To understand reference architectures for hyper-converged systems, we should look at how we got to this point....
All of the original hyper-converged systems that came to market arrived as appliances. Whatever server was in that appliance -- whatever networking was in there -- it was already packaged inside their node.
More recently, a variety of vendors that may have started with scale-out storage as a primary product line recognized they had a very similar architecture to hyper-converged systems and that their CPUs had an ample amount of processing power left over. And while they wanted to convert that storage system into a hyper-converged system, many of these vendors offered their storage as software-only.
However, they figured out quickly that an appliance, or an experience that mimics an appliance, is a must-have. So what they've done is to say, "Look, we're going to provide you with a reference architecture," which you can think of as a set of guidelines. I'll give you an example: Maybe there is a reference infrastructure for a 500-user virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment. In this case, the reference architecture could be for persistent VDI, but another could be for non-persistent VDI. The vendor provides a customer with a reference architecture and tells them, "If you want to get adequate performance and adequate usability out of a 200- or 500-user VDI environment, here's what we suggest you do: Use our software and provide this type of hardware, combine it, use the best practices and you will get an appliance-like experience at the end of the exercise."
That's when reference architectures can be helpful to you -- when you want a hyper-converged experience but are only buying the software, not an entire system. Reference architectures are important because they put boundaries around the hardware-software combo so the end result for the user is a delightful experience. Simply put, you can think of a reference architecture as a set of guidelines inside a set of best practices. It allows a software-only product to be delivered to the end user in an appliance-like fashion to produce the desired results. The benefit to the user who chooses a software-only option is flexibility; as long as the boundaries set by the vendor are followed, you can choose the hypervisor, hardware and type of server you want.
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