What is HCI? A beginner’s intro to hyper-converged infrastructure and why you might need it


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You may have heard about a type of infrastructure that sounded really cool but you’re not sure what it means and why it might be right for your business. Hyper-converged infrastructure is a new way to build your IT infrastructure so that your software, servers and storage are all on one integrated platform. 

Hyper-converged infrastructure is a software-defined IT infrastructure that virtualizes all of the elements of conventional hardware-defined systems. 

A chart showing the difference between non-converged, converged and hyper-converged network storage.

Image: Fishezzz/Creative Commons

HCI moves your storage away from a storage-area network (SAN) or a network-attached storage (NAS) and gives you easy access and one-click operation. It’s especially helpful for small businesses that don’t have a team of on-site IT staff to fix issues on all those separate pieces of hardware. But larger companies often do use HCI, including cloud hosting companies. 

According to Scale Computing, an Indianapolis company that sells its own HCI solution, the benefits of HCI are: simplicity, efficiency and future proofing. 

  • Simplicity: Customers spend less time on infrastructure maintenance.
  • Efficiency: HCI eliminates the need to combine traditional virtualization software, disaster recovery software, servers and shared storage from separate vendors to create a virtualized environment.
  • Future-proofing: Modern applications require new architectures. You can mix and match the old and the new platforms for an environment that can scale up or down as needed.

Jeremy Gregg, a solutions architect at Greva Technology Consulting, has used Simplivity, Pivot3, Cisco and Nutanix. He told us on our Fast Future IT Strategy Slack channel that the benefits of HCI are that it’s “easy to manage the storage and quick scalability. Just add another link node.” One downside of the platform is that users are locked into node types and size for expansion because of how the system manages storage, he added. 

Is HCI anti-cloud? 

Not really. Basically, an HCI platform is a storage platform. While it can be a way to keep your storage in-house and avoid the cloud, it doesn’t mean you can’t also use the cloud. They don’t cancel each other out. 

Is HCI hardware or software?

It is hardware with software inside. 

Where did HCI come from?

Originally, it started from virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), where users have virtual desktops instead of a full computer at their workstations. One of the problems of VDI is that there can be latency. So, a bank teller who is keying in numbers may have to wait for the server to communicate with the host, making the transaction much slower for the teller and the customer. Acceptable latency should be less than 250 milliseconds, according to some (or the time at which your users begin to complain to IT). 

That local virtualization began to move into other virtualized workloads. Eventually, it came to be what it is today, allowing users to quickly launch their own infrastructure within a box or node. 

Who offers HCI?

Here is a non-exhaustive list of companies that offer HCI products: 

  • Dell
  • Nutanix
  • Scale Computing
  • Simplivity
  • Pivot3
  • Atlantis
  • Cisco 
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise

What is dHCI?

Disaggregated HCI (dHCI or HCI 2.0) puts the CPU and memory on one device and puts the storage on another, which is meant to avoid resource waste. When a user heavily relies on one resource or another, it can exhaust the other resources. This prevents the company from having to add more nodes, which can drive up expenses. 

Does your company need HCI? 

Maybe. If you’re a small business that needs simple configuration and ease of use, it’s certainly something to consider. 

Where can I learn more about HCI?

We’ll have more information available at 11 a.m. Sept. 23 in our event, “Simplify IT with a Data Center in a Box.” 

We’ll chat with 

  • Jeff Ready, CEO at Scale Computing
  • Benny Russert, vCIO at Prosource
  • Ryan Fackey, Sr. Solutions Architect at Prosource

Register here