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Hyper-converged infrastructure disperses for edge computing

The improved price-performance and remote management software capabilities of hyper-converged systems for edge computing could prove fortuitous as edge comes into vogue.

Having established a foothold inside many corporate data centers, hyper-converged infrastructure is poised to extend...

its reach into the world of edge computing, although precious few IT shops have fully formed edge computing strategies.

The explosion of IoT technologies to collect, analyze and stream rivers of data to central data systems has pulled edge computing to the center of many IT shops' radar. This will be no casual encounter, but rather a cosmic collision over the next five years. Gartner predicts that 40% of all enterprises will have a full-blown edge computing strategy in place by 2021, up from less than 1% as of late 2017.

"Out on the edge ... is where the physical will meet the digital," said Dave Russell, vice president and analyst at Gartner, speaking at the company's annual data center conference earlier this month.

Among the array of IoT devices out on the edge is an influx of hyper-converged infrastructure systems. The vast majority of hyper-converged systems currently reside in central data centers of large corporate users or their service providers, to serve as less expensive cloud on-ramps or supplemental processing power for core servers. But IT shops have begun to rethink hyper-converged infrastructure for edge computing as the technology evolves: more robust hardware, falling prices, and steadily improved capabilities from remote management to simpler installation and configuration.

"People want to move so much faster now. ...They want to go to one vendor and just drop [hyper-converged systems] into their environment," said Jeff Hewitt, a research vice president at Gartner. "[Hyper-converged systems] are small and getting smaller, quick to deploy and easier to manage. People feel more confident about putting them out on the edge."

Gartner analyst Jeff HewittJeff Hewitt

Hyper-converged infrastructure, or HCI, servers found early appeal in remote offices/branch offices (ROBO), but over the past year hyper-converged infrastructure has been deployed in more edge locations on factory floors, disaster recovery sites, retail stores and warehouses, according to Gartner.

"I haven't considered them [hyper-converged systems] for the edge, because we've been deploying IoT products," said Todd Hansen, a project manager at a Midwest-based engineering firm that he said deploys sensors to collect and analyze multiple streams of "big data" from field engineering projects passed on to its central data center. "But their smaller form factor might open up possibilities for us in field offices."

[Hyper-converged systems] are small and getting smaller, quick to deploy and easier to manage. People feel more confident about putting them out on the edge.
Jeff Hewittresearch vice president, Gartner

Over the next year or two the battle over real estate among the many edge computing products figures to intensify. Gartner is currently compiling data about hyper-converged infrastructure for edge computing, with results expected in early 2018. How successful HCI offerings will be out on the edge is uncertain, although Hewitt likes their chances.

"It's hard to say in these early days, but it is safe to say there will be a lot of [hyper-converged systems] deployed out there," he said.

Pick your partner for the hyper-converged edge

Enterprises have several options to deploy and support hyper-converged systems in edge computing environments, and the pros and cons for each will be familiar to most IT pros.

Infrastructure providers such as Dell offer the full range of hardware and software technologies and the technical support to help integrate HCI edge systems with systems back in the central data center. The downside is such vendors are hardly agnostic and will strongly push only their products.

Facility specialists tend to be hardware agnostic and offer a wider range of options for modular hyper-converged systems, but some may lack the support organization to help Fortune 500 companies.

Regional providers can be appealing due to their proximity and sometimes a more personal service touch. But size matters with an IT partner, and these providers don't have enough of it.

"Regional providers are usually close by and they can get to know your needs pretty well," said one senior engineer with an aeronautics company who attended the session. "But the downside is they don't have the range of pre- and post-sales support a company like Dell can offer."

In an informal instapoll during a session at the Gartner conference, the majority of audience responders indicated a preference for infrastructure providers to help install and support hyper-converged systems out on the edge, followed by facilities specialists. Only a small handful indicated they would prefer to work with regional providers.

Ed Scannell is a senior executive editor with TechTarget. Contact him at escannell@techtarget.com.

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