Gaining Insight into Various HCI Architectures

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Published 28-Mar-2018 13:17:56
Understanding different HCI architectures

What are the differences between competing vendors’ approaches to HCI, and what makes NetApp HCI so compelling?

What outcomes does HCI provide?

NetApp’s Troy Mangum recently took a look at different hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) architectures. Not surprisingly, his blog pointed out that NetApp’s approach has clear advantages, and at Vohkus we’d definitely go along with that.

Here, we recap some of Troy’s main points. If you visit his blog, you can watch a video presentation on comparing HCI infrastructures.

In NetApp’s view, an outcome-based definition of HCI makes most sense from a customer-centric point of view. Regardless of architecture, all HCI systems seek to achieve the following business outcomes:

  • Easy to buy.
  • Easy to set up.
  • Consolidated management and monitoring.
  • Makes private cloud easy.
  • Provides one back to pat or (one throat to choke!)
  • Pay as you go expansion and economics.
  • Ability to respond rapidly to business needs

We’d agree that these characteristics define what you should expect from any HCI, regardless of vendor, but we’d point out that in our experience HCI purchases are often driven by loss of faith in the existing infrastructure.

When you’re suffering outages, struggling with capacity and can’t meet your recovery objectives, HCI can immediately deliver reliability with associated lower maintenance overheads.

Different HCI vendor models

Troy describes three HCI scenarios and discusses the characteristics of the vendors working in each.

1. Storage in a VM and hypervisor on bare metal

Vendors in this segment didn’t own their own hardware, hypervisor, or storage system. Instead they got a server with decent storage capacity, put a hypervisor on it, found an open-source storage system, and put that storage system in a virtual machine.

Because the components of the architecture are commodity items, these vendors built IP around the installation and management layers. Management is the primary focus for these HCI architectures. Vendors characteristically play up their proprietary management UI.

This approach supports the classic ‘first mover advantage’ of time-to-market with good hardware platform compatibilities, low entry point, and ability to support multiple hypervisors.

2. Hypervisor and storage combined on bare metal

HCI vendors in this segment own a hypervisor and have pre-existing management; their next steps are to build a storage system and a simple installation routine. This leads to longer time to market, the result of which is that the storage system lags behind in feature parity with other storage systems. The storage subsystem is not optimised for performance and data mobility, and does not provide zero-cost enterprise-grade features. These architectures focus on advanced hypervisor integrations.

The hypervisor approach can accelerate hypervisor feature integrations, provide good platform compatibility and bare metal performance.

3. Independent hypervisor and storage

This is the NetApp HCI approach. NetApp already had a mature scale-out storage system, and wasn’t willing to compromise its enterprise-grade features to create an unpredictable and unreliable experience for customers. It chose to go to market with an HCI product that has distinct nodes for compute and storage.

Using proven hypervisor-clustering capabilities on the compute nodes, NetApp built a simplified installation routine to get systems up and running in 45 minutes or less. It also built a consolidated management UI to help customers make more of the management technologies they were already using. Instead of focusing on new on management layers, NetApp HCI architecture aims for customer flexibility at the compute and storage layers.

This ‘independent’ approach requires fewer licences and provides ‘bare metal’ predictability, multiple hypervisor support, flexibility, scale, and all the features of enterprise SAN without the cost.

Still not convinced by NetApp’s approach to HCI?

In 2017 Gartner published a report which named NetApp HCI as an ‘evolutionary disruptor’ in this segment. ‘Competitive Landscape for Hyperconverged Integrated Systems’ says that HCIs accelerate business outcomes and growth, and its key findings include:

  • As the hyperconverged integrated system (HCIS) market has matured in the past two years, some smaller providers without sufficient bases, technical resources and cash to survive on their own have exited the market.
  • HCIS-only providers that have a sustainable sales advantage based on effective communication of technical strengths that can deliver superior cost savings or performance advantages are most likely to remain viable as the market continues to grow.
  • HCIS providers without compelling value propositions to differentiate their offerings against other HCIS solutions are unlikely to survive the increasing competitive pressure that is appearing in the market.

NetApp HCI is the first enterprise-scale, all-flash, hyper converged infrastructure that increases business agility by delivering predictable performance and simplified operations on a highly flexible and efficient cloud architecture. It can be integrated into the NetApp Data Fabric for a complete hybrid cloud solution.

Against this background, we at Vohkus are confident that NetApp has a convincing story to tell. Let us talk you through your options and explain how you can achieve best business value with NetApp.


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