – the more VMs in use, generally the higher levels of automation and overall operational simplicity. In the aforementioned Voice of the Enterprise study, we found organizations have an average of 91 VMs managed per administrator. However, that number spikes to 113 VMs manager per administrator among HCI adopters and dips to just 70 among organizations that do not have HCI in use or in plan (see Figure 2 below).

Figure 2
Figure 2: VMs managed per administrator 451 Research, Compute Infrastructure, Workloads and Key Projects 2019

The correlation between HCI and higher levels of virtualization is understandable and expected, considering that any workload that enters an HCI environment is virtualized. However, the benefits of higher VM penetration cannot be overstated, especially as IT teams become perpetually squeezed for resources. Further, higher levels of VMs under management means administrators ultimately have a clearer view of their infrastructure capacity and performance levels, which becomes more critical as more demanding workloads – including analytics – enter the IT environment. Doing more with less is a constant goal of IT and business leaders alike, and these findings give credence to the potential for HCI to move organizations more quickly into the modern infrastructure era that can mesh effectively with cloud. This potential will be enhanced as HCI vendors expand support for container deployment on the platforms, which will increase workload mobility between private and public clouds.

We found supporting evidence of HCI's transformative impact in another area, as well. Organizations that say their server infrastructure ROI exceeds expectations are more likely to have HCI in use (at 40%, compared with 31% of all organizations that have HCI in use). Conversely, only 19% of organizations that say their server infrastructure does not meet expectations have HCI in use, suggesting that justifying investment in on-premises infrastructure becomes an easier exercise with HCI.

For many customers, the impact of HCI on digital transformation strategies will be incremental, chiefly among large organizations with substantial existing footprints of stand-alone servers, storage and networking. For vendors, it is imperative to help customers understand the potential effect of HCI on broader implementations in centralized datacenters, rather than simply the benefits of deploying the platform for a single workload or small set of workloads. This can happen after the initial deployment by tracking VM and other management metrics, but it should happen at some point to ensure continued HCI uptake across other workloads.