A software-only deployment model for hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) solutions is emerging as a cost-effective and highly flexible alternative to HCI appliances. By some accounts, the software-only approach can reduce capital and operating costs by up to 70 percent when compared to appliance-based solutions.
HCI systems emerged in recent years to address the growing complexity of IT infrastructure. By bundling compute, storage and networking into a single platform running on industry-standard hardware, these solutions can dramatically reduce the IT administrative burden.
Although many of HCI’s benefits involve hardware consolidation, software is actually the technology’s driving force. Building on key virtualization concepts, HCI takes advantage of software-defined storage and computing models for unified management and automation.
Until recently, most vendors have marketed and sold their HCI solutions as appliances that tightly integrate all resources within a single box. It’s been a hot market, too. According to the most recent analysis from ResearchAndMarkets, the global HCI market surpassed $1.4 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow at a 42 percent annual rate through 2023.
While HCI appliances make it easier to deploy and manage compute and storage, they are not without drawbacks. Buying a pre-built and pre-integrated box from a single vendor can limit your choices while locking you into specific hardware. Appliances can also be difficult to scale. Generally, you must purchase another appliance to gain additional storage capacity even if you don’t need the added compute resources.
With software-only HCI, you can use any existing hardware that meets the operational demands of virtualization and the workloads being run. Even if you have to purchase new hardware, the software-only approach protects you from vendor lock-in by giving you the flexibility to choose the hardware and the configurations that best meet your needs. Additionally, this approach allows you to scale compute, storage and networking resources individually.
Software-only HCI solutions often come with a perpetual software license that is transferable to other servers. This not only makes upgrades more affordable but will likely encourage organizations to maintain a regular refresh schedule to ensure their ability to leverage new technologies. That’s an important consideration as HCI solutions increasingly are deployed for mission-critical workloads. Forrester research analysts say organizations are rapidly expanding their use of HCI for databases, collaboration platforms, enterprise software and data analytics applications.
Gartner predicts that as much as 20 percent of all business-critical applications currently deployed on three-tier IT infrastructure will transition to HCI by 2020. In recognition of HCI’s growing importance in the data center, the research firm recently created a new “magic quadrant” for HCI market analysis. It’s worth noting that Gartner did not include a system hardware requirement and specifically includes the software-only delivery model as a key element of the market. The research firm urged IT leaders to “focus on the capabilities and limitations of HCI software” when evaluating hyper-converged solutions.
For years, IT infrastructure was built on a box-by-box basis, with hardware components added as needed, configured independently and managed manually. It became so large and complex that it effectively created a barrier between technology and the people who depend on it to do their jobs. Hyper-converged infrastructure is proving that it can break down that barrier, and the growth of software-only deployment options offer organizations more flexibility than ever before.