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IT infrastructure costs can add up with hyper-converged systems

On the surface, hyper-converged systems may seem budget-friendly. But watch out for pricey feature options that can increase overall costs as you build.

Hyper-converged infrastructures have long been marketed as the technology to reduce IT infrastructure costs. Even...

so, the cost of a hyper-converged system can be comparable to that of a more traditional system.

In some ways, investing in a hyper-converged system is similar to purchasing a new car. The base model may be reasonably priced, but costs can quickly increase as you begin adding features. With that in mind, here are some of the features that have the biggest effect on the price of a hyper-converged system.

Licensing

One of the factors that can have a big effect on the overall IT infrastructure costs of a hyper-converged system is software licensing. Hyper-converged systems are typically bundled with a hypervisor and management software for the virtualization stack, and there are licensing costs associated with this software.

Hyper-converged products that use software from VMware or Microsoft incur higher licensing costs than those that use an open source hypervisor, such as a kernel-based virtual machine.

Storage

Storage also plays a major role in the overall price of a hyper-converged system, and it can affect the IT infrastructure costs in several different ways. For starters, the price of a hyper-converged system can vary based on the number of drive slots that exist in a node. While an empty drive slot might not seem to be a big ticket item, each drive slot requires a disk controller, and the number of drive slots can also affect the node's required form factor (1U, 2U, etc.)

Just as the number of drive slots can have an effect on the price, so too can the number of drives that are actually installed. Beyond the costs associated with the drive, some vendors will not sell nodes with empty drive slots, and, therefore, use a combination of the raw drive capacity and the number of nodes to determine the overall storage capacity. For example, if a vendor installs six drives into each node, that vendor might offer an 18-drive/three-node configuration, or a 24-drive/four-node configuration.

Just as the number of drive slots can have an effect on the price, so too can the number of drives that are actually installed.

Of course, the types of drives that are installed into the nodes also play a significant role in the overall price. Manufacturers generally offer customers a choice between flash, spinning and hybrid drives. Among these various drive types, manufacturers often offer a variety of raw capacities and speeds. All of these factors affect the cost of the drive, and the cost of the hyper-converged system as a whole.

Networking

Hyper-converged system vendors offer a variety of networking hardware choices. This is especially true of the network ports that exist within the individual nodes. Generally speaking, vendors give customers at least a couple of options that vary based on the number of ports, the port speed and the port connectivity type. For example, a vendor might offer customers a choice between having four 1 Gbps RJ45 ports and two 10 Gbps SFP+ ports per node.

In addition, a hyper-converged systems vendor may offer different optional port types. Some vendors, for example, offer the option of a dedicated management port. Likewise, some manufacturers give customers the option of adding an out-of-band management port, while other vendors include this as a standard option.

CPU

The CPU is another hyper-converged system component that can dramatically affect IT infrastructure costs. Most manufacturers offer customers a choice of a few different CPU types. For example, a manufacturer might offer a choice between Intel Xeon E5-2640 v3, E5-2660 v3 or E5-2680 v3 processors.

While it is true that some CPUs are more expensive than others, there are two factors that affect costs much more than the price of the CPU.

The first factor is the cumulative CPU cost. Most nodes in hyper-converged systems include multiple CPU slots, and multiple nodes are designed to work together to form the hyper-converged system. A relatively modest four-node system could conceivably contain sixteen processors. Hence, any CPU price difference that exists would be multiplied by the total number of CPUs that are installed in the system.

When it comes to software licensing, many vendors license their software based on the number of CPUs that are installed in a server. Hence, a multi-CPU system will not only cost more in terms of hardware, but may also incur higher licensing fees.

Manufacturers can also affect the price of hyper-converged systems through a number of different miscellaneous costs. Such costs might include mandatory warranties or support contracts, memory options, or even the option to add a battery backup to a storage controller.

The cost of a hyper-converged system can vary widely depending on the hardware and software specifications. One additional factor that can have a dramatic effect on the overall cost is the brand. Some vendors charge a premium price for their products, while others charge less.

Next Steps

What are hyper-converged vendors up to?

Management not interested in hyper-convergence?

Hyper-converged storage vs. the public cloud

Hybrid IT infrastructure costs a concern for organizations in the cloud

This was last published in March 2017

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