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HCI is Not Just About Software-Defined

When we talk about hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), we often focus on how this new model of IT infrastructure simplifies operations by uniting compute, storage, and networking under a single management interface. An aspect that’s occasionally overlooked, however, is how HCI’s hardware model also directly improves IT agility and cost-effectiveness – particularly when it comes to storage.

 

HCI Benefits from x86 Scale Economies

We’re all familiar with the classic enterprise storage model. Scaling storage capacity and performance requires proprietary hardware storage systems with proprietary storage networking interconnects. The hardware-centric model drove large, up-front capital expenditures, which in turn extended purchasing decisions to many months. And with just six vendors controlling 80 percent of the storage market, the chance of becoming locked in to a single hardware manufacturer was high.

HCI blows this model wide open. Rather than relying on proprietary storage hardware, HCI leverages the same industry-standard x86 hardware used to power today’s server workloads. Built on Intel CPU, flash and Ethernet silicon advances that fuel the high-volume server market, HCI delivers consolidated server and storage resources on these common hardware components. That’s great news for customers, in particular VMware customers, because it means they can take advantage of the latest and greatest silicon from at least 15 different server manufacturers – and the server industry is hardly slowing down.

In fact, by mid-2017, all of the major server vendors are expected to begin shipping hardware based on Intel’s latest CPU microarchitecture, known as Skylake. These upcoming server processors represent a significant performance upgrade from the previous generation of chips, and we at VMware expect them to trigger the largest server refresh cycle of the last five years.

 

HCI Will Support New Silicon Faster than Storage Systems in 2017

For customers, this refresh cycle presents the intriguing opportunity to parlay these new server investments into storage upgrades using HCI. A major advantage of this approach is that customers will have access to the latest CPU, media, and network silicon long before their traditional storage peers. That’s because many more server hardware engineers are working at more server companies than there are storage companies to deliver updated server platforms in nine-month cycles, rather than the 36-month time frames that are typical of traditional enterprise storage hardware.

VMware customers are particularly well-positioned to take advantage of silicon advances because, unlike HCI solutions from some other vendors, VMware vSAN offers flexible deployment options. vSAN powers HCI solutions certified with the broadest range of server hardware possible. That means customers can standardize their support and maintenance practices around the vendors they trust and configure their preferred servers for HCI with the same flexibility they have enjoyed for years.

NVMe support is a good example of how server designs, and therefore vSAN, supported a new technology before legacy storage systems. This innovation curve will continue and will be most obvious with Intel’s Skylake CPU launch, which includes integrated support for NVMe and RDMA networking.

There are cost advantages to the HCI approach, as well. Because HCI storage is purchased in a “scale out” model that’s borrowed from the major public cloud innovators, customers are able to start small and make incremental purchases more often, rather than waiting for some arbitrary milestone when they can get sign-off on another massive appliance purchase. And because VMware vSAN is licensed on a per-socket, rather than per-core basis, you won’t end up paying more just because you upgraded to more sophisticated chips with a greater number of CPU cores per socket.

With flash media and new CPU silicon, these 2017 HCI systems will offer competitive performance at a fraction of the acquisition cost of their proprietary storage alternatives. And these HCI systems can be managed by virtualization admins using well-known VMware vCenter Server management tools. The virtualization generalist can now deliver storage as a competitive advantage to their companies looking to respond to the demands of digital transformation without breaking their budget.

 

HCI Finally Introduces Hardware Choice for Storage Buyers

Based on these advantages, by now it should be clear that the value of HCI – and what makes it so compelling – extends beyond merely simplifying and streamlining IT operations. By consolidating the compute and storage functions onto the same, industry-standard x86 hardware, HCI turns the traditional data center hardware procurement model on its head. This leads to greater IT agility, which is particularly important as lines of business emphasize agility over bulk.

If your organization is planning a major server hardware refresh in the New Year, we’d love to talk to you about how VMware can help you transition to an HCI model that can save you money, save you effort, and help your organization accelerate to the speed of modern business. We think you’ll find it’s a gift that will keep on giving. It’s going to be a Happy New Year for storage buyers!