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IT administrators have a decision to make when it comes to their HCI deployments: Do they deploy HCI as a software layer or purchase HCI nodes as prepackaged hardware appliances?
Integration has historically been the primary use case of convergence and hyper-convergence technologies. Vendors provided a complete set of gear and the software to manage it. Such prepackaged platforms offered speed and simplicity, but they also posed the risk of vendor lock in.
Today, the product set for HCI has broadened to offer a wider range of heterogeneous alternatives, and admins can deploy HCI as a software product or as a preintegrated hardware offering.
HCI as a software layer
First, admins can readily deploy HCI as a software layer. One example is the Nutanix Inc. suite. It provides a complete HCI software layer that combines virtualization with compute, storage, networking, security and management atop a wide range of hardware, including Nutanix-brand appliances, OEM appliances and validated hardware from other vendors.
Another example is the VMware suite, including vSphere for virtualization, vSAN for storage and vCenter for management.
Other software-layer examples include Maxta hyper-convergence software. Red Hat offers an HCI software layer based on technologies including OpenStack and Ansible. Microsoft Windows Server 2016 and later support HCI-type functionality with features such as Storage Spaces Direct.
In all of these cases, the idea is to implement HCI as a white box platform on almost any hardware that might exist in the data center. Admins can then expand the HCI deployment simply by adding compatible gear.
HCI hardware appliances
Second, admins can also deploy HCI as a more turnkey alternative where HCI software is preinstalled and optimized on suitable hardware appliances and other components that are combined to form HCI nodes. Each node provides a certain amount of compute, storage and network capacity, and admins can expand the HCI deployment by adding more nodes to the environment.
Examples include the Dell EMC VxRail Appliance family -- running VMware vSAN – and the HPE SimpliVity family, such as the SimpliVity 380 based on the HPE ProLiant DL380 Gen 10 server.
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