BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY MEDIA COMPANY
Companies
Sectors

HCI: Your cloud journey starts here

If everything the business needs is inside one preconfigured box, will this guarantee easy deployment and scalable capability, or is it just another box of tech?
Read time 10min 10sec
Tunde Abagun, Nutanix.
Tunde Abagun, Nutanix.

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is defined by Gartner as a software stack that’s designed to support and enhance infrastructure using tech that spans compute, storage, networking and management. It allows for organisations to dip their digital toes into the waters of cloud-native, hybrid cloud, edge compute and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) on demand, and in tune with strategy. HCI has gained traction and attention because it comes with a bundle of benefits thanks to its combination of traditional and innovative technologies and solutions, all designed to provide organisations with the tools they need to step over legacy infrastructure at a pace that fits both business and budget. It boasts scale, simplicity, agility and performance enhancement built in.

However, it has its own fair share of complexities. After all, is that HCI box of treats really going to make life easier or is that easy life just another tech promise that’s ready for breaking?

The first con is vendor lock-in. Walking through your business doors, hand in hand with HCI, is the vendor. HCI solutions are vendor-dependent, so once that box has been opened, you’re reliant on one vendor for the foreseeable future. This makes it essential that you undertake due diligence before signing on the dotted line to ensure that there is a measure of interoperability. It’s possible to evolve your HCI environment leveraging different systems and solutions, but there’s the risk that they’ll add performance issues rather than streamline them. Equally important is ensuring that the chosen vendor has a very clear upgrade and innovation roadmap in place with a proven track record and clear strategic vision.

In addition, you also need to unpack their cost structures so you know exactly how much your HCI investment is going to cost you over the long term. Hidden costs are a common technology investment problem so ensure that you have comprehensive visibility into cost structures and potential expenditure, and that you undertake a full cost analysis at the outset. Another cost that can creep up on the business is the need to add compute resources to keep up with the scale, so ensure that this is a line item or expectation from the outset.

While we’ve seen a hardware evolution occur to support the simplified needs of HCI, we’re now evidencing a software evolution.

Tunde Abagun, Nutanix

Finally, HCI asks for power, which can add not just weight to the budget, but to operational efficiency in the current climate. This can be managed with the right vendor support and investing into smart solutions that offload workloads and balance power draw, but ultimately this has to be recognised as a potential risk and managed accordingly.

This may sound like a laundry list of problems that no digital detergent can fix, but a realistic view of the HCI landscape means that organisations can better realise the benefits it brings. With costs and expectations in hand, you’re in a position to relish the wonders of reliability, performance, scalability, flexibility, agility and streamlined system management that come standard with a robust HCI implementation with the right vendor and strategy.

Q&A


Pass the scissors; it’s time to open the box.

Brainstorm: Why should the business be using HCI?

Jeetesh Khusal, solutions manager: Hybrid Cloud, Dimension Data: HCI is the modern datacentre. It’s software-defined datacentre based on-premise, removing complexity, reducing footprint, and giving agility through automation and providing scalability. This reduces risk through tested and validated software patches and firmware updates, giving peace of mind to the business that the infrastructure is well taken care of. It enables seamless expansion through a true scale-up and scale-out architecture, further speeding up deployment and creating a truly agile environment.

Daniel Thenga, NetApp business unit manager, Westcon-Comstor: HCI is now known as the premise upon which the cloud is built. It helps organisations limit and reduce deployment risk through simplification and by removing the guesswork from the equation. It’s especially attractive for companies looking for scale with limited people resources and shrinking budgets.

Brendon Reynolds, HCI business manager, Data Services and Solutions for UK, Ireland, Middle East and South Africa, HPE: HCI is a powerful solution that integrates software-defined compute and storage with automation to deliver simplicity, ease of use, and better economics by collapsing silos and removing complexity. This, and its modular architecture, speaks to customers, IT professionals and businesses that are looking for easy-to-manage IT ecosystems. The pandemic demonstrated that customers need agile IT infrastructure that can transform at the click of a button with complete ease, guaranteed uptime and sustainable performance.

Ahmed Adly, senior director: technology, Middle East and Africa, Oracle: The capability that HCI provides around the design and pre-testing and tuning guarantees a much better level of performance to customers, plus the guarantee of a faster time to market. It is a pre-designed, pre-assembled, pre-tested, pre-tuned appliance that has the processing power, the storage power and the software capability, all designed from scratch and tuned to a specific purpose.

Brainstorm: How is HCI evolving to meet market demands?

Tunde Abagun, channel sales manager, Sub-Saharan Africa, Nutanix: While we’ve seen a hardware evolution occur to support the simplified needs of HCI, we’re now evidencing a software evolution. What we can achieve in software is the next frontier of HCI – we’re already seeing this come through in DRaaS, virtual networking, and the establishment of a multicloud data fabric.

Tony Bartlett, director: Data Centre Compute, Dell Technologies South Africa: Converged and hyperconverged infrastructures help deliver the experience of a cloud operating model on-premise. In doing so, they serve as one of the most effective ways to raise the level of maturity in the organisation, modernise datacentre infrastructure and jumpstart the IT transformation process.

Ralph Berndt, sales and marketing director, Syrex: Hyperconverged-everything delivers a more user-friendly interface and empowers organisations with the means to leverage existing investments and capitalise on new ones derived from more advanced technologies.

Brainstorm: What are some of the stand-out use cases of HCI today?

Monique Hart, lead solutions engineer, VMware SSA: Business continuity. Expected disruptive events such as hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and unexpected ones such as public health outbreaks or geopolitical developments require business decision-makers to prepare carefully. Businesses need the agility to act decisively and respond appropriately to keep the business running in the face of many probable disruptions.

Conrad Steyn, CTO, Cisco: Today’s cloud strategies are centred around a hybrid model, with technology leaders looking for solutions to efficiently and securely support a mix of traditional and cloud-native applications. They’re also looking to simplify operations across a complex and distributed multi-domain ecosystem for hybrid work.

Paul Spagnoletti, business unit executive: Cloud and Security South Africa, iOCO: Test and development workloads are sometimes relegated to the IT castoff gear that’s no longer in use. HCI provides developers with a programmable infrastructure environment they can include right into their development workflows. They can create and destroy VMs on command, and run it all on infrastructure that performs well, speeding up their efforts.

On the right path

What the researcher says…

When asked whether an organisation should currently be using hyperconverged infrastructure, Jon Tullett, senior research manager at IDC Sub-Saharan Africa, says that the short answer is to use it only if it’s the right tool for the job. For him, the real question is the use cases.

“Many organisations are trying to rationalise their datacentres and consolidate their technology stacks to squeeze out more mileage from their on-prem and collocated compute infrastructures. HCI is a good way to do that,” he says. “But it’s not ideal for everything. It’s a tool in the CIO’s toolbox but it’s not a solution to every problem and, like a lot of good technology, it often gets oversold as being useful beyond its remit.”

Businesses need the agility to act decisively and respond appropriately to keep the business running in the face of many probable disruptions.

Monique Hart, VMware SSA

This doesn’t mean that HCI isn’t relevant, only that it needs to be applied when relevant. As Tullett points out, organisations are looking to be faster, more agile and capable of deploying new capabilities without having to reinvest into all the underlying architecture that drives these mandates. There’s pressure on the business to do things differently, and this is where the notion of software-defined everything evolved. From networking to storage, HCI is defining it all within software’s embrace, providing an infrastructure stack that allows for seamless optimisation, management and configuration.

“It’s very good for specific workloads as the business can over-provision hardware within a converged infrastructure stack while only paying for what it uses,” says Tullett. “This gives you the consumption-based pricing upside to the cloud in an HCI stack. In addition, everything is tightly integrated, which lends itself to remote management, which is attractive to companies that want to move the stacks out of their datacentres and into third-party environments.”

Turning the dials

HCI lets the business scale up compute infrastructure effectively, beefing up a particular application stack without going through the complexity of a large-scale cloud migration or developing a new infrastructure platform. The upside is speed with minimal disruption, the downside is that the business is paying a premium for cost overheads in HCI. In the long term, the benefits then come down to why the business deployed to HCI in the first place.

“If you deployed HCI to make one specific workload as efficient as possible, you’re probably looking for a specific ROI that’s measured against output versus depreciation. It’s very specific,” says Tullett. “However, if you’re moving workers into the public or hybrid cloud, or deploying with a mind to integration across other components and within the rules of broader cloud thinking, then this is a good step for the business. This all comes together neatly, but you’re still left with an effective, highly-tuned silo.”

It’s a tool in the CIO’s toolbox, but it’s not a solution to every problem and, like a lot of good technology, it often gets oversold as being useful beyond its remit.

If the organisation wants to integrate at the deep level, like the API level, this is probably not the best way to modernise, but if it wants to define workloads as silos, then HCI is a solid, long-term strategy. HCI can shine when dedicated to specific workloads such as analytics or edge compute and this is an area that’s currently gaining traction. Telcos and network operators investing into edge network access along with cloud operators and providers creating effective edge compute platforms – this makes for rich soil in which HCI can bloom.

“HCI can adapt quickly to fit what customers need with an infrastructure stack that’s flexible and tightly optimised,” says Tullett. “It’s well suited for private cloud as it delivers similar expectations in terms of agility and speed, along with integrated components and consumption-based pricing. This is an area where we’re seeing enormous investment in South Africa – it’s incredible how rapidly private cloud technologies are taking off – as private cloud offers advantages and capabilities that organisations need.”

HCI is not the answer to everything, but it is something that the organisation should consider judicious use of to resolve specific problems and to put infrastructure on the right path towards modernisation.

See also