Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) has evolved from its early days of specific use cases such as VDI and video surveillance to become general-purpose infrastructure used for virtually all types of enterprise applications and workloads, including mission-critical apps.

Expanded use of HCI is due in part to relatively recent developments, including:

  • The ability to independently scale compute and storage capacity
  • Increased integration of flash storage and the NVMe protocol in HCI platforms
  • Bundled functionality, including such features as data deduplication/compression, data protection and disaster recovery, snapshots and WAN optimization

Results from a recent survey of IT professionals in the 451 Alliance provide insight on what your peers are doing – or not doing – with HCI.

 
 

Report Highlights

 
 

Adoption on the Rise. About one-third of the companies in the 451 Alliance are using HCI today, with another 12% in proof-of-concept projects. However, 32% have no plans for the technology.

Plenty of Vendors. VMware, Dell EMC and Nutanix lead the list of ‘in use’ HCI vendors, but all of the major IT suppliers have entered the market alongside a growing number of smaller startups.

To the Edge. Thanks in large part to increased adoption of IoT, many enterprises are deploying HCI at the edge of their networks to serve remote location/branch office needs, leveraging HCI’s management simplicity and relatively small footprint.

 
 

Tell Me Where IT Hurts

 
 

In addition to perennial complaints about capex costs, IT managers cite a variety of pain points in their existing infrastructures. These include the difficulty of enabling self-service infrastructure/application provisioning, as well as challenges associated with scalability, resiliency and performance.

 
 
Pain Points with On-premises
 
 

An increasingly common elixir for alleviating many of those pains is the migration of applications, workloads and infrastructure to public clouds. Another palliative – sometimes used in conjunction with migration to public clouds – is to leverage HCI.

According to users, the primary benefit of HCI is simplified infrastructure management and maintenance (thanks in large part to increased automation), but users cite a variety of other benefits, including:

  • Faster provisioning and optimization
  • Easier scalability
  • Improved support for hybrid cloud environments
  • Better support for emerging technologies (e.g., containers)

Almost one-third (32%) of the enterprises in the 451 Alliance network are using HCI in production applications, and another 12% are ‘kicking the tires’ in proof-of-concept projects. Within the next year, about half of the enterprises will have HCI in production environments.

 
 
Adoption of Hyperconverged
 
 

However, 32% of the companies have no plans to deploy HCI. Some of these companies are simply satisfied with their existing infrastructures, while others say they’d prefer to migrate workloads to the public cloud rather than implement HCI (although these two options are not mutually exclusive).

Smaller companies often cite budget constraints and the (perceived) high capital costs associated with HCI as their primary reasons for not deploying hyperconverged platforms.

 
 

Plenty of Options

 
 

Among the 451 Alliance companies that have deployed HCI, the leading ‘in use’ vendors (in decreasing order) are VMware, Dell EMC, Nutanix, Cisco, Microsoft, NetApp and HP Enterprise.

There are also a number of smaller specialists in the HCI space, including Pivot3, Scale Computing, Cloudistics, HiveIO, Kaleao, Datacore, Datrium and Diamanti. Even secondary storage vendors are trying to get into the HCI game. Examples include Cohesity and Rubrik.

Given the broad universe of vendors, there is a wide range of deployment options for HCI, including:

  • Stand-alone appliances
  • Software-only implementations
  • Reference architectures
  • Cloud-based as-a-service deployments
 
 

Shifting Landscape

 
 

Although the majority of IT workloads currently run on traditional infrastructure – and this will still be the case three years from now – the shift is clearly toward converged and hyperconverged architectures. (The primary difference between converged and hyperconverged is that the former is more hardware-dependent, while the latter is more software-defined.)

 
 
Where Do Workloads Run?
 
 

Today, the majority of HCI deployments are in enterprises’ primary datacenters, but there is a gradual shift toward remote locations, including branch offices and, increasingly, ‘the edge.’ Proliferation of HCI at the edge is largely due to the acceleration of IoT deployments.

HCI is a good fit for edge computing because it makes it easier to put both compute and storage resources as close as possible to the data sources. HCI is also a good fit for edge computing because it requires less management, staff expertise and physical footprint.

 
 
HCI Deployment Locations
 
 

Hurdles Ahead

 
 

Among 451 Alliance members that are using HCI, 62% say that they did not encounter significant challenges in migrating existing, or deploying new, applications on hyperconverged platforms. However, the remaining 38% encountered a wide variety of obstacles.

 
 
Challenges with HCI
 
 

Disaster recovery integration. This problem is dissipating because most HCI vendors offer backup and DR functionality, either natively or via partnerships.

Networking configuration complexity and bandwidth limitations. As HCI platforms scale, the network – not compute or storage – may become the biggest bottleneck, and might require upgrades.

Reorganization of administrative teams. A successful HCI implementation requires tight coordination and cooperation between various IT teams, including the compute, storage, network and virtualization crews. It may also require reorganization and, in some cases, staff reductions, if there is too much overlap in responsibilities.

Security integration. HCI marks a departure from a network-based security model to an application-based security model. Vendors are adding sophisticated security features, but existing security products and models may not work well in an HCI environment. Migration of non-virtualized workloads. This hurdle relates mainly to mainframe and other legacy applications.

Integration of existing stand-alone storage. Unless your storage vendor is the same as your HCI vendor, it may be difficult to integrate existing storage gear into the HCI environment.

Management platform compatibility. HCI platforms come with built-in, single-pane-of-glass management, but you may not be able to use your existing management frameworks.

Application support/certification. This issue was more of a problem with first-generation HCI platforms. Now application vendors are hustling to certify their apps with HCI platforms, and broad-based certification is becoming widespread.

Despite the challenges, adoption of HCI will accelerate, thanks in large part to its increasing role in private cloud, hybrid cloud, remote office and edge computing deployments.