Why your next IT upgrade could be 'hyperconverged'

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Why your next IT upgrade could be 'hyperconverged'
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We look at five hyperconverged systems for growing businesses seeking to simplify their IT hardware needs.

For many small businesses, one file server or network attached storage (NAS) appliance might be all you need, or you could even keep all your files centralised online with the likes of Dropbox Business. However, for fast-growing or mid-sized businesses, your IT hardware needs may be more complex and becoming increasingly difficult to manage.

Hyperconvergence provides a way of simplifying and scaling IT infrastructure with pre-integrated building blocks from a single supplier. It’s not the only solution – and we’ll explore another option, a cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider such as Amazon Web Services, next month.

There are good reasons to keep your systems out of the cloud, however, and hyperconverged infrastructure is becoming increasingly popular alternative. Very small offices might be better off with an entry-level server – which we’ve covered in another feature – but lower-end hyperconverged products can be a feasible solution for fast-growing or mid-sized businesses looking to upgrade or simplify their setup.

But how exactly does hyperconvergence differ from traditional hardware solutions? And what are the options? Let’s start with the first question.

What is hyperconvergence?

To understand hyperconvergence, we need to go back and look at its predecessor, converged infrastructure. Rather than buying servers, storage arrays and network switches and then assembling them into a system yourself, the idea was to buy a pre-integrated rack of equipment incorporating all those elements, plug it into power and network connections, and off you’d go – at least in theory. A well-known example was the VCE Vblock.

The concept could be taken a step further by the vendor optimising the hardware for particular purposes and installing the relevant software at the factory, as Oracle does with its engineered systems family.

Hyperconverged infrastructure differs from converged by using all-purpose ‘commoditised’ servers and doing away with the storage array altogether. Storage is still required, but it is attached to the servers, and a software layer makes the data stored on each one available to the wider system.

How it works

As such, hyperconvergence is seen as part of the move towards ‘software-defined’ technologies – where software assumes a more important role in controlling IT infrastructure and the hardware itself is commoditised.

The hyperconverged software layer works alongside virtualisation – the well-established technology used to create ‘virtual machines’ that are separated from actual hardware. This gives you the flexibility to pool your hardware resources and allocate them more precisely for specific tasks and applications.

Hyperconvergence needs more processing power than would otherwise be the case, but the cost benefits of using commoditised hardware more than make up for that. It’s also modular and relatively easy to scale, so you can just add one or more hyperconverged systems, or ‘nodes’, as your needs grow.

Hyperconverged products are available from recent entrants specialising in this type of system, such as Nutanix and Pivot3, as well as traditional vendors such as Dell EMC (which also sells systems based on Nutanix software), Hitache Data Systems, NetApp and HPE (which recently acquired SimpliVity).

Next: Some of the more affordable hyperconverged systems compared.

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