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Hyper-converged vs. converged IT infrastructures explained

More integration means less work for data center IT administrators, but is integration, convergence or hyper-convergence the right path for your IT systems?

The days of cobbling together makeshift data center systems and wrestling with complex hardware, software and data integration are waning fast. Convergence is here -- in the form of hyper-converged and converged IT infrastructures -- and the benefits for your data center systems are clear.

Organizations realize greater value and efficiency when deploying fully integrated compute, storage and network gear as one unit. Convergence IT infrastructure has moved far beyond simply bundling and pre-integrating a selection of different manufacturers' data center IT systems offerings (see the chart below or download it here). Vendors from traditional IT sectors such as storage and servers or virtualization, as well as specialized companies, have embraced the notion of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). Vendors are competing to be the single source for all enterprise computing needs.

When to use hyper-converged vs. converged IT infrastructure

Data centers were slow to adopt converged IT infrastructure due to its all-or-nothing nature. Why make the investment in convergence when other servers or storage resources are still viable? In some cases, the transition from traditionally integrated infrastructures to converged IT ones could be difficult. For example, an application running on a traditional server might not be able to access storage in a converged system. In other cases, organizations need more flexibility in resource ratios -- such as CPU count versus disks -- than a converged offering provided. Some IT organizations are uncomfortable with the increased level of vendor commitment that it involves.

Converged IT infrastructure proponents made a strong case for greenfield, remote and data center renovation projects -- especially in highly virtualized data centers or organizations making forays into the private cloud. Vendors have increased the level of convergence in their offerings to attract data center customers.

While hyper-converged IT infrastructures are still new to data centers, products are quickly maturing to meet the scale and manageability demanded by enterprise IT administrators. Hyper-converged infrastructures can appear in almost any organization based on a wide range of technical justifications and return on investment goals, but some common drivers push interest in hyper-converged versus converged or traditional IT deployments.

Perhaps the most overarching driver for hyper-converged and converged IT infrastructure use is the ongoing need for server and data center consolidation projects. Consolidation makes use of virtualization, allowing many more workloads to operate on far fewer physical servers. The opportunities for consolidation abound as aging data centers are retired, remote data centers are decommissioned or renovated, and organizations migrate some workloads to the cloud.

Another pervasive driver for hyper-convergence is supporting the deployment of important new enterprise technologies without renovating or refreshing other resources already at work in the production environment. Examples include the notoriously resource-intensive virtual desktop infrastructure, or test and development labs for new applications and software releases. Enterprises also turn to HCI for demanding new applications that are hard to support in the existing environment. A hyper-converged platform is a turnkey way to support important new deployments without refreshing or cobbling together additional hardware.

Hyper-convergence also improves areas where enterprise IT that have traditionally been weak. For example, a hyper-converged platform often includes backup, snapshot or other disaster recovery tools to simplify data protection and disaster preparedness. A hyper-converged product replaces a mix of diverse and often disconnected systems management tools as well. Convergence eliminates the hassle of using disparate sets of tools, accessing individual Web-based switch configurations through HTTP, learning vendor-specific management utilities and other difficult error-prone setups. A single interface handles provisioning, monitoring, reporting and other features. Additional or remote hyper-converged IT infrastructures can all be managed as a unified system.

A specific project is often a catalyst that first brings hyper-convergence into the data center. As other aging elements of the data center become eligible for refresh, existing production workloads can migrate to hyper-converged infrastructure.

Next Steps

How real IT shops use converged infrastructure

What applications go with convergence?

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Comparison of converged and hyper-converged landscapes

This was last published in October 2015

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The included infographic in this article is a big help. It’s not easy to find a good resource that explains both the benefits and limitations of converged IT and hyper-converged infrastructure in a single place. I take it that because numerous services are included in an HCI that it can often preclude a single vendor service?
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