What is Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI)?

August 8, 2023 | min

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a combination of servers and storage into a distributed infrastructure platform with intelligent software to create flexible building blocks that replace legacy infrastructure consisting of separate servers, storage networks, and storage arrays. More specifically, it combines commodity datacenter server hardware with locally attached storage devices (spinning disk or flash) and is powered by a distributed software layer to eliminate common pain points associated with legacy infrastructure.

How does hyperconvergence work?

HCI converges the entire datacenter stack, including compute, storage, storage networking, and virtualization. More specifically, it combines commodity datacenter server hardware with locally attached storage devices (spinning disk or flash) and is powered by a distributed software layer to eliminate common pain points associated with legacy infrastructure. Complex and expensive legacy infrastructure is replaced by a distributed platform running on industry-standard commodity servers that enables enterprises to size their workloads precisely and to scale flexibly as needed. Each server, also known as a node, includes x86 processors with SSDs and HDDs. Software running on each node distributes all operating functions across the cluster for superior performance and resilience.

Hardware platform configurations are available to fit any workload by independently scaling the various resources (CPU, RAM, and storage) and can be provisioned with or without GPU for graphics acceleration. All nodes include flash to optimize storage performance, and all-flash nodes are available to deliver maximum I/O throughput with minimum latency for all enterprise applications.

In addition to the distributed storage and compute platform, HCI solutions also include a management pane to enable you to easily administer HCI resources from a single interface. This eliminates the need for separate management solutions for servers, storage, storage networks, and virtualization.


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The birth of hyperconvergence technology

Datacenter infrastructure has been designed around SAN Storage since the 90s to protect data and to power critical databases, and became pervasive with the explosion of virtualization in the early 2000s.

But as organizations have grown increasingly dependent on technology, traditional SAN-based infrastructure can no longer keep up with IT needs. It’s complex, unwieldy, and can’t scale as flexibly or efficiently as IT teams need to keep up with changing business priorities.

The world’s largest web companies faced the realities of traditional infrastructure’s limitations long before the broader market, and developed distributed systems technologies to meet their scalability, reliability, and operational efficiency challenges.

In 2009, engineers from several of these web scale companies realized that the technologies they had developed to solve their own operational challenges were applicable to the market at large. The realities of bringing these technologies to enterprise computing required a new approach, and the concept of HCI was born.

Today, HCI is the infrastructure of choice for companies that want to stay competitive and evolve with the changing realities of the technology landscape. While the actual date and person who first coined the term hyperconvergence can be up for debate, Nutanix was the first technology company to bring to market an HCI-specific product in 2011 called Complete Cluster.

HCI vs cloud: the tie between hyperconvergence and cloud

Organizations increasingly utilize public cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud for deploying IT applications to run their business. Public cloud services are flexible and dynamic, and enable organizations to dynamically adapt to changing business needs.

But despite the increase in flexibility, cloud computing has its own challenges. Building and deploying applications in public clouds requires specialized skill sets that diverge from traditional IT teams, increasing the specialization in already highly siloed organizations. In addition, utilizing public cloud resources is more expensive than on-premises infrastructure and creates control and security challenges.

Nutanix stands out from other hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) vendors by providing a unique approach that emphasizes the importance of HCI as the foundation for organizations' cloud journey. HCI leverages distributed systems technologies, similar to those used in public clouds, enabling IT organizations to construct private clouds within their datacenters. By adopting Nutanix HCI, organizations can bring the benefits of cloud computing directly into their datacenters, creating an agile and scalable infrastructure. Moreover, Nutanix HCI services can seamlessly connect to your public cloud of choice. This approach enables applications to be deployed and managed consistently across both private cloud and public cloud, utilizing the same tools and procedures, all together as one. Additionally, Nutanix HCI simplifies the migration of data and services between different cloud environments, on-premises and public cloud, burst for capacity, disaster recovery use case - all done with flexibility and ease.

Benefits of Nutanix hyperconverged infrastructure solutions

The benefits of moving from complex legacy infrastructure to the simplicity of hyperconvergence are many, but among the top reasons organizations make the switch are lower costs, improved, consistent performance, a smaller datacenter footprint, greater efficiency and productivity in IT teams, and maximized infrastructure ROI.

  • Turnkey infrastructure - Integrated server, storage, networking and virtualization resources along with end-to-end systems management and operations management capabilities.
  • Fast deployment - Deploy infrastructure in minutes, so IT teams can elevate their focus to the applications and services powering the business.
  • 100% software-driven - Supports a wide variety of different hardware platforms – including three of the four most popular server platforms in the world.
  • Freedom of choice - Use built-in virtualization or bring your preferred hypervisor, and deploy on a wide selection of server vendors or buy a pre-integrated appliance from an OEM.
  • Superior performance and resilience - Nutanix HCI software running on each node distributes all operating functions across the cluster.
  • Unprecedented flexibility - A single cluster can have unlimited nodes, with node types having differing amounts of storage, CPU and memory resources, so you can run multiple workloads with maximum efficiency.

Forrester: Nutanix a Leader in HCI

Nutanix is named a Leader in the 2023 Forrester Wave™: Hyperconverged Infrastructure report

Hyperconverged infrastructure FAQs


How does hyperconverged infrastructure help with IT efficiency?

HCI reduces your datacenter footprint by reducing typical infrastructure stacks down to scalable building blocks with compute, storage, and networking built in. And this drastically reduced footprint enables you to run the same infrastructure at the edge as in your core datacenters, resulting in additional efficiency while improving resiliency and performance.

Separate servers, storage networks and storage arrays can be replaced with a single hyperconverged infrastructure solution to create an agile datacenter that easily scales with your business. Hyperconvergence makes administration much easier, enabling you to manage all aspects of your infrastructure from one place, all while reducing complexity by removing compatibility problems between multiple vendors.

If resources become scarce, you simply call your vendor, ask for more servers and software licenses, and deploy them with a few clicks. The infrastructure should be all but invisible to application owners. They shouldn’t have to worry about underlying infrastructure; they should only be focused on their workloads.


What is the difference between converged and hyperconverged infrastructure?

Converged infrastructure (CI) is a different way of purchasing traditional infrastructure and is typically pre-integrated by a vendor or Systems Integrator. Despite pre-integration, CI is built on the same hardware-centric components, and it doesn’t remove organizational silos or solve the problems related to traditional infrastructure.

Now let’s define hyperconvergence. Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) completely re-thinks the way infrastructure can be designed, purchased, deployed, managed, and expanded. HCI is deployed on commodity hardware with all of the intelligence in software and is architected from the ground up to automate the tedious tasks that traditionally plague IT while providing extensive insight and control over the environment. These are fundamentally different architectures that result in drastically different outcomes in terms of business agility, application availability, performance, security, and cost efficiency.

For more information check out Converged vs Hyperconverged Infrastructure.


Is hyperconverged infrastructure technology scalable?

Similar to public cloud services, HCI technology enables IT teams to start with what they need today and scale incrementally to precisely meet application demands. With HCI, you can non-disruptively scale out your environment with modular building blocks as your business needs grow. In contrast, with traditional infrastructure, each tier is sized based on specific needs. In particular, storage is deployed on large monolithic storage arrays that are complex to design and deploy, and often slow down as more applications are added. Once an array fills up, the only way to add more storage is to deploy another large array that has to be managed separately. This dynamic leads IT teams to try to plan for 3-5 years so they can avoid getting into this situation.


Can hyperconverged systems simplify storage?

Data is growing at 50% or more per year, and that data is stored on block, file, and object storage. New requirements for visibility and control are increasing demands on storage administrators. And cloud storage has become an important tier that must be considered in any storage architecture. But traditional storage infrastructure can’t keep up with the demands caused by these new realities. It’s siloed, which creates complexity, limits flexibility, and reduces utilization.

Traditional infrastructure lacks sufficient visibility into the data to support the new compliance and control requirements. It was originally designed in a time before cloud - making adoption of cloud-like capabilities really difficult. HCI breaks down silos and pools all resources into a single resource that’s easy to manage and control. The more “invisible” infrastructure can be the better, and HCI extends that invisibility into the storage domain. With HCI, you can include a variety of nodes in a cluster that make sense for your needs at that point—storage-heavy nodes when you need storage, CPU-heavy nodes when compute is needed, or anything in-between.


Can high-performance applications run on hyperconverged infrastructure?

In short, the answer is yes. In the past, HCI started with use cases like VDI and ROBO (remote or branch office). That dynamic has rapidly changed as more and more users of HCI solutions have made their systems available with more and more production and datacenter workloads, even as they prepare their resources for the future.

A properly designed HCI solution delivers performance at scale, across a wide and varied application environment. This means the architecture brings the highest performance and similar SAN features. Today's HCI have earned database certifications and demonstrate their suitability for the most demanding databases and applications.

Some prime examples of what apps run on HCI:


What kind of hardware is used with hyperconverged infrastructure environments?

The components of an HCI system include a distributed infrastructure plane and a distributed management plane.

The distributed infrastructure plane runs across a cluster of nodes delivering storage, virtualization, and networking services for guest applications - whether they’re VMs or container-based apps. The management plane lets you easily administer your global HCI resources from one place and one view. It eliminates the need for separate management solutions for servers, storage networks, storage, and virtualization. HCI solutions are 100% software-defined - zero dependency on proprietary hardware. HCI provides the choice of a wide range of appliance and server platforms from multiple server vendors.


Will hyperconverged infrastructure work with my existing environment?

One of the pluses of hyperconverged infrastructure is that it is able to integrate quite well with most existing IT environments. That’s because it’s deployed on commodity hardware, such as servers and disk or flash storage devices, and it relies mostly on software to create a single manageable system across an organization’s data center, public cloud services, and even the edge. It will likely end up replacing some of the organization’s existing infrastructure but will still fully support business-critical applications and systems as well as operational processes. It will just do it all more efficiently and with less time and effort from IT staff.


What are the benefits of hyperconverged infrastructure?  

Hyperconvergence eliminates siloed systems by providing a single unified software layer across an entire IT ecosystem. This seamless integration allows organizations to enjoy enhanced system performance, agility, and resiliency. Other benefits of hyperconvergence include:

  • Fast, efficient scalability – HCI delivers incredible agility so organizations can grow and shrink workloads as needs change
  • Reduced complexity and administrative burden – legacy infrastructure is typically a mishmash of systems added on piecemeal over the years, which can complicate management and maintenance. With HCI, IT manages and maintains a single unified system that spans multiple environments.
  • Affordability – because it uses commodity hardware, HCI is cost-effective. Its use of virtual machines (VMs) also allows organizations to use less hardware overall and save on cooling and electricity costs.
  • Simplified management – HCI makes management extremely intuitive and efficient, and doesn’t require highly specialized skills like some purpose-built legacy systems do.
  • Optimized infrastructure and resource utilization – through virtualization, HCI helps organizations use their compute, storage, and networking resources more thoroughly and efficiently.


Does hyperconverged infrastructure have any limitations?  

While HCI offers a wealth of benefits, the technology can sometimes present a challenge or two. Some of these challenges, however, depend on the HCI vendor and solution you choose.

For instance, all HCI platforms offer impressive scalability capabilities – but some platforms require you to use only the original vendor’s resources. Also, not all HCI platforms are equal in how well they integrate with the cloud. Some platforms aren’t quite able to effectively or seamlessly share resources across data centers and the cloud. Finally, HCI solutions should offer a high level of redundancy for high availability. Depending on the solution you choose, however, that redundancy might be marketed as an expensive add-on.

You can typically avoid these pitfalls by properly vetting HCI solutions and vendors. Ask the right questions and make sure you know exactly what you’re getting.


What’s the difference between hyperconverged infrastructure and hypervisor?

It might be easy to confuse the two concepts because they sound similar, but hypervisors and hyperconverged infrastructure are not the same thing. Hyperconverged infrastructure relies heavily on hypervisors, however, which are pieces of software that control and manage virtual machines and resource utilization across hyperconverged infrastructure. Virtualization is a critical element of HCI, so hypervisors are widely used in HCI as well.


What are the security considerations when implementing hyperconverged infrastructure?

Security should always be a top priority when deploying hyperconverged infrastructure, just as it is any other time. Some best practices for HCI security include:

  • Limit access to authorized users only – keep insider threats under control through the principle of least privilege
  • Keep each component protected – solutions such as encryption of data in transit and at rest, fabric protection for VMs, and the right HCI-compatible backup software can reduce the risk of attacks
  • Centralize protection through agentless security features – going agentless streamlines security and creates an environment of “push” communication instead of having to install security agents in each component
  • Take a defense-in-depth approach – layered security capabilities and features can help protect software and hardware in each component (storage, compute, and networking), which can often be attacked separately


What are common use cases for hyperconverged infrastructure?

When hyperconverged infrastructure first came out, it was used primarily for to connect remote or branch offices (ROBO) or to enable virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) for remote workers. Today, HCI is being used more widely as organizations (and solution vendors) recognize its potential and many benefits. While VDI and ROBO still take advantage of HCI technology, other use cases include:

  • Data center management – HCI allows organizations to efficiently and easily manage, store, analyze, and access all of their data. Through virtualization, many applications and services can run on a single server and HCI keeps each one supplied with the resources it needs at any time.
  • Test/dev environments – DevOps like to use VMs in an HCI ecosystem to develop, test, and QA new applications because the isolated VM won’t negatively affect any of the other systems or services if something goes wrong.
  • Data analytics – These systems require high performance and an agile system that can keep resources available
  • Secondary backup or disaster recovery – Standalone backup and disaster recovery platforms often can’t support the integrated, distributed nature of HCI, so be sure to get a backup solution that is able to take advantage of the seamless, unified capabilities of HCI. 

Explore our top resources

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It’s Time to Walk Away from SAN and Adopt HCI

Forrester Wave HCI report 2023

2023 Forrester Wave™: Hyperconverged Infrastructure report


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