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Words to go: HCI platforms

Implementing HCI systems in the data center is a big undertaking for IT. Learn the basics of this emerging technology and its components before you make the leap.

Hyper-converged infrastructure has become a major player in the data center. As a simpler means of combining multiple infrastructure elements, hyper-converged can manage and consolidate resources in the data center. However, it does come with hardware and software expenses that not all enterprises can handle.

If your organization can handle the financial burden of an HCI platform, then it's important to know the basics. Understand your current storage, networking and compute resources, and investigate if there are ways to simplify these elements. Use these common HCI platform terms to strengthen your understanding of hyper-converged and to see if it's right for your organization:

  • Hyper-convergence: At its most basic form, an HCI platform integrates compute, storage, networking and virtualization technologies under a software-based architecture. A single vendor combines the aforementioned resources and allows IT to manage all of them through a centralized platform. Unlike converged architecture, an HCI platform is a single commodity that combines tools and resources together. As the market is maturing, vendors are offering cloud-like, flexible pricing models to make HCI more financially appealing and are adding container-driven HCI appliances to appeal to containerized infrastructures.
  • Converged infrastructure (CI): This approach to data center management aims to simplify compatibility issues for server, storage and network. There are three different converged architecture options that IT can implement to achieve optimum compatibility levels of server, storage and network components: a CI reference architecture, an IT appliance architecture or a hyper-converged approach. It's important that an organization interested in a CI or HCI platform discuss what each term means with a potential vendor to avoid confusion.
  • Node: This hardware element -- often a server with integrated storage -- is the building block of an initial HCI purchase. HCI appliances are often sold as a collection of nodes assembled into a single enclosure or rack. Admins can often add nodes to the base HCI unit to expand the system to meet virtualized workload demands.
  • Hypervisor: A hypervisor abstracts OSes and applications from the underlying hardware to allow host machines to run multiple VMs at the same time. HCI products rely on bare-metal hypervisors, which are deployed directly on top of the system's hardware without underlying software.
  • Nutanix: The San Jose, Calif.-based vendor launched one of the first HCI products in 2011 and continues to advance its hyper-converged product line. A Dell-Nutanix deal in 2014 allowed Dell EMC to sell Nutanix software that runs on PowerEdge servers. Other HCI vendors include SimpliVity, which is now owned by Hewlett Packard Enterprise. VMware sells software platforms that enable HCI platforms from other vendors, such as Dell EMC.
  • Commodity hardware: If an organization opts for a software-only product from a vendor -- such as Red Hat or VMware -- commodity hardware plays a major role in infrastructure compatibility. The plug-and-play capabilities of commodity hardware will allow the enterprise to combine the software elements on the physical infrastructure to deploy an HCI system.

Next Steps

Software-defined data center planning basics and terms to know

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Learn how to build a hyper-converged platform

This was last published in October 2017

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