Is a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) now the first choice for CIOs?

In fact, most IT leaders still consider hyperconvergence as an option rather than the primary choice, says Gernot Fels, head of integrated systems: international product marketing at Fujitsu.

Analysts see HCI growth rates reaching about 40% by 2022, with 25% of business-critical applications currently on HCI and 85% of CIOs intending to spend more.

HCI drivers include aging infrastructure, high complexity and support costs, a requirement for new services and an interest in introducing new architectures.

“If any of these sounds familiar, then you are a typical HCI candidate,” Fels says.

He describes HCI as interconnected standard services with no external storage. It is has a virtual rather than physical SAN, with data services and hyper-availability built in. There is unified central management and scale-out in terms of performance and capacity. Auto-discovery comes standard and the HCI is always software-defined.

HCI offers a wealth of benefits, including few components so it takes up less space. It also requires less energy and cooling and, because it is simpler to manage, a lower skills set is required.

With HCI, IT organisations can start small and grow as they go. It is also easy to flexibly align HCI systems to the business, offering great responsiveness.

By implementing HCI, it is easier to maintain business continuity, and the systems have a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) compared to traditional systems.

“So it sounds like HCI is the holy grail of IT. But is it really?” Fels asks.

There are pros and cons for both classic converged infrastructure and HCI, he points out.

HCI requires fewer components, but a more powerful LAN. For HCI only servers are added for scalability, but servers are required to scale out storage. With HCI there are some restrictions when it comes to software licencing. And, while the complexity and hardware costs are lower with HCI, software costs will tend to be higher.

“Both architectures offer benefits depending on the use case – so there is place for both,” Fels says.

Aspects to consider include the workload. If compute and storage needs to scale in tandem, HCI is a good option.; however, if granular expansion on a component level is required, then classic architectures should be considered.

“We have to state that, for HCI, virtualisation is a must,” Fels adds. “If the application needs to run on bare metal, HCI is not the best way to go. It would also not be ideal in an environment that needs to support multiple hypervisors.”

Remote offices and branch office, or edge computing in general, is a good fit for HCI, Fels adds. “With HCI, CIOs don’t’ need to take care of the physical LANs in remote sites.”

Expected growth should be factored in as well: one of the benefits of HCI is its ease of scalability. “But if scaling happens only once every two years, then it’s not a decisive factor.”

If the business needs built-in data services, HCI is well-suited.

If the company will benefit from unified management, and is prepared for it, HCI should be considered. But there may be resistance if there are specialised skills that might be replaced.

If the CIO wants to utilise existing storage, HCI won’t work; but if the plan is to replace existing storage, it would be a good fit.

The planned storage capacity and functions has to be considered before a decision on HCI can be made, if the storage capacity has to be significantly higher, HCI might not be an option.

Predictable network performance is an issue; most companies have experienced HCI with a limited number of servers. When they scale to 64 nodes, the network performance has to be able to meet requirements, so this needs to be a consideration.

Software licencing, along with considerations of capex (capital expenditure) or opex (operating expenditure), have to be taken into account as well.

“Our recommendation is to decide per use case,” Fels says. “They need to be investigated before you make a final decision.”

Fujitsu offers PrimeFlex integrated systems that allow IT organisations to fast-track their data centre builds.

“We understand that neither classic nor HCI is a holy grail – which is why PrimeFlex includes both class and HCI architectures,” says Fels.

“HCI is a hot topic at the moment, and there are some attributes that drive it. But the use cases always deserve special consideration. Fujitsu has solutions that simplify complexity and risks – and we are not stuck on one of the other, but offer integrated systems based on both HCI and classic infrastructures.”