Providing commentary on Hyper Converged Systems (HCI) is challenging. After a few years on the market, practically every major vendor is now offering some sort of HCI offering… well at least their interpretation of what HCI is. In the time it takes you to read this blog, you will probably have received another vendor email touting how wonderful their HCI solution is. So if every vendor is touting how great HCI solutions are, how can I possibly question their assertions?
In my opinion, many vendors HCI solutions don’t look any different then traditional IT solutions. With HCI, I feel as if vendors just sprinkled some magic dust on an existing management interface. But HCI solutions demand a premium price, so I am looking for some significant benefits for our customers.
The Claimed Benefits Get a Reality Check
Using a checklist from a well-known HCI vendor, I’ve evaluates each list item to determine if the claim is beneficial or not.
- “Single Vendor Solution” from Delivery, through Support.
I would agree that this is an ideal situation; however, with the consequence that it greatly narrows your flexibility and choice of products. You are typically locked into purchasing from that vendor and there is no interoperability between vendors. So if you find any aspect of your HCI solution lacking, you are stuck with it. Maybe this was not the benefit you were looking for?
- “Single Shared Pool of x86 Resources”
Is this not what Virtualization is about? I think it is important that we evaluate vendor statements to determine if there is a real benefit, or is it just some “nice sounding words”?
- “Ease of Scale” “Easily scales by adding x86 building blocks”
Depending on your situation this may be a “win” for you, or perhaps for your vendor. The nature of this “building block” architecture means that in order to add either CPU, Memory, or Storage, you need to add all three of them in a HCI “block”. So they are right, it is “easy”, but this is not the same as “inexpensive”.
- “Centralized Management”
This is one of my favourites, as it sounds like “Datacenter Control for Dummies”. From what I have seen, this single dashboard approach has been obtained by removing much of the rich functionality that traditional products offer.
- “Hyper-Efficient Use of Resources” “Data center components are not idle resources”
Isn’t this the problem that virtualization solved a decade ago?
- “VM-Centricity” “The management paradigm shifts”
You should probably avoid any sentence like this. This vendor goes on to say “eliminates the need for infrastructure specialists” … sure, you can have Kathy in Accounting responsible for your infrastructure, and that will be fine until the first time it goes down.
- “Native Data Protection”
This is in regard to these solutions including “backup, recovery and disaster recovery”. It sounds good, but the implementation may be too simplistic to be of real value to you, only allowing you to restore entire VM’s. Because a product says “recovery”, don’t assume any functionality until it is shown to you.
- “Software-Centric Design” “to meet software-defined data center requirements”
Their last item managed to fit in the magic “software-defined data center” phrase. You have likely heard this phrase hundreds of times, and although it sounds impressive, it does not necessarily do anything different from what you are doing now.
At the end of the day, all I ask of you (and my clients) is to carefully read their literature, and write notes about what is important to you if evaluating an HCI solution. Ask the vendor detailed questions, and insist on a live demonstration to determine which functionality is important to you.
Many HCI solutions will require a minimum number of “blocks” to be purchased initially. Each time you need more computing/storage resources, you may also need to purchase multiple “blocks”. You want to identify all aspects of living with a single vendor’s HCI, as you don’t have an easy way to get out. If your newest ERP application requires more compute resources than you have, you don’t want to be surprised that you need $50,000 for the next incremental block upgrade.
There can be a good fit between your needs, and what an HCI vendor can provide. It is just that the vendor lock-in aspect of HCI requires more due diligence than normal. With more traditional IT, if you buy the wrong switch for your needs, you can buy just another switch. With HCI if you buy the wrong solution, you have to replace the entire infrastructure… that would be a bad day for anyone.