Hyperconverged infrastructure, which combines software-defined storage, computing and networking into one system with a hypervisor for virtualized computing, is no longer the sole province of the enterprise.
HCI systems were originally designed with the enterprise in mind. But costs have started to decrease somewhat, putting the systems within smaller companies’ reach. And more significant reductions are likely on the horizon as vendors analyze how their engineered solutions fit into the SMB market.
“Whether for SMB or remote office/branch office, the cost model has to come down,” says Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research. Scaling down features is one way to do it. Smaller companies might not need costly options such as all-flash storage or a graphics processing unit (GPU) for graphics acceleration.
What SMBs Need in an HCI System
Simplicity, flexibility and scalability more important for SMBs. Integrated HCI solutions promise easier management because IT administrators can see all their infrastructure assets from a single pane of glass, says Sebastian Lagana, research manager with IDC’s infrastructure and platform technologies group.
Flexibility is enabled in part because HCI is easier to deploy and manage on a day-to-day basis, so IT staff don’t need to be tied to a specific role. Administrators that had exclusively managed storage could now also manage servers and vice-versa. The agility that comes with being able to quickly provision resources has a lot of value, too.
At the same time, small businesses that expect to grow quickly will want their infrastructure to grow along with them, and engineered HCI systems offer the scalability to accommodate that.
“It’s a lot easier to just add in a couple of HCI nodes than it is to architect a more traditional server and storage architecture,” says Lagana. Software-defined compute, storage and networking HCI nodes in a cluster is a cost-effective path to scalable virtualization for expanding companies.
As Kerravala puts it, as SMBs grow they’re going to find the speed at which they need to operate IT somewhat operationally prohibitive. “Hence the value of an engineered system like HCI. They need to keep in mind that as they get bigger — as they wind up with more data to be analyzed and as they wind up with more workloads to run — the value proposition of turnkey HCI does lend itself to them because it creates an easier-to-run IT model.”
So, companies that want to invest in HCI shouldn’t be looking solely at upfront cost and discounting operational benefits.
Combine HCI and the Cloud to Improve Performance
There’s also a lot of value to be had from a marriage between HCI and the cloud. SMBs are eager to use the cloud to better compete with their bigger competitors. Most SMBs want to align their HCI platform with cloud platforms from Microsoft, Google and others.
To that end, says Kerravala, HCI vendors must let them run the converged HDI stack in the cloud or, if it is run on-premises, there must be a way to make it possible to talk to a cloud provider in a hybrid environment.
There’s usually a reason that SMBs will need a local HCI data center presence — perhaps for regulatory or availability concerns — but it’s a multi-cloud world and cloud interoperability across the chain matters. “HCI is a good bridge between on-premises and cloud because of its more software-oriented underpinning,” Lagana says.
Bring on the HCI Workloads
Smaller businesses tend to run smaller workloads; as such, data center performance is typically somewhat less important to them than flexibility. But it can be comforting to know about all the different workloads that are starting to find a home with HCI, including ERP software, small databases or communications platforms.
“There’s a lot of different workloads that can run on HCI and in fact some companies just want to run everything on HCI. Anything that runs in a virtual server they want to be able to run in a hyperconverged platform,” according to Kerravala.