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By Russell Rothstein – CEO, IT Central Station

Russell Rothstein has spent his 20+ year career in the enterprise technology industry at the crossroads between technology and business. Before founding IT Central Station, Russell worked in senior product marketing and product management roles at enterprise tech vendors OpTier and OPNET Technologies (Nasdaq:OPNT). Russell was co-founder and CEO of Zettapoint, a software company that was acquired by EMC, and was co-founder of Open Sesame, a Web 1.0 startup that was acquired by Bowne/RR Donnelley (NYSE:BNE). Russell received a BA in Computer Science from Harvard University, an MS in Technology and Policy from MIT and an MS in Management from the MIT Sloan School of Management.


What is Hyper-Converged Infrastructure?

Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) is fundamentally the convergence of compute, storage and networking onto shared industry standard x86 servers and allows management as a single system through a common toolset. All the key datacenter functions – compute, networking, and storage work seamlessly together as a tightly integrated software stack. This architecture can be easily and cost effectively scaled out across many nodes. HCI provides the best building block to implement a full-blown Software Defined Data Center (SDDC).

At IT Central Station, we’ve certainly noticed that HCI is a fast-growing trend. In fact, IDC forecasts that HCI is going to grow at a 64% annual growth rate to reach $4.8B in revenue by 2019 (IDC Hyperconverged Systems 2015-2019 Forecast, February 2016) That would make it by far the fastest growing storage segment by a pretty wide margin.

 

Why is HCI growing in popularity?

Simplicity

Many users have noted that moving to a hyper-converged infrastructure and operating it is very simple. Virtual SAN (VSAN), for example, is seamlessly embedded in the hypervisor, therefore, installation and configuration are done with a few mouse clicks from the vSphere Web Client.

In this video review this Data Center Engineer describes how simple VSAN is to use. “Using VSAN Observer, we were able to see exactly what the VSAN environment is doing on a day to day basis, so we’ve gotten to really enjoy that interface.”

Agility

Another major benefit that users note about moving towards hyper-converged infrastructure with VMware Virtual SAN is the flexibility and ability to meet changes in demand as the customer’s needs change. For example moving to HCI makes it easy to scale storage solutions when needed.

“I simply add drives into a chassis anywhere in my system. If I need more space, I buy a simple chassis, throw it in there and continue to add the drives.” This VSAN user also highlights that “there really is no limit to it” in his comments.

Manageability

The hyper-converged storage solution Virtual SAN is not only easy to set up, but also easy to manage and provision. From key business applications to virtual desktops, customers trust Virtual SAN to keep their businesses running.

Underscored by a technology architect who wrote about VSAN, “We’ve decreased the time it takes for us to roll out new solutions. It’s sped up that process for us.”

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Hyper-Converged Infrastructure is cost effective. One of the features of Virtual SAN that has convinced many users to move from traditional storage solutions is that you can deploy it on inexpensive industry standard x86 servers which reduces outlay on purchase, and makes it easy and cheap to scale when necessary.

This CTO at a tech services company explains that “probably the biggest benefit we get is the replacement of the SANs and it’s purely a cost one. To give you an idea, we spend roughly 50% less on equivalent storage by using VSAN to replace our more traditional SAN architecture. Further, the operating costs are 20 to 30 percent less.”

 

Which industries would benefit from a move to Hyper-Converged Infrastructure?

Based on feedback from IT Central Station users, the benefits of the hyper-converged infrastructure movement are applicable across many industries, from small-medium businesses to enterprise companies and to different verticals.

For large enterprises, the simplicity and easy manageability of Virtual SAN are key. Traditional storage SANs at enterprise businesses require a larger team to manage them and can be quite complex. Moving to a HCI solution means that enterprise teams can be more efficient and thereby save time and money, giving overall greater ROI.

This IT Manager at a large retailer moved to a Hyper-Converged solution in March 2015. He notes, “It’s lowered our storage costs while still maintaining High Availability and with easy installation.”

For medium sized businesses and organizations, the agile nature and scalability of VMware VSAN is a major factor in choosing this type of storage solution.

HCI solutions are also getting implemented across many different industries: Retail, financial services, non-profits, oil & gas, healthcare and many more …

 

Advice from real users who have transitioned to Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

1] Get management buy-in all the way

Our users recommend getting all the key decision makers in your company involved in the decision to move to hyper-converged infrastructure. Moving to a solution like VMware VSAN can give long term ROI, but in the short-term takes investment from the whole team. As C-Suites become increasingly focused on driving down storage costs even as data creation grows it is critical to have alignment.

2] Try before you buy

Try the solution before making any commitment. The more research you do beforehand, the more you will be able to tailor your storage solution to your business needs and iron out any issues pre-purchase. VMware offers several solutions to test drive Virtual SAN before purchase. From Hands-on-Labs to the VSAN Assessment, these tools can get you started on the path to hyper-converged infrastructure.

You can also do a Proof of Concept to make sure that this is a system that will work with your needs.
This user says, “Try it out – that’s the best way to know whether it’s right for your organization.” Michael Hopwood, IT Manager at a retailer.

3] Pick a vendor that is a market leader and can provide the support you need.

Choosing the right vendor when moving to a new infrastructure is crucial. On our site, we have user reviews for hundreds of technology solutions, and it is clear that experienced vendors tend to lead the field in both innovation, and support. When investing in a relatively new solution like HCI, this should always be an important factor in your decision.

This video review covers why choosing an experienced vendor with market leadership can be one of the most important factors in a successful transition.  “When a vendor’s classified as strategic and then we look at the function they provide, there has to be a level of commitment. They must be a market leader. They must have enormous R&D capabilities. They must be flexible. They must interact with our engineers at a peering level…VMware clearly acts appropriately like that.”

4] Really do your research, see what other users in your industry have to say.

Do your research, and see what other users have to say before investing in a solution like HCI. IT Central Station has many user reviews of HCI including video reviews. You can also ask current users questions, to better understand how they use the solution, what they like, and any issues that they might have that you would need to address with the vendor pre-purchase.

“Peer reviews and peer comments are very important factors when evaluating storage solutions or any other priced IT solutions is the raw data that you see from the people that are using it the way that we are going to be using something. It’s not media or something that’s not tested. So, this has the most weight for us.” Stelios Xeroudakis, Director at a Tech Services company.

5] Moving to a HCI means changing your approach

Moving to hyper-converged infrastructure can mean radical changes to your team, and the way that your team works. Hyper-Converged Infrastructure can cut down your manpower costs, but this doesn’t necessarily mean firing people. You can now focus on building a team with transferable skills, who can manage your system needs in a more effective and efficient way.

The silo approach of a network team, a storage team and so on, which is expensive to maintain, morphs “in a hyper-converged model, all of that becomes one.” Your traditional environment becomes “a series of better trained, more effective engineers” according to this VSAN user.

 

HCI offers an attractive proposition to companies across most verticals and of all sizes. The opportunity that VMware’s Virtual SAN affords, to not only control costs but also simplify management suggests that HCI’s outperformance, popularity and growth are likely to continue in the future.