Converged and Hyperconverged Infrastructure

Converged and Hyperconverged

by James G. Barr

Docid: 00021380

Publication Date: 2302

Publication Type: TUTORIAL


A term coined and popularized by Hewlett-Packard, converged
infrastructure (CI) is the combination and integration of server, storage,
and networking resources into a single standalone computing solution or
appliance. Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) takes the CI concept a step
farther by integrating management services such as data protection and

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

[return to top of this

A term coined and popularized by Hewlett-Packard, converged
infrastructure (CI) is the combination and integration of server, storage,
and networking resources into a single, standalone computing solution.

Faulkner Reports
Converged and
Hyperconverged Infrastructure Market

Converged infrastructure is commanding the attention of IT departments
looking to simplify IT operations, and business leaders looking to lower
IT costs.

Although the proponents of converged infrastructure would likely reject
the comparison, CI systems might be described as modern-day mainframes
where the distinction between computing components is blurred by a central
command and control interface. This is analogous to the way that legacy
IBM System/370 mainframes and peripherals were regulated by a core
operating system like MVS or VM/370.

While the long-term objective of CI providers is to remake the enterprise
data center into a less complex – and, thus, more maintainable – facility,
CI systems are often deployed to create so-called “islands of capability,”1
supporting, for example, a virtual desktop or server virtualization
initiative, or providing disaster recovery for mission-critical

Hyperconverged Infrastructure

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) takes the CI concept a step farther
by integrating management services, including:

  • Data protection products (particularly backup)
  • Deduplication appliances (for space saving)
  • Wide area network (WAN) optimization appliances
  • Solid state drive arrays
  • Public cloud gateways
  • Replication appliances or software2

Prominent Providers

Today, the top CI and HCI makers include:

  • Nutanix
  • Dell
  • HP Enterprise
  • Cisco
  • IBM
  • Hitachi
  • NetApp

Eye of the Beholder

“Converged” and “hyperconverged” are both technical and marketing terms.
When evaluating vendor offerings, it’s crucial to look beyond the CI and
HCI labels and determine exactly how a particular vendor defines their
converged and hyperconverged infrastructure solutions.

Converged and Hyperconverged

[return to top of this

In general, converged and hyperconverged infrastructure are viewed as a
vehicle for:

  • Improving information system performance, by
    optimizing compute, storage, and network interactions.
  • Lowering operating costs, particularly power and
    physical space (the hardware “footprint”).
  • Increasing automation, since compute, storage, and
    network resources operate – and interoperate – as a single system.
  • Simplifying sourcing and support, with one vendor
    supplying compute and storage assets in a single platform.

Converged and hyperconverged infrastructure offer an alternative to
conventional, or non-converged, infrastructure.

Non-Converged Infrastructure

In a non-converged infrastructure environment, hardware components are
purchased separately by a client and integrated by the client’s IT staff
(or by a consulting firm engaged by the client).

This method of procurement is familiar to home computer users who may buy
a laptop from Lenovo, a printer from Brother, and an external hard drive
from Seagate. It’s generally up to the purchaser, with the possible
assistance of one or more in-store staff, to put the pieces together to
create a functioning computer system. 

Converged Infrastructure (CI)

In contrast to non-converged infrastructure, converged infrastructure
offers a one-stop-shopping solution, both for procurement and integration.
According to Nutanix, “With converged infrastructure, systems are designed
and integrated by a vendor, [and] packaged into a discrete set of
pre-configured options.

“Rather than needing to buy the various components separately and working
through compatibility and integration challenges manually, converged
infrastructure marries pre-integrated hardware components with software to
orchestrate and provision these resources through a unified system.”3

The overall goal of converged infrastructure is to simplify data center
management; in the process, reducing operational costs and eliminating
problems associated with multi-vendor hardware and software integration.

This is the same rationale, incidentally, that encourages
security-conscious enterprise clients to enlist the aid of a managed
security services provider (MSSP). Only in the case of a MSSP, the
components being managed include anti-virus, firewall, intrusion
detection, and data loss prevention software.

While the advantages of converged infrastructure are many and obvious,
analyst Mark Fairlie reminds us that there are some disadvantages:

Predefined configuration
Convergence hardware and software systems have predefined templates and
concepts on what constitutes a network, a virtual compute unit or a
storage network. You can’t deviate from these standards.

Restricted hardware choice
There may be an item of hardware that you really want to add to your
system, but you might not be able to if your vendor doesn’t offer it.

Patch support – You [apply]
software patches on the vendor’s timetable rather than yours. Patches must
be updated in preconfigured systems in order to maintain support.”4

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI)

Figure 1. Nutanix NX node – A purpose-built appliance with
configuration options for multiple HCI use cases

Figure 1. Nutanix NX node - A purpose-built appliance with configuration options for multiple HCI use cases

Source: Nutanix

While similar in concept and overall function to converged
infrastructure, hyperconverged infrastructure, as defined by Nutanix,
“takes a completely different approach to support enterprise applications,
using intelligent distributed software to combine pools of server and
storage resources into a 100 percent software-defined solution.

“It replaces the components of legacy infrastructure, i.e., separate
servers, storage networks, and storage arrays, with one unified
distributed system, creating a highly scalable data center.”5

Although an ideal solution for clients seeking to maintain (or even
reduce) their IT staffing level, hyperconvergence, like convergence, poses
a few challenges. As itemized by analyst Fairlie, these include:

Stuck with one vendor
You’re locked into your provider’s specifications on your infrastructure
capabilities even if you wish to use another vendor whose capabilities may
be more suitable.

Difficult to scale incrementally with
low cost
– It’s easy to scale up, but you’ll be purchasing
additional network resources, memory and computer processing power by the
node. What if you just need extra memory?

Lack of control over operating
– If your new infrastructure relies heavily on the
public cloud on top of any private cloud, you’ll be spending money you
shouldn’t be spending on hardware for cloud storage and processing. Some
of the software on your system may also be very resource-hungry, further
increasing cloud costs.”6

CI as a Service

Although not quite fitting the traditional definition, cloud services
constitute a type of converged infrastructure, specifically:

Software as a Service (SaaS)
– The capability … to use [a] provider’s applications running on a cloud
infrastructure. The applications are accessible from various client
devices through a thin client interface such as a Web browser (e.g.,
Web-based email).

Platform as a Service (PaaS)
– The capability … to deploy onto the cloud infrastructure
[client-created] or acquired applications created using programming
languages and tools supported by the provider.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
– The capability … to provision processing, storage, networks, and other
fundamental computing resources where the [client] is able to deploy and
run arbitrary software, which can include operating systems and

In each case, the cloud provider assembles, integrates, maintains, and
provides access to the computing and communications elements necessary to
satisfy client requests and requirements.

CI and HCI Sid e-By-Side

[return to top of this

To help summarize the relative benefits of converged and hyperconverged
infrastructure, Nutanix has prepared a simple side-by-side comparison, as
shown in Table 1.

Table 1. CI and HCI Benefits8
Benefit CI HCI
Reduces operational expenses X
Streamlines acquisition, deployment, support, and
Reduces “moving” parts, i.e., hardware X X
Enables cloud-level economics X X
Provides a highly scalable environment X
Enables centralized management of virtual
Optimizes resource consumption X X
Improves mobility by shifting management over to
apps and VMs
Includes built-in data protection and disaster
Reduces the total cost of ownership X X
Enables rapid application deployment X X
Reduces the risk of over-provisioning and
Cuts down on labor-intensive activities X
Prepares data centers for DevOps X X


[return to top of this

While hyperconverged infrastructure was not developed to replace
converged infrastructure, most clients prefer HCI solutions for their
flexibility and scalability.

Before investing in either a CI or HCI solution, a client should:

Identity a specific requirement or
requirements. While in may seem obvious, any wholesale replacement of an
existing enterprise infrastructure should be avoided.

Research various CI and HCI solutions. Some
vendors offer both CI and HCI systems, allowing for an easier comparison.

Converse with industry colleagues who may have
already acquired a CI/HCI solution to get their feedback and suggestions.

Survey the IT staff to determine their level
of CI/HCI awareness, and identify any special training requirements.

Consult with the Security department to
identify any security- or privacy-related concerns. New systems – whether
CI or not – may be vulnerable to attack during installation and initial

Consult with the Finance department to
establish return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO)
metrics. After all, a CI/HCI solution should save money, at least in the
long term.

Develop a detailed CI/HCI Implementation Plan,
to include:

    • System Installation
    • Functional and Performance Testing
    • Production Turnover
    • Regular and Long-Term Maintenance
    • Disaster Recovery, in the event of a system failure or unrecoverable

A Word of Caution

Finally, analyst Ben Miller warns against over-exuberance when
contemplating hyperconverged infrastructure. HCI may be contra-indicated.

“It has to do with the way HCI is designed. It’s meant to help IT
organizations coordinate networking, storage and compute resources at a
high level, so it naturally benefits use cases involving all three. But if
an organization were to just need extra compute resources, for example,
HCI might not make the most sense.”9


[return to top of this

About the Author

[return to top of this

James G. Barr is a leading business continuity analyst
and business writer with more than 30 years’ IT experience. A member of
“Who’s Who in Finance and Industry,” Mr. Barr has designed, developed, and
deployed business continuity plans for a number of Fortune 500 firms. He
is the author of several books, including How to Succeed in Business
BY Really Trying
, a member of Faulkner’s Advisory Panel, and a
senior editor for Faulkner’s Security Management Practices.
Mr. Barr can be reached via e-mail at

[return to top of this