Converged infrastructure (CI)—pre-engineered and deeply integrated blocks of compute, storage and network that deliver mission-critical performance offered as a turnkey solution—has been a game changer in helping IT keep pace with rapidly evolving business demands. And now a more agile technological cousin, called hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), offers similar plug-and-play efficiencies using building blocks in smaller, more flexible chunks.

So when should you use converged infrastructure and when is hyper-converged technology a better option? The answer depends on what IT workloads you are running, how much resiliency is required, and the need for guaranteed performance verses agility and scalability.

CI for the Big Stuff

Typically CI is used for major Platform 2.0 applications such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), database grids, SAP workloads and enterprise messaging. EMC IT used converged infrastructure, built on VCE’s Vblock technology, to create its 100 percent virtualized modern data center inConverged and Hyper-converged Infrastructure Blocks, Racks, and Appliances 2010.

CI’s platforms offer the best features of individual technology elements such as blade servers, modular storage arrays, virtualized networks and hypervisor, complimenting each other for maximum efficacy. That means you get the best features of compute, networking and storage, predefined through a combination of hardware and software. Most of the resiliency in CI comes from the hardware.

Among the benefits of CI is the fact that it allows IT to use a single vendor for end-to-end support for all technology components instead of the traditional approach where IT might buy storage from one vendor, network from another and compute from another. It also uses a single end-of-support date for all the components and a single code for the support stack. In the data center, CI offers a reduced footprint and less cabling and can be deployed much faster than traditional infrastructure.

In short, when you are running applications that require best-of-breed infrastructure for guaranteed performance, CI (i.e. Vblock) is the best option.

More Flexibility for Less

But what if you want to develop and run applications that require a more flexible, more maneuverable and less expensive infrastructure option that still has the benefits of integrated storage, compute and network? That’s where hyper-converged infrastructure comes in.

HCI is a good fit for Platform 3.0 applications that need agility and the ability to scale quickly at the lowest cost per unit. HCI is built in modules via rack-mounted servers. EMC IT uses the VCE VxRack System.

Unlike CI, HCI is software-defined. There is less integration between different components; they are loosely coupled. Each rack-mounted server has local compute and local storage and they all tie to a single switch. This allows for different workloads.

HCI is also easy to apply with less of a skill set; it doesn’t require turning a lot of knobs. And since storage, network and storage are all represented on each node of HCI, it can not only scale rapidly but recover from technical errors quickly as well. If something fails and you lose a node in your HCI environment, you don’t have to nurse it back to health. You can simply move on to the next node. That speaks to its flexibility.

Some key uses for HCI include application development environments, Big Data analytics, life cycle and cloud applications.

So HCI doesn’t replace CI, but allows IT to better tier the IT infrastructure to their changing application needs. Most IT operations will benefit from a mix of these two options that can change as the demands of their customers do. The bottom line is – with converged infrastructure we spend less time on IT management, and more on innovation.

In summary, IT organizations are rapidly evolving into cloud-centric business models where agility, scalability, security, resource optimization, and SLAs are paramount. With a seamless integration of the technology stack, both converged and hyper-converged technology create platforms which focus on business outcomes and effectively shift gears towards the journey to Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) and adding business value.

Click here for information about the new HCI appliance called VxRail recently launched by EMC and VMware.

Srini Maguluri

Srini Maguluri

Consultant Architect — Office of Architecture and Innovation
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3 Comments

  1. Keith waryas says:

    Great write up! Thank you.

    Would love to get your view from an application specific workload, compare and contrast. example, messaging, which emc runs on ci: can you give specific details of how ci is better and why hci comes up as less than ideal?

  2. Mayuresh Pande says:

    Very Nice Article. Clears exactly what CI and HCI mean and which should be used where!!!

  3. David Thomas says:

    Nice brief, clear explanation. I particularly like the fact that you’re not using the advent of HCI to denigrate CI but highlight that each has it’s value and place in the modern data centre environment and even go as far as to tie that to application layer functionality.

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