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Converged infrastructure (CI) and hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) are revolutionising data centre and IT departments across a wide variety of businesses among a plethora of sectors. But they do so a little differently. 

As the concept of virtualisation continues becoming accessible, it is important that businesses know the differences between CI and HCI in order to make an informed decision on the best option for their needs. 

So first, let’s compare the two. 

What is CI? 

CI combines compute, networking, storage and server virtualisation into a single chassis that can be managed from a central point. This can include virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) management, depending on the type of solution you purchase and the vendor you buy it from. 

The hardware in your CI bundle is pre-configured to run the workload you buy it for, whether it is to support a database, a specific application or something else. However, it is important to note that you will not have much flexibility to alter that configuration after you’ve made your purchase. 

Regardless of how you build a VDI environment, it can be time consuming and costly to scale up further down the line. Adding in more components to support future operations is complicated, and can actually take away from the benefits CI provide. Adding desktops and capacity to the in-house infrastructure can be just as expensive, which illustrates how important planning is when it comes to deployment of VDI. 

What is HCI? 

In broad terms, HCI is a fully software-defined infrastructure that virtualises all of the elements of a conventional hardware-defined system. It takes more aspects from a traditional data centre and groups them together in a single chassis. In many cases, HCI combines more components, such as backup software, snapshot capabilities and inline compression. 

CI is mainly hardware focused, while a software-defined data centre is ‘hardware agnostic’ - HCI, on the other hand, combines these two aspects. 

HCI is supported by one vendor, allowing businesses to manage everything through a single system and toolset. To expand the infrastructure, all users have to do is add boxes of the resources needed to the base unit as they go along. 

Due to its software-defined nature, HCI adoption brings much tighter integration between components. This makes HCI more suitable for even more workloads than CI because it is easy to change how the infrastructure is defined and configured at the software level and alter it to work for specialised applications and workloads. HCI is particularly beneficial for VDI because it allows users to scale up quickly with limited expense. 

The flexibility of hyper-converged infrastructure makes it more scalable and cost-efficient than CI because you can add blocks of compute and storage as required. The upfront cost of both technologies are sizeable, but it can pay off in the long term. 

Why is HCI becoming more popular? 

IT transformation has emerged as one of the most important factors in encouraging businesses to examine their processes to ensure they are using technology to become more agile and responsive to their evolving needs and challenges. 

One of the key factors driving businesses to HCI, over more traditional data centre approaches, is the many benefits it provides. These include: 

Ease of use 

As the underlying set of data centre processes becomes increasingly complex with a large variety of sophisticated workloads, an important job of HCI is making data centre management easy. HCI allows IT administrators to make use of a unified and intuitive management interface. 

Simplified data centre management 

With HCI, all virtual machines can be uniformly and instantly configured through application of policies defined in the HCI software. The result is not only a substantial reaction in the number of IT staff members required to support the organisation’s IT infrastructure, but also less down time caused by errors. 

Increased reliability 

Because it is expressly designed to allow use of commercial-off-the-shelf hardware, HCI software assumes and is designed to transparently accommodate a high rate of device failure without impacting running workloads. This is achieved by automatically distributing replicas of the data across nodes, so that if one fails, another is prepared to take over its functions. 

Effective unlimited scalability 

HCI systems are highly scalable, and can increase or decrease storage capacity simply by adding or subtracting nodes. HCI allows individual storage units to be added or removed without workloads being aware that it is happening. 

Increased agility 

Upgrades and reconfigurations of data centre resources to accommodate changes in the business or technological environment can be made quickly through software. 

Enhanced security and data safety 

HCI’s unified point of control and data protection capabilities, including access control, encryption and sophisticated backup and recovery strategies, can be applied through software. 

When to consider HCI 

Research from Forrester claims that HCI systems are now typically used for scalable platforms for enterprise applications, database and private cloud. According to the research, which questioned infrastructure professionals planning or expanding on their use of HCI, the workloads most commonly used on converged systems are: database (50% of respondents); file and print services (40%); collaboration (38%); virtual desktop (34%); commercial packaged software (33%); analytics (25%); and web-facing workloads, such as LAMP stack or web servers (17%).

So, if your business is regularly carrying out any of the above, now could be a good time to switch to HCI. Talk to our datacentre team today to see how CI/HCI can help transform your business



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