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A DIY hyper-converged environment starts with a plan

Start with software when you plan a DIY hyper-converged platform. That will make it easier to match it with hardware that can give you the best performance results.

There are a number of different options for a do-it-yourself hyper-converged infrastructure, but a successful build...

requires careful planning and a laser-focused attention to detail.

Storage commonly receives the most attention in DIY hyper-converged environment planning, but it is not the only resource that demands consideration.

You can take a cue from the vendors that sell prepackaged products if you are thinking of building your own hyper-converged infrastructure implementation. Commercial hyper-converged platform implementations consist of four main resources: storage, compute, network and software. These are the four areas on which you should concentrate your initial planning efforts, but selecting components is not enough. There are other factors that you must consider.

What software will you use?

One of the first decisions you must make when planning for DIY HCI is which software to use. Your choice of software will drive the hardware selection process and the capabilities of your HCI environment. In addition, software is often a fixed cost, so the amount that you spend on software will determine how much of your budget remains for the HCI hardware.

Suppose you decide to base your hyper-converged environment on Microsoft software. Although you can get Hyper-V for free, the free version does not include any guest operating system licenses. If you plan to run Windows as your guest OS, you will need a Windows Server license for each of your HCI nodes. If your goal is to license the HCI nodes and run Windows as a guest OS, then you typically must purchase the Datacenter Edition of Windows Server.

In addition, you will need a management component. In the case of an HCI deployment based on Microsoft software, this means licensing System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM). Hyper-V comes with Hyper-V Manager, but it is not scalable. SCVMM is Microsoft's program for managing larger scale Hyper-V deployments.

The requirement for a hypervisor, guest OS licenses and a management tool is not unique to Microsoft environments. For example, VMware requires you to license the hypervisor and vCenter Server. You must also license guest operating systems.

Does the hardware support your software?

Once you have decided on the software, you can begin the hardware selection process. Some vendors provide reference architectures that can prove useful in the hardware planning process.

If you choose your own hardware without using a reference architecture, you must ensure that the hardware is certified to work with your chosen software. Microsoft and VMware both maintain a hardware compatibility list that outlines which hardware is compatible with the software.

Is your chosen hardware performance matched?

One thing that makes ready-made HCI systems so attractive is that the hardware is performance matched. Talk with your hardware vendor to ensure you purchase performance-matched hardware.

Performance matching helps prevent the major hardware components from becoming significant bottlenecks. For example, if you acquire a high-speed storage array and attach a server to it with iSCSI over Gigabit Ethernet, the storage connectivity creates a bottleneck; the Ethernet connection can't deliver data fast enough to match the storage array's performance. HCI hardware components need to deliver a comparable level of performance.

Will the hardware meet your software's needs?

One more consideration for do-it-yourself HCI is whether your chosen hardware will meet your needs for the foreseeable future. It can sometimes be difficult to make such a determination, but your hardware vendor can help.

Suppose you are building a hyper-converged environment to run a virtual desktop deployment. Each virtual desktop requires a certain amount of system resources and, therefore, each node within your HCI deployment will support a specific number of virtual desktops. You should work with your hardware vendor to estimate the number of virtual desktops that each node will support based on the hardware configuration you are considering.

Once you figure that out, you will be able to tell how many nodes you'll need to host. You will also be able to tell whether your hardware selection will meet your requirements within your budget, while also leaving room for future growth.

Although there is nothing particularly difficult about building your own hyper-converged environment, it requires significant planning. Without proper groundwork, you may find that your HCI deployment can't handle the workload.

Next Steps

Growing use of software-only HCI systems

Lower cost hyper-converged vendors met with skepticism

How to make the choice to go DIY for HCI or not

This was last published in October 2017

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