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How to convince execs they need HCI products

Is your enterprise considering a move to HCI? Evaluate scalability, automation and cost concerns, and be ready to discuss them with management to get the HCI ball rolling.

Digitalization, business disruption and market transformation are all buzzwords in the IT industry. But behind the various monikers is a simple goal: build and run computing resources faster.

Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) gets IT teams closer to these goals, but high upfront costs and organizational hurdles often stymie businesses from making the leap. It's not always easy to convince executives to invest in hyper-converged environments or HCI products, so it's important to build a strong business case in your favor. Let's explore three specific items to include in an HCI discussion with an executive.

Emphasize scalability

Legacy systems traditionally don't scale easily; they were built to support a finite processing range. As workloads increased, enterprises outgrew systems and had to install new ones in a forklift upgrade manner.

With HCI products, it's easier to scale. Rather than replace one complete system with another, companies add more processing power incrementally wherever it's needed -- server, storage or network.

Legacy system software also was tightly tied to the underlying hardware. Consequently, a system configuration change was complex and time-consuming. IT staff had to tinker with a variety of standalone options for servers, storage systems and networks that grew increasingly more powerful but also more complicated through the years.

A hyper-converged environment is designed to let admins quickly and easily activate additional computing resources. Virtualization loosened tight links between system hardware and software with the addition of an abstraction layer to system software. Now, if admins need to change one element, such as a server's microprocessor, they no longer need to alter other components, such as the OS and application. This development made it much easier for businesses to add more processing power to their computer infrastructure.

When you propose investing in HCI products to executives, emphasize the time and money the IT department will save by avoiding complicated configuration procedures and scalability issues that legacy infrastructure can present.

Highlight automation

Part of the value of a hyper-converged environment is that the technology will reduce the number of manual tasks IT teams need to handle. This, in turn, enables IT teams to focus on other projects that provide more value to the business. This is an important aspect to emphasize to the business side in your pitches for new technology.

Traditional system design was manpower-intensive. Businesses typically had a series of IT development and support teams that each tinkered with one system element: the servers, storage or networks. This made it a mundane task to deploy new hardware, applications and routines. In many cases, IT departments allocated much of their budget to simply keep legacy systems running.

When a business adds a number of processors, they can find themselves looking at an investment of $250,000 or more.
Andrew ButlerVice president and analyst, Gartner Inc.

HCI products are more efficient than traditional infrastructure products. Rather than separate management interfaces, they feature consolidated consoles and management systems that control all of the system innards -- hypervisors, OSes, servers, networks and storage functions.

In addition, these systems include high levels of automation. Rather than force an IT tech to add storage to a storage area network in a tedious, step-by-step manner, HCI automates such tasks. The end result is that IT support teams spend more time on business-differentiating services, like speeding up new software releases, and less time on mundane work, such as adding storage.

Accentuate financial flexibility

A big hurdle to HCI adoption has been the high upfront costs.

"When a business adds a number of processors, they can find themselves looking at an investment of $250,000 or more," said Andrew Butler, vice president and analyst at Gartner Inc.

Recently, however, some HCI vendors have evolved their payment methods, offering cloud-like, pay-as-you-go pricing -- a change that should help IT departments justify purchasing the technology.

In May, Nutanix Inc. unveiled Nutanix Go, a version of its infrastructure that users can rent rather than purchase. Customers sign agreements, which range from six months to five years, and renewals occur every three months or more. Also, in May, Dell EMC released Cloud Flex for HCI, which features monthly payments, built-in price reductions over time and no upfront costs or obligations after the first year.

These payment options enable companies to avoid the large upfront investment traditionally required for a hyper-converged environment. They also are not locked into keeping a system running longer than needed and can get rid of it when their agreement expires.

But these new pricing options present challenges. As with many subscription or lease programs, longer-term agreements lead to lower monthly prices. Businesses need to weigh the desire for short-term flexibility versus the lower pricing that comes from long-term deals.

There are also unanswered questions around system ownership. With these new rented systems, the vendors own the hardware -- even when it resides in an enterprise's on-premises data center. But who owns the data sitting in the hardware? Be sure to have these discussions with your HCI tools vendor and understand whether you should extract your data and move it to another platform.

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