As the saying goes, change is the only constant in life. This is true today more than ever before; keeping up with changing customer and employee expectations is the top priority for business leaders everywhere. In a digital economy, successful execution of a business strategy is dependent on a robust technology strategy. In other words, smart technology investments heavily influence the ability to create competitive advantage.
My role constantly brings me into contact with business and technology leaders across many different industry sectors. A question that I am frequently asked is: When does it make sense to opt for converged infrastructure (CI) versus a hyper converged infrastructure (HCI) approach? My answer is to always to go back to the business objectives, and ask yourself what outcomes are you trying to achieve, and how can you best service your business stakeholders? This should lead to an obvious business-led decision rather than an answer which fixates on the technology itself.
At the core, both NetApp’s CI and HCI solutions allow any organisation to implement a hybrid cloud strategy. The underlying technology enables seamless movement of data in to and out of public and private cloud securely and efficiently. Fundamentally though, CI and HCI address different business needs, and it’s worthwhile exploring what these scenarios might be.
Let’s start by considering the effect of constant change on IT skills in the marketplace: the decline of the “specialised admin”. Put simply, specialised admin skills (network, storage, server) are becoming rare, and more general admin IT skills are taking their place. Next generation technology platforms are easier to manage, but still deliver what you need to get the job done.
HCI has become an increasingly popular choice as it fully abstracts the underlying infrastructure and automates many IT tasks, including provisioning and management of servers and applications. More advanced, cloud-like features such as scale out and guaranteed performance (or Quality of Service) ensure that an HCI platform can support a range of concurrent workload scenarios (e.g. database, analytic platforms, etc.) without compromise. The simplicity of deployment and operation is made possible by tightly integrating the software and hardware into predefined bundles. And to achieve such a level of simplicity, an HCI platform only permits a small range of tuneable parameters. Therefore, HCI can be thought of as extremely simple, but quite rigid in its engineering. Therefore, in a market where specialisation is on the decline, HCI is a solution that many organisations have been looking for.
A CI arrangement, such as FlexPod or NFLEX, essentially combines best of breed technology (server, network and storage) into a fully validated stack that allows choice in the way it is deployed. For example, CI can be deployed with a virtualisation layer or bare metal; API calls between the various layers allow flexibility of server and storage. Most importantly, CI allows for IT specialists to tune parameters for specific application requirements. Therefore, where deployment of HCI can be measured in minutes, deploying CI is more involved and can take a few hours.
What does this all mean? If your primary business need is for simplified delivery of private cloud/IT resources, then HCI meets that need with its API-driven approach. However, if you’re looking for flexibility in deployment options and customisation for your IT platform, then CI is best with it’s hardware-focused approach. Both have a place in an enterprise environment. What differentiates NetApp is that you can move your data between HCI, CI, and public cloud environments any time you choose.
You can apply the same thinking to the next time you buy your lunch – do you want a pre-packaged sandwich, or do you want to pick your own ingredients to make the sandwich of your choice?
To sum up, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to choosing a technology approach for your business. It’s about being aligned with your overall business strategy and choosing a model that enables your business outcomes to be realised and deliver greater customer satisfaction.