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Hyperconvergence trends for building a virtual data center

Build your knowledge of hyperconvergence, a consolidation trend that bundles together key infrastructure components.

Data center consolidation is continuing in a big way, with prepackaged converged infrastructure systems giving way to more tightly integrated hyperconverged products. Hyperconverged systems promise simplicity and a respite from management and integration tasks, but they practically define the term "vendor lock-in." Get the basics on hyperconvergence and how it might work in your virtual environment.

What is hyperconvergence?

Hyperconvergence takes a building-block approach to bring together key IT system components into one box, or system, that's managed through a software layer. The hyperconvergence market is growing quickly, with entrenched vendors competing against startups to win customers.

Is hyperconvergence the same as converged infrastructure?

The primary difference is that grid software manages the components that make up the hyperconverged product. Converged infrastructure packaged various components together, but the hyperconverged iteration moves beyond packaging to include a management console for all the included systems. Converged systems often only included storage and servers bundled together or added computing as well, but those initial converged offerings are evolving to include other functions like deduplication, compression and backup.

Where does this fit in a virtual data center?

Who's who in hyperconvergence

Dell Active Infrastructure

HP Converged Infrastructure

IBM Flex System

NetApp FlexPod

Nimble Storage SmartStack

Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform

Oracle Exadata

Scale Computing HC3

SimpliVity Omnicube

VCE Vblock

Hyperconverged systems usually plug into existing infrastructure to make integration easier. Virtual machines can be migrated into the converged box, then managed through the interface. Products either integrate with virtual platforms or provide their own. Many converged products have come from established storage vendors and often use flash storage for speed and performance. Though that sounds expensive, hyperconvergence can eliminate the need for a pricey storage-area network (SAN).

Hyperconverged systems do not allow you to use the storage and compute you already have. However, VMware Inc.'s VSAN is a storage product that could be a key piece of the converged puzzle for those with VMware environments. VSAN software is actually a feature of vSphere and can convert existing hardware into a hyperconvergence-like setup. Other providers usually run storage functionality as a virtual storage appliance or VM running on the host.

What about vendor lock-in?

Hyperconvergence vendors are selling simplicity and a hands-off approach to data center management. But these systems are definitely proprietary; when you buy one, you're buying a big chunk of infrastructure from one vendor. Proponents say hyperconverged systems are the future of IT, but naysayers note that buying more hardware in legacy-hardware-heavy IT shops doesn't make financial sense.

While the move toward convergence is about simplicity, these boxes aren't necessarily simple under the hood. That lack of control may work for some IT teams, but not for system engineers who like to have hands-on options.

Who's using hyperconvergence?

Hyperconverged systems are finding homes in companies where IT needs simplicity. Those could be smaller companies without the resources to manage multiple systems or companies where managing a virtual infrastructure has become too complex. Hyperconverged systems can take on backup and DR tasks, for example, while also offering a high-end storage area network (SAN) and networking hardware.

VDI implementations are often a natural fit for hyperconverged systems; they can reduce complexity and performance issues for the storage-hungry technology.

This was first published in June 2014

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