Revisiting the Promise of HCI
For all that HCI can seem inflexible, time does change the economics. Today’s HCI solutions will give you more for your money than the appliances that were sold 5 years ago. One can run more workloads in fewer rack units, an important consideration for organizations with growing IT demands but a fixed amount of data center space.
Organizations may also be looking to take advantage of the commoditization of flash to improve performance. 5 years ago, NVMe flash was not available in HCI solutions. Meeting performance demands of primary workloads required expensive HHHL PCI-E cards and/or numerous SATA/SAS drives.
Today a single NVMe drive can inexpensively deliver the performance needed by all but the most demanding workloads. HCI solutions equipped with multiple NVMe drives can rival even top tier dedicated all-flash arrays.
HCI solutions use standard Ethernet networking, meaning no dedicated storage networking components are required. HCI solutions also make use of enterprise data services to provide built-in data protection, a capability that reduces the need for additional data center complexity.
The data center refresh isn’t dead, even for organizations that invest in HCI. Taking advantage of all that a refresh cycle done today can offer, however, requires choosing an HCI vendor that’s flexible.
HCI software delivers
To meet organization needs as they emerge, HCI solutions need to be able to support a diversity of node types in a single cluster. Failing out older nodes needs to be simple, and not require taking down the whole cluster. The HCI solution should support reusing those old nodes for different use cases, ultimately allowing an organization to re-balance their HCI clusters as their needs change and the nodes age. In other words: proper HCI should be flexible.
Licensing can enable or interfere with solution flexibility. When sold as a software solution, not tied to a physical appliance, HCI licensing can provide organizations with a powerful storage solution that adapts to ever-changing needs. When tied to physical appliance, HCI licensing becomes just another throwaway cost, the value ending when the hardware is retired.
With a software-driven HCI model organizations don’t pay for storage twice If an existing server is no longer adequate it can simply be upgraded or replaced; the licensing will move to the new equipment.
A software approach to HCI is a flexible approach to HCI and means organizations can invest in only the resources they need, when they’re needed, without having to worry about stranded resources. Organizations can keep their existing equipment for as long as it is serviceable and economically useful to operate.
While there is a lot of talk from hardware-based HCI vendors about software, the two best known companies having taken the software-driven HCI approach are VMware and Maxta. Both provide a lifetime transferable software license that enables refresh flexibility. Both also scale storage independent of compute providing the flexibility to upgrade within an existing server or by adding different types of servers.
No one can really know what the future holds. At best, we can make educated guesses. We provision our data centers based on careful analysis and prediction, but the span between refresh cycles is long. In that time, anything can happen. A single year can see mergers, acquisitions; if all goes well, explosive and unpredictable growth.
Keeping one’s options open means more than saving a little money, it means preserving the ability to adapt to change. Picking the right technology is a start, but picking the right vendors is the path to success.