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Hyper-converged infrastructure is known for being a highly optimized and self-contained platform for running enterprise workloads. Yet even HCI can't ignore other enterprise systems, nor can those systems ignore HCI. Management operations such as monitoring, provisioning, workload orchestration and other automated tasks must be able to span the entire IT infrastructure, including HCI environments.
Vendors have responded to this need for hyper-converged integrated systems within the greater enterprise IT ecosystem. They're providing HCI with more ways to integrate with third-party systems, and third-party systems are doing a better job of accommodating HCI.
Built-in management APIs
One of the most common approaches HCI platforms take to integrate with other enterprise systems is to expose management APIs that make it possible for third-party applications and services to connect directly to the tool sets built into the HCI platform.
A good example of this hyper-converged integrated systems approach is Hewlett Packard Enterprise's SimpliVity HCI systems, which provide a command-line interface (CLI) to configure system settings, initiate data protections and carry out routine management operations. The CLI also exposes a set of REST APIs that third-party systems can use to perform tasks, such as creating clones, automating backups, orchestrating workloads and carrying out other operations.
Another example is the Dell EMC XC Series, which is built on the PowerEdge server platform, and Nutanix Inc. HCI software, including the Nutanix Prism central management framework. The framework exposes a set of REST APIs to integrate with third-party management systems, similar to the SimpliVity CLI.
Cisco's HyperFlex HCI systems also expose APIs to manipulate the infrastructure with tools such as Ansible, Chef and Puppet, as does NetApp HCI, which includes APIs to integrate orchestration, disaster recovery and other management operations. What all these examples point to is that exposing APIs within an HCI product has become essential to ensuring the infrastructure can work in conjunction with other applications and services, regardless of the type.
Preintegration with third-party products
Some HCI systems preintegrate third-party tools to more easily expand them beyond typical HCI boundaries. For example, vSphere and vSAN software power the Dell EMC VxRail HCI series. As a result, VxRail deeply integrates with VMware tools, including vCenter Server manager. These types of hyper-converged integrated systems also make it possible to use software such as VMware's vRealize Operations, vRealize Automation and Cloud Assembly to integrate VxRail into larger data center infrastructures.
It should come as no surprise that Windows Admin Center now supports Windows Server HCI environments given how Microsoft has been pushing the administration application. DataOn's HCI systems have also started to build in integration with Admin Center, which is possible because DataOn HCI is also based on Windows Server.
The DataOn systems integrate with Admin Center through the DataOn Management Utility Software Tool (MUST), an Admin Center extension included with DataOn HCI systems. The MUST extension makes it possible to use Admin Center to monitor and manage DataOn systems, as well as to access real-time and monthly performance reports and view disk mapping information, such as the device types and the components in each node.
HCI vendors are integrating systems in other ways, as well. For example, Dell EMC now offers Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack, which incorporates Dell's VxRack HCI technologies and Microsoft's Azure Stack software to extend Azure cloud technologies to on-premises environments. The VxRack system manages Azure Stack's component lifecycle and provides secure integration with Azure Marketplace.
HCI integration in third-party management tools
Vendors of third-party management offerings are also driving HCI integration, often by providing plugins, agents and other software that run in an HCI environment. In many cases, these products take advantage of the environment's management APIs.
A good example of this approach is Centerity Systems Inc., which provides a unified platform to collect and analyze system data and generate actionable intelligence. Centerity delivers plugins for different types of enterprise systems, using their built-in APIs as appropriate. The Centerity platform can integrate with the Nutanix Prism management framework, making it possible to collect performance metrics from the infrastructure and the hypervisor.
Similarly, Mellanox NEO, a network orchestration platform that simplifies provisioning, monitoring and other data center operations, provides a plugin for Nutanix Prism that uses built-in APIs to automate Nutanix VM lifecycle management.
Commvault takes a different approach with its backup and recovery product, an automated data protection platform that provides a single view of enterprise data. Commvault offers software that can run on Cisco's HyperFlex HCI systems to provide backup and recovery services. The software natively protects VMware and Hyper-V workloads and supports operations such as migrating data across virtualized and on-premises infrastructures.
The importance of system integration
Although hyper-convergence vendors engineer HCI systems to bring components together into a single, unified solution, the need to integrate with other systems within the IT infrastructure can't be ignored. As a result, many HCI platforms offer management APIs or come preintegrated with other systems, while third-party management tools provide ways to integrate with HCI environments.
When evaluating HCI products, decision-makers should determine each system's capacity to integrate with other management systems. IT teams can't afford environments, including hyper-converged systems, that are siloed or invisible from the rest of the IT infrastructure. They require unified management platforms that can see into all the environments, including HCI, via hyper-converged integrated systems and management tools. The better those systems and tools can be integrated into the entire infrastructure, the more efficient the operations and the safer the data.