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Virtual SAN, hyper-converged infrastructure and the virtualisation of data

Anthony Poh, Solutions Architect, MTI Technology - 26 April 2016

Challenged by high costs, poor performance and lengthy deployment times, modern IT enterprises are opting for Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) solutions, such as VMware’s new Hyper-Converged Software (HCS) offering. When choosing the right model and hardware for the particular needs of a business, an investment in a high-end storage-area network (SAN) can potentially cost five figures, without providing the right levels of performance or scalability.

How hyper-converged infrastructures can help to liberate businesses

A hyper-converged system consolidates compute, storage and networking functions into a single, highly virtualised solution, managed by an intelligent software layer. Hyper-converged infrastructures are able to offer greater scalability as hardware and software are packaged in a single solution, saving customers the time and effort of trying to integrate individual resource components. With a focus on a software-defined approach, there is greater agility and flexibility when it comes to choosing the hardware vendor you wish to work with, primarily because the intelligent control is decoupled from the underlying hardware.
These are just some of the benefits of a HCI:

  • Low initial investment - HCIs have lower cost of entry and cost of ownership for entire solutions, compared to integrated systems and legacy infrastructures.
  • Simple – reduced steps in configuring and managing hardware with fewer manual tasks. 
  • Automation – software-defined storage has automation at its heart. Storage policy management assists with the placement of virtual machines based on required capacity and performance. Management tools and interfaces make it easy to manage storage hardware and administration tasks can be scheduled or scripted.
  • Scalability and efficiency – additional units or resources can be added like building blocks in a more cost effective way than in integrated systems. 

The main features include:

  • Fast and simple storage provisioning - in existing external storage, provisioning takes place in a more hardware-centric way at a storage array layer. Software-defined storage puts the application in charge, and allows you to provision and control storage in an application-centric way via storage policies.
  • Automated self-tuning – this allows for the rebalancing of storage resources to the service levels agreed for each virtual machine (VM).
  • Application centric control – built on a stable, robust automation platform with intelligent storage placement, fine control of services and the ability to make dynamic adjustments in real-time.

Sales of legacy storage SAN and NAS arrays are falling in the face of a pincer movement from converged solutions and cloud storage. The future is software-defined storage, whether in the cloud or on commodity hardware. Wikibon forecasts a huge growth in server SANs and hyperscale solutions (ie. aggregating many servers and their direct-attached storage into a single logical pool of storage). As customers shift their focus away from a siloed approach to infrastructure to one that converges compute, storage and networking in a single appliance, vendors are being forced to innovate and introduce Converged or Hyper-Converged Infrastructure products into their portfolio. 2016 sees the emergence of HCI, with some of the major players; VMware, Cisco and VCE, introducing new HCI appliances in the first quarter of the year. Moving workloads to virtual environments can provide many benefits for businesses when it comes to performance, scalability and cost. It has the potential to streamline operations through automation, allowing businesses to reap the benefits of software-defined systems.

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