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Why is the hyper-converged infrastructure definition so varied?

The definition of hyper-converged infrastructure has evolved as the technology has grown. But the phrase still means different things depending on who you talk to.

When it comes to technology, the only constant is change. We've all heard exaggerated stories about brand-new systems that became outdated before they were even plugged in. Although stories of rapid technology obsolescence have traditionally revolved around hardware components, there is no such thing as static technology.

Everything in IT evolves, even the related vocabulary. Take the evolution of the hyper-converged infrastructure definition, for example.

In the recent past, the hyper-converged infrastructure definition referred to something very specific. Hyper-converged systems consisted of a series of nodes containing performance-matched compute, storage and virtualization resources. These nodes were designed for modular scalability and were bundled with a hypervisor and various management tools.

The main advantage to this type of hyper-convergence is that the hardware and software have all been tested and certified to work together. Furthermore, because the nodes are self-contained, there is a single point of contact for technical support. This eliminates the problem of vendor finger-pointing.

However, the hyper-converged infrastructure definition is changing. Whereas the term once referred to self-contained nodes that were tightly integrated with an enterprise hypervisor, it has evolved to include a number of other technologies.

Some vendors have begun referring to certain reference architectures as being for hyper-converged systems. Previously, reference architectures could be used to build converged systems, which could be similar to hyper-converged systems, but almost no one referred to a reference architecture as being hyper-converged. These types of reference architectures defined hardware components and configuration settings, but lacked the deep software integration that is a staple of hyper-converged systems.

Today, there are also software-only hyper-converged products. The Windows Server 2016 Storage Spaces Direct feature, for example, allows for hyper-converged system-like behavior, but is software-only.

The lines have blurred between converged systems and hyper-converged systems. A converged or hyper-converged infrastructure definition means different things to different people. In the context of Storage Spaces Direct, for example, a hyper-converged infrastructure uses internal, node-level storage, while a converged infrastructure links failover cluster nodes to a shared storage volume that is based on Storage Spaces Direct.

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