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Hyper-converged platforms: Making the business case

Learn the benefits of hyper-converged technology, including scalability, ease of management and cost savings that can be greater than those from cloud deployments.

Hyper-convergence combines key common elements in a data center -- compute, storage, networking and virtualization -- into a single, modular appliance. This article explores use cases and benefits of hyper-converged platforms, so organizations can decide if the technology is the correct choice for them.

Simplified integration and management

Assembling the elements necessary to populate a data center requires lots of research work and careful attention to interoperability and integration. It also means digging into servers, networking devices, storage devices and more, and then putting all the pieces together to create a workable environment.

Deploying a hyper-converged appliance requires purchasing only a minimum configuration of nodes, dropping them into an equipment rack and networking them together. The lack of multivendor and multiproduct integration simplifies support and maintenance efforts.

The single-source benefits of hyper-converged platforms also extend to management and monitoring. These include a single pane of glass for managing virtual machines, networks, storage, and load distribution and balancing. Additionally, some vendors, such as Scale Computing, offer nodes that emphasize storage or compute, allowing users to augment their infrastructure with greater flexibility. Most hyper-converged systems immediately recognize new nodes as they're added to a cluster and automatically make their resources for compute, storage and networking available to users.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and remote offices are the most common early use cases for hyper-convergence because they tightly integrate storage -- which is often a VDI bottleneck -- with compute. The single-box approach also optimizes the hypervisor for VDI, allowing users to easily scale a large expansion of virtual desktops.

For remote and branch offices, hyper-converged platforms reduce the amount of equipment needed and ease implementation, scaling and management in offices with little or no dedicated IT staff.

Increased cost savings over cloud deployments

Hyper-convergence can be a building block for private clouds. Some vendors assert their appliances offer better total cost of ownership, with lower Capex and Opex costs than using public cloud services such as Amazon Web Services. The majority of those hyper-converged device vendors report reduced administration costs due to a single console with only one setup, configuration, management and monitoring facility. All these factors help keep costs down, particularly for one of the most expensive costs for on-premises equipment: the human resources required to install, operate and maintain such gear.

Easier scaling and growth

Businesses and organizations must therefore understand in detail how much they are willing to trade for convenience when considering any hyper-converged platform.

To provide failover and fault-tolerant operation, hyper-converged device clusters usually involve no fewer than three nodes -- they may be identical, or include compute and storage-oriented nodes. Scaling for these environments varies by vendor and is based on target markets. Several such platforms aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) support up to 16 nodes per physical or logical cluster, while others support hundreds or thousands of nodes. Up to those limits, scaling is designed to be simple and painless, with plug-and-play operation expected whenever new nodes are added.

Building the business case

The best business cases come from the bottom line. In many cases, the economics will be favorable for hyper-converged platforms in terms of both Capex and Opex.

Some hyper-converged product vendors aim more toward the SMB market, where IT budgets and resources are significantly tighter. For such situations, the simplicity of acquisition, installation, operation and upkeep means less time spent taking care of basic IT resources and fewer direct human costs. While this characteristic scales into larger data centers nicely, enterprises may prefer higher-cost turnkey platforms built around technologies like the Open Compute initiative. Not coincidentally, these architectures have the greatest scalability and biggest overall capacity and compute power. Businesses and organizations must therefore understand in detail how much they are willing to trade for convenience when considering any hyper-converged platform.

Whichever path an organization takes, making a business case for hyper-convergence requires a cost-benefit analysis. But you must remember to include the costs of migrating from -- or integrating with -- existing compute, storage and networking facilities. You also need to include the costs involved in disposing of or repurposing assets that might be freed up in the wake of adopting hyper-converged technology.

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