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Hyper-converged infrastructure basics for virtualization admins

Hyper-convergence provides many benefits, such as simplified provisioning and management, but virtualization administrators should get to know HCI technology before implementing it.

Hyper-converged infrastructure is a well-known technology to many virtualization administrators. With its emergence, admins no longer have to worry about high-level IT issues, such as silos, which affect the way different groups in organizations share data with each other.

Understanding hyper-converged infrastructure basics is vital for admins who plan to adopt the technology. In general, HCI combines compute, storage, networking, security and management in hardware that is tightly integrated through software.

HCI benefits for virtual workloads

HCI abstracts resources from underlying hardware to provide admins with flexibility when deploying and moving workloads. By using this type of infrastructure, admins can also extend the other benefits of HCI to different areas of their virtual workloads.

For example, HCI simplifies resource provisioning and management, which makes it easier for admins to plan for capacity and possible issues. Another benefit of implementing HCI is the ability to use automation and orchestration, which enable admins to replicate cloudlike operations without having to construct an actual cloud environment.

Nuances of HCI

The purpose of HCI is to compile system resources and virtualization technology into a single environment. But HCI has significantly improved the IT landscape in other ways, such as breaking down silos and improving several IT tasks. For example, with the emergence of HCI, admins were able to resolve issues such as gear integration complications.

With the emergence of HCI, admins were able to resolve issues such as gear integration complications.

HCI eliminates many of the complexities of IT, enabling automation to handle provisioning tasks quickly and efficiently. HCI software can also provide extended hardware possibilities when implemented on white box hardware compared to purpose-built hardware alternatives. This provides admins with more hardware options and helps to mitigate vendor lock-in.

HCI hardware vs. software

Some admins might wonder whether HCI hardware and software are one in the same. Though they both implement HCI, the two are different in terms of deployment. Buying HCI hardware is easier than manually integrating disparate hardware through HCI software. HCI vendors generally sell HCI hardware and software as a package; they test and certify the hardware components to ensure they work well together. But buying an HCI appliance often comes at a higher price, and the need to add extra nodes can interfere with cost efficiency.

With HCI software, admins can decide among different pieces of software and hardware rather than having to purchase them from a designated package. Admins can mix and match hardware that works with their chosen HCI software from a reference architecture. But admins sacrifice simplicity with this approach. The learning curve of do-it-yourself HCI might be difficult for some, and the deployment processes can become complicated because of the possible software and hardware combinations that come with this method.

HCI hardware and software products

Admins have a choice of vendors and products that are ideal for HCI software and hardware deployments.

Organizations that want to take a software-only approach to HCI can choose from vendors such as Nutanix and Maxta. These suites give admins an HCI software layer that exists on top of hardware of their choosing, combining virtualization with compute, storage, networking, security and management.

Organizations that want the simpler, appliance-based approach can turn to vendors such as Dell EMC, Nutanix and Hewlett Packard Enterprise SimpliVity. HCI appliances come with the software installed and optimized for the hardware. This enables admins to expand the capabilities by adding more nodes to the environment as needed.

Prepare a data center for HCI appliances

Once an organization has decided to implement HCI, it must first ensure that the network and server racks can support the virtualization framework. To do this, admins must have the appropriate switching, cabling and networking power available for the HCI appliance.

Generally, HCI appliances require 10 Gigabit Ethernet for storage, and each node requires at least two 10 GbE switch ports. In total, each HCI node requires five network switch ports and cables to support management and VM networking. Admins must take advantage of virtual LANs to isolate traffic, which helps secure user access and ensure peak network performance. Otherwise, an admin will need additional network adapters, cables and switches, which can affect cost efficiency.

Power is another aspect that admins should consider when prepping their data centers for an HCI appliance. Rack space is essential to ensure power in a data center, and admins often deploy HCI appliances on chassis with four server nodes in 2U. Without sufficient power, performance can begin to fail because of the system's inability to lay data across the HCI nodes, which ensures VM availability. Admins should avoid deploying HCI nodes on the same rack because of the vast density of the power load.

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