Presented by Intel

Deep learning at the edge. Complex real-time analytics. Global video processing. Anything IoT. It’s easy to get excited about leading-edge applications, harder for the unglamorous-seeming foundational technology needed to bring them to life.

Many enterprises remain torn between what seem like dueling demands: Enabling new strategic initiatives while modernizing core infrastructure, including building new hybrid clouds and multi clouds. It can feel a bit like running a busy restaurant that’s adding exotic new menu items during a major kitchen renovation.

Infrastructure, big and small

But what if there were no conflict between the two? Thanks to its broad availability and growth, hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) — clustered, managed nodes of virtualized processing, storage, and networking — offers a way to both reduce Capex and Opex, while building an agile, data-driven future.

A category of scale-out, software-defined infrastructure, HCI uses standard hardware to create distributed building blocks, clustered together and managed using familiar virtualization tools and automation policies. It’s fielded as software running on standard hardware and as integrated systems and “appliances.”

Originally aimed at secondary workloads like virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and test/dev environments, HCI has expanded in the last few years across a variety of enterprise applications. Continued virtualization of key elements has steadily driven down its costs and improved flexibility, while unshackling workloads from specific hardware. Modern HCI generally works out of the box, reducing the need for expensive specialists and extensive IT involvement.

Nasdaq, for example, uses HCI and virtualization to achieve zero down time and as a way to quickly scale infrastructure in response to market opportunities.

For many, HCI is a game changer, the fastest, easiest path to infrastructure updates and building out hybrid cloud and services.

Growing popularity

The HCI market is forecast to reach $17.1 billion by 2023, according to MarketsAndMarkets Research. IDC reports growth of 18.7% year over year for 3Q19 (latest available).

Behind its growing popularity is HCI’s ability to help with several of today’s most pressing enterprise needs:

Data-driven and edge applications

Organizations today aim to create distributed infrastructure for data collection and local processing, removing the need to constantly transfer data in and out of data centers. For more and more workloads, especially IoT, that means edge.

“It’s about the deluge of data,” says Christine McMonigal, director of HCI marketing at Intel. “People want to be able to do a certain amount of storage and analytics on data locally or across sites. In some cases, the data sets are just too big to transfer to a centralized data center or cloud. Business just wants to transfer back the most valuable portion for compilation with other sources and further analysis. That’s where you’re seeing the whole distributed architecture and edge and HCI coming together.”

According to widely accepted Gartner forecasts, 75% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside traditional, centralized data centers or clouds by 2022, up from less than 10% in 2018. To handle this huge shift, HCI offers a way to nimbly and efficiently manage infrastructure at the edge for ML processing and other data-driven jobs.

Hybrid clouds and multi clouds

Hybrid cloud continues to grow as a key part of modern business infrastructure among organizations looking to balance performance, TCO, legacy applications, security, and compliance. Worldwide, IT spending on private cloud solutions is expected to exceed $260 billion in 2027.

“Hyperconverged systems are becoming the backbone of the multi-cloud world,”  says Eric Sheppard, research vice president, Infrastructure Platforms and Technologies at IDC. “The value proposition of converged infrastructure solutions has evolved to align with the needs of a hybrid cloud world.”

Modern hyperconverged solutions are driving growth, Sheppard explains, because they allow organizations to leverage standardized, software-defined, highly automated datacenter infrastructure. Increasingly, that’s the on-premises backbone of a “seamless, multi-cloud world.”

Server refreshes offer an ideal opportunity to modernize with HCI, says Lisa Spelman, vice president & general manager for the Intel Xeon and Memory Group. “With an estimated nine million servers approaching five-year lifespan in data centers across the globe,“ Spelman says, “enterprises face an incredible opportunity to drive increased efficiency and organizational productivity. The pathway, she says: “Infrastructure modernization efforts that embrace both on-prem refresh and cloud service integration.”

New products help simplify the move to a hybrid or multi-cloud operation. Intel Select Solutions for Google Cloud’s Anthos, for example, validate offerings with verified performance that leverage existing VMware vSphere and vSAN investments. Similarly, Nutanix and Intel’s new Select Solution give enterprises an HCI building block for creating and optimizing multiple demanding workloads and clouds.

Diverse enterprise workloads

A big part of HCI evolution in 2020 is its widening adoption — for mission-critical and specialized workloads as well as core enterprise infrastructure.

“When HCI was first developed, it was new and different,” observes Intel’s McMonigal. “People weren’t always comfortable, so they tried it out for secondary workloads in their data centers.” What a difference a few years makes. “Now, (HCI) is being primarily used for demanding applications like databases, AI inferencing, and other business-critical workloads.” Disaster recovery is emerging as a key use case for HCI, as are ERP and specialized life science, to name just a few.

Intel® Data Center Blocks for Enterprise AI Inferencing

At the same time, more IT groups recognize HCI as a smart way to swiftly deploy important new initiatives, such as AI. “HCI offers a convenient platform for AI experiments and other purpose-built applications,” says Mark Henderson, a memory and storage product marketing manager of Intel’s Data Platforms group. “It gives you an easy button to push that provides infrastructure to data scientists without having to re-architect your entire enterprise environment. People can do those small-scale experiments and try things out and then scale from there.”

And of course, HCI continues to provide the broader operational benefits that attracted enterprise attention in the first place: agility, efficiency, and the ability to create a cloud-like provisioning model while maintaining control of physical technology and on-premise data. For many, that increasingly includes the ability to optimize and scale infrastructure without being hamstrung by staffing challenges.

Most organizations don’t have unlimited ability to manage their infrastructure. So businesses need technologies that are easily deployable and scalable. HCI delivers the ultimate in agility, performance, and scale across a broad range of workloads.

Migration to software-defined data centers

HCI provides another crucial tool to another important group: enterprises advancing on their journey toward deployment of a software-defined data center (SDDC) and/or infrastructure (SDI).

With the ability to support any virtualized workload on HCI, IT can deploy a single, centrally managed environment, which is the first step to a SDDC, championed by VMware and others. The goal is to create a “digital nervous system” that is fast and flexible and cost-effective. HCI is an essential building block.

More, flexible technology options

A flurry of innovation by industry vendors is driving the current, rapid evolution of HCI. Market leaders including Cisco Systems, Dell Technologies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Nutanix, and VMware continue their focus on HCI in 2020. The varied new offerings bring a host of options for large-scale and focused infrastructure deployment, evident in the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant for HCI. (Humble brag: Most are powered by Intel Xeon Scalable processors, Intel Optane SSDs, and Intel Optane persistent memory.)

Among the notable new developments:

HCI as a service. VMware, Dell, Amazon, Pivot3, and other heavyweights have introduced HCIaaS. Lenovo Tru Scale Infrastructure Services manage an enterprise’s HCI deployment as a consumption-based model, delivered on-premise or through a managed service provider. HPE’s Greenlake goes a step further, offering a platform for “Everything as a Service.”

Containerized HCI. Container-based deployments have rapidly increased due to application portability, operational efficiencies, and scalability, so it was only a matter of time before the arrival of HCI. Most HCI solutions now support containers, but notable HCI appliances built specifically for containerized applications include Diamanti, which bundles CentOS, Docker, and Kubernetes and Dell Technologies’ Cloud Flex, offering cloud-like consumption.

Disaggregated HCI. This new variety is designed to scale compute and storage independently, via compute-heavy and storage-heavy, or compute-only and storage-only nodes. Two examples: Cisco HyperFlex’s Compute-Only Nodes, and Nutanix’s Storage-Heavy, Storage-Only, and Compute-Heavy nodes. For flexibility, they offer non-linear scaling of the hyperconverged cluster. Storage nodes may not have a hypervisor at all, since they don’t have to run VMs or applications.

Azure Stack HCI. Broadly, the new offerings here look to simplify adoption of hyperconverged infrastructure. They’re designed to ensure seamless deployment and steady-state operational experience on validated hardware. Intel Select Solutions for Microsoft Azure Stack HCI help simplify implementation of Windows Server hyperconverged infrastructure, providing efficiency and high performance in the data center and at the edge, as well as a seamless hybrid cloud experience with Azure.

Bottom line

HCI is rapidly evolving into a key building block of modern IT infrastructure for enterprise and clouds, especially hybrid. It’s also become a fast, easy way to deploy projects at the edge, whether small or large, general-purpose or specialized. Dueling infrastructure demands are so last decade. HCI is here to stay.

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