Converged VS Hyper-converged Infrastructure – What is the Difference and Why Should You Care?

Converged VS Hyper-converged Infrastructure – What is the Difference and Why Should You Care?

Enterprises are increasingly looking to leverage IT to gain a competitive edge in their marketplace, so it came with no surprise that Gartner introduced a new Magic Quadrant to help aid vendor selection in what is now one of the most dynamic sectors of its kind: ‘Integrated Systems’.

Last year Gartner published its first report including the “Magic Quadrant for Integrated Systems” based on the observation that these technologies are growing 50% annually. Gartner defines integrated systems as “Compute, Storage and Networking combined with software for management within a single solution”*.

In more general terms these type of solutions can be broken down into two broad categories; Converged Systems and Hyper-converged.

Firstly, converged systems are viewed as hardware and software from two or more ‘Best of Breed’ vendors combined into a single SKU for procurement and support purposes. Several of the big original equipment managers (OEMs) have bundled solutions that fit into this market space including: ‘Vblock’, which combines Cisco UCS (Unified Computing system) blade servers, EMC VNX storage, Cisco Nexus networking with VMware vSphere and ‘Flexpod’ offerings which combine Cisco UCS, Netapp FAS storage and Cisco Nexus networking.

Hyper-converged solutions have variations of Compute, Storage and Networking consolidated into a single appliance. The two main players in this arena currently are ‘Simplivity’ and ‘Nutanix’: Simplivity combines server, storage and network functions into their 2u Omnicube appliance; Nutanix has several models of appliances based on 2/3u form factor and business function, such as Compute/RAM/GPU bias, with all models utilising their proprietary code NDFS (Nutanix Distribute File System).

Both of these vendors utilise web-scale architecture and commodity hardware, however Nutanix is definitely the clear leader in this field, with a broader product portfolio, greater product maturity, as well a larger number of deployments in the field.

So what are key differences between converged and hyper-converged solutions?

In a nutshell ‘Converged Infrastructure’ offerings are using pre-existing solutions that can be purchased as standalone technologies, and combining them in to an architected solution. Whilst some may view this as a good thing from the viewpoint of interoperability and support, they are restrictive in both the building blocks that can be used as well as available upgrade paths, not to mention their often hefty price tag!

Hyper-converged infrastructure solutions are not re-using technologies already found in data centers, but instead designing and implementing software based solutions on cost effective, commodity hardware utilising hybrid storage that addresses the challenges of businesses today. The engineering and development teams at Nutanix are made up of brains from some of the industry’s leading giants, with the ‘Nutanix Distributed File System’ (NDFS) web-scale architecture implemented in a manner comparative to that used by Google.

A key difference with Nutanix is, unlike a traditional storage arrays, the storage is virtual machine aware meaning that snapshots and consistency groups are done at a much more granular level; the concepts of raid groups and Logical Unit Numbers (LUNs) no longer exist and as such a much more flexible operational approach can be adopted.

The Nutanix success is all down to the software, this is evident in a global OEM announcement in June ’14 with Dell to provide Nutanix software on top of Dell PowerEdge servers, to produce the Dell XC web-scale converged appliances that will be available as of Q4.

The future road map for Nutanix is also scheduled to include separation of the software functionality from the hardware. This means that NDFS will be available to run on customers own hardware via a traditional licensing model, as well as a turnkey solution as currently provided. These two options combined will provide many more options for deployments and greater business agility.

Additional models are also being added to the Nutanix product range to meet the requirements of their customers. One such example being the recently added 9000 series appliance that is composed entirely of high performance SSD devices (Existing Appliances utilize hybrid storage capabilities using SSD for Tier1/Hot cache, and spinning disks for Tier2/capacity).

With new models constantly being added and additional features being incorporated in to NDFS capabilities, the reason to consider a Hyper-converged platform is more compelling now than ever before… and with research firm IDC championing Nutanix as the clear leader in the Hyper-converged market – boasting an impressive 52% of the market share – they are certainly the one to watch!**




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Posted by Steve McGarry

Pre-sales Engineer at Gyrocom.