Neil Medical Group’s Chad Benfield says hyperconvergence helps his organization streamline virtualization, disaster recovery and many other critical tasks.

Nov 24 2014
Data Center

Hyperconvergence Makes Virtualization a Cinch for Businesses

Small businesses are the first to realize the advantages that fully stocked hyperconverged appliances can offer.

Small business IT teams that want to wholeheartedly embrace server virtualization but are perhaps intimidated by getting up to speed on the technology may welcome a solution that ensures all integrated components work together automatically and transparently in the background.

Hyperconvergence technology gives each app the amount of input/output operations per second, throughput and caching it needs, along with data protection and recoverability requirements.

With third-generation convergence solutions, “I do not have to make any decisions on creating LUNs [logical unit numbers] as I do with storage today, or creating volumes, or deciding if I want RAID Level 5, 3 or 1,” says Arun Taneja, founder and president of Taneja Group, a technology consulting firm. “It just makes IT admin’s lives much simpler.”

Taneja says hyperconverged systems represent “a paradigm shift.”

Virtualization appliances in the space differ from converged systems in that they go beyond the packaging of racked server, storage and networking components from brand-name vendors, each bound to its own separate management functions and requiring a level of IT expertise to deploy and maintain, even if accessible under a single interface.


The number of snapshots, per VM, supported by Scale Computing’s HC3 hyperconvergence appliance

SOURCE: Tom Fenton, “Five Tips for Working with the Scale Computing HC3 Hyperconvergence Appliance,” Virtualization Review online edition, Oct. 28, 2014

Hyperconvergence Defined

New hyperconverged appliances blur the lines across what once were separate boundaries, using commodity hardware components with a focus on scale-out, high-performance and highly efficient storage. These systems take a building-block approach to seamlessly add more nodes to the total resource pool as additional storage, networking or processing power is needed; automate operations; and offer a comprehensive, central management layer that eliminates the need for admins to develop wholesale infrastructure expertise.

Neil Medical Group, a long-term-care pharmaceutical and medical supply distributor with a division that handles Medicare Part B billing services, is taking advantage of hyperconvergence technology. Until recently, all of the company’s core applications ran on physical servers attached to separate storage area networks at its two data centers in Kinston and Mooresville, N.C. As that infrastructure reached its end of life, IT Director Chad Benfield had to choose between reproducing what was already there or choosing an option that would let his team better exploit virtualization and improve backup and disaster recovery operations.

We were at the point where virtualization just made sense” for critical apps, not just minor functions, Benfield says, “and we were not where we wanted to be with backup and disaster recovery. We were protecting data but didn’t necessarily have resources on hand to recover quickly from a DR perspective.”

Help from Machines

Only four dedicated IT staff members, including Benfield, support Neil’s 300 internal users, who require access to enterprise resource planning, pharmacy information systems and warehouse management software. Hundreds of external customers and partners also interface with the company through its e-commerce website, pharmacy portals and other venues. Any solution that would make it easier for Benfield’s team to virtualize, provision, scale, administer and protect the application infrastructure to improve performance and ensure business continuity would be welcome.

Enter SimpliVity’s hyperconvergence OmniCube technology. Over the past several months, Benfield has started virtualizing Neil’s core applications to run on two SimpliVity cubes in Mooresville and three at Kinston. So far, he reports he’s pleased with the results: “It’s very easy to set up and manage,” he says, and application performance on the new platform so far hasn’t disappointed.

High on the list of things he appreciates is his company’s ability to realize true business continuity. “Before, we had replication between SANs, but it took up a lot of bandwidth, so we couldn’t copy all our data from site to site in a consistent fashion,” Benfield says. “Now, as soon as I migrate a server, I know I have backups locally and backups at the replication site, and they all take just seconds.”

SimpliVity’s deduplication and compression — including the intelligence to know not to copy blocks of data from one site to another if that block is already present — mean “the time and bandwidth it takes is so minimal that we can back up every 15 minutes and not feel it,” Benfield says. “That’s really important for us because before, we didn’t really have true disaster recovery. There is a distinct feeling of relief with each server I migrate over.”

Data deduplication, compression and WAN optimization are part of the hyperconvergence equation almost by definition, Taneja says.

“Hyperconvergence is infrastructure coming out of a box, and if I have to buy three or four pieces separately, that’s two steps forward and one back.”

He expects to see major players, such as HP and IBM, join startups in the hyperconvergence space at some point, either by building their own solution or by buying one of the emerging vendors in the space. In addition to SimpliVity, that includes companies such as Scale Computing and Nutanix. “I’m convinced they have no choice,” Taneja says.

Charles Harris

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