Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) has been around for more than a decade, simplifying data center operations and enabling them to scale faster and less expensively than older three-tier models. But HCI didn’t stop there.
A new generation of HCI has emerged as a foundation for running hybrid cloud IT operations, which leverage on-premises private cloud and public cloud technologies. Experts say this software-defined approach has evolved to meet many needs, including in-house application development and the ability to move data and apps between cloud environments, centralized and edge datacenters.
“The value proposition of converged infrastructure solutions has evolved to align with the needs of a hybrid cloud world," said Eric Sheppard, research vice president, infrastructure platforms and technologies, at research firm IDC.
“Modern converged solutions are driving growth because they allow organizations to leverage standardized, software-defined, and highly automated data center infrastructure that is increasingly the on-premises backbone of a seamless multi-cloud world."
- Hyperconverged infrastructure is a private cloud engine that drives and extends on-premises data and applications into the public cloud, creating a true hybrid environment.
- The functionality of HCI to extend into the public cloud allows for compatibility and portability between the Nutanix environment and third-party platforms such as AWS and Azure.
- With certain tasks being suitable for running in the public clouds and others preferably remaining on-premises, the ideal HCI solution offers a unified view of the entire hybrid environment.
- HCI exists as a possible operating system extending across datacenters and public clouds, possibly tipping efficiency and cost equations in the consumer’s favor.
- While public cloud providers offer their own solutions for bridging the gap between the cloud and data center, these options continue to lock consumers into a paradigm of propriety that is not present in an HCI-based environment.
Hyperconverged infrastructure uses intelligent software to virtualize, integrate and more easily control disparate data center technologies. IT departments use HCI to lower the total cost of ownership, increase the performance and scalability of IT services, and improve overall productivity. Today, the technology and the meaning of its acronym are transforming.
“HCI 2.0 is ‘Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure,” said Manosiz Bhattacharyya, Nutanix senior vice president of engineering.
He said the new generation of hyperconverged infrastructure balances the capabilities of both private and public clouds. HCI has become the foundation for hybrid cloud infrastructure.
“Part of it is having the ability for enterprise applications to run in a public cloud,” he said. “Easily managing and running cloud-native applications on-prem is the other side.”
Private Cloud Engine
HCI at its core is a software-defined IT infrastructure. It virtualizes and integrates data center computing, storage, and networking devices in simple, off-the-shelf server hardware. Like the cloud, HCI is rapidly and granularly scalable, able to grow by adding one server node at a time. The software virtualizes systems to form a solid foundation for running powerful private clouds inside enterprise datacenters.
But boundaries between on- and off-prem cloud computing environments are starting to disappear, forming a hybrid cloud that will ultimately have common management, security, and application portability. For five years running, Enterprise Cloud Index (ECI) research commissioned by Nutanix has shown that as many as 94% of global IT architects consider a single place from which to manage all applications and data across clouds to be ideal. This is possible through HCI technology in a hybrid cloud setting.
What becomes of HCI in this emerging, integrated environment?
“HCI running on private infrastructure is HCI 1.0,” said Bhattacharyya. “HCI running in the public cloud becomes HCI 2.0.”
Research indicates that hybrid cloud and HCI do seem to go together. ECI 2023 data indicated that organizations that have embraced hybrid cloud are also far more likely to have also embraced HCI, compared to businesses running other IT operating models.
Public Cloud Platforms Open Up
A landscape shift has been caused by recent moves by the major public cloud providers to support bare-metal computing, which allows premises-based cloud software and workloads to run in their environments. Bhattacharyya sees it as a game-changer in HCI, which can now extend into the public cloud.
“Without control over the hardware, we couldn’t control [application] performance,” said Bhattacharyya. “Until recently, we were at the mercy of what the public cloud vendors provided.”
But that’s changing. An example is Nutanix Clusters (NC2) on AWS and Azure. This service extends Nutanix cloud platform-powered data centers to run on bare metal Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud and Microsoft Azure. The enables enterprises to easily establish and maintain a hybrid cloud infrastructure that spans across private and public cloud data centers then integrate with cloud-native services.
Superior license portability as a key feature of the Nutanix infrastructure grants unparalleled freedom for organizations looking to leverage the benefits of multiple bare-metal computing options and public clouds. Users in the Nutanix ecosystem can seamlessly place and move licenses across on-premises and public locations, including those in the AWS or Azure clouds.
Although the public cloud is becoming the destination of choice for many applications, some workloads may never leave the data center because of security, regulatory, and access speed concerns. For example, latency-sensitive transaction-processing applications may stay on local infrastructure for performance reasons, but organizations might want to ship data from those apps to the cloud for data warehousing and analytics.
“That means IT managers need a single view of all their infrastructure and the option to shift workloads quickly to wherever it makes sense to run them,” said Steve McDowell, then a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy and now Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at NAND Research.
“The [traditional] cloud model doesn’t scale across on- and off-prem” this way, he said.
Using a single HCI platform in both environments enables that flexibility.
“You should be able to take an application built on any cloud and run it on any other with the same scale, automation, fault-tolerance, and scale,” Bhattacharyya said.
HCI: the OS for Hybrid Cloud?
If customers can create a replica of their on-premises infrastructure in the cloud, they can then move workloads at the byte level to where they make sense, said Bhattacharyya.
“Your traditional transactional database could be on-prem while the analytic workload could be in the cloud,” he said. “You can FTP data to the cloud and do analytics there, using the entire Nutanix ecosystem or choosing the pieces that matter to you most. This may completely change the way you look at HCI.”
Cloud infrastructure that’s fully compatible with what’s on the raised floor has other built-in benefits. Among these are application data backup and recovery and consistent security, disaster recovery, capacity management, and overall governance, said Lucas Mearian, an IDC research manager.
McDowell noted that the virtual machine hypervisor has become the operating system for the data center, but there is no corollary for the hybrid cloud. A single hyperconverged infrastructure that lives in both places “gets rid of the storage and network administration,” he said. “It becomes the next OS for your data center.”
Expanded HCI also changes the cost equation by making it easier for organizations to adopt a single, pay-as-you-go pricing mechanism, noted IDC’s Mearian. “It moves HCI from a capex-heavy model to an opex model,” he said, referring to capital and operating expenditures.
Private, Public Contenders
Players other than HCI vendors will vie for the privilege of unifying on-premises and cloud infrastructure. Initiatives like Amazon’s Outposts and Microsoft’s Azure Stack are attempts by public cloud infrastructure providers to extend into their customers’ datacenters with all the attendant benefits of simple management and provisioning.
McDowell thinks HCI has an edge in that cloud vendors will resist making it easy for customers to move workloads to competitive infrastructure, but HCI vendors can deploy across multiple clouds to facilitate choice.
“The more likely model is to start on-prem and leverage the benefits of the cloud," McDowell said. “That’s where HCI helps bridge the gap. It’s a single pane of glass into a number of clouds in a box.”
Another evolutionary path for HCI 2.0 may lie at the far reaches – or edge – of the network. Driven by the arrival of high-speed 5G wireless services, edge computing puts processing closer to the point at which data is captured and is projected to grow nearly 33% annually through 2025, according to Allied Market Research.
Edge computing will require the creation of potentially hundreds of thousands of small datacenters in the field, many of them self-contained units attached to telephone poles or situated in adverse environmental conditions. It’s a situation that practically begs for HCI efficiencies, analysts say.
“Companies that need to deploy thousands of self-driving computers across a distributed network will want configuration to be as simple as possible,” McDowell said. “HCI can give you a set of compute and storage [resources]…in a hut at the edge that looks a lot like a data center,” he said.
Editor’s note: Explore the business value of HCI-powered cloud platforms and how HCI can be the key to solving many of the biggest challenges in the modern enterprise setting. Learn more about the HCI-powered Nutanix Cloud Platform.
This is an updated version of the original article published November 16, 2020. Dipti Parmar contributed to this update.
Paul Gillin is a Forecast contributing writer and B2B content marketing strategist. He was founding editor-in-chief of B2B technology publisher TechTarget and editor-in-chief and executive editor of Computerworld, a tech newsweekly, for 12 years.
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