Hyperconverged infrastructure is an approach to data center architecture that combines all of its traditional elements—storage, computing, and networking—into a single solution. By virtualizing the data center environment, HCI can reduce the amount of necessary hardware, which can in turn reduce both cost and complexity.
This article looks at nine of the top hyper-converged infrastructure vendors and the products and services they offer.
- How Does HCI Work?
- Top Hyperconverged Infrastructure Providers and Products
- Bottom Line: Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Vendors
How Does HCI Work?
HCI virtualizes and collapses the storage and networking components of traditional data center architecture alongside the computing resources in a virtual machine. HCI is more reliable, cost-effective, and secure than traditional data center architecture, which runs on very expensive hardware. It’s also more flexible and scalable. Using standard x86 servers, it brings networking and computing functions alongside software-defined storage into a single, virtual appliance, which acts as a centralized interface for administrators to manage traffic and resources.
Virtual storage controllers manage the software-defined storage at the hypervisor level. A hypervisor is software that can host and access multiple virtual machines on a single piece of hardware, each of which can run its own programs. Cloud computing is, essentially, accessing virtual machines from anywhere—hypervisors are what manages those virtual machines.
Before hyper-converged infrastructure, there was converged infrastructure (CI), which mainly involves gathering storage, networking, and compute resources in one hardware solution. This type of infrastructure is convenient for businesses that want pre-configured or pre-installed systems.
Hyper-converged infrastructure has the same goal—combining the three data center technologies into one solution—but uses virtualization to accomplish it. Converged infrastructure helps data centers manage IT resources in one infrequently changing system, while HCI is a virtualization solution for businesses that need to scale computing resources quickly. Hyperconverged platforms work well within software-defined environments, which use virtualization heavily.
In addition to virtualization, HCI can also be used for Kubernetes, the Linux-based container orchestration system. Vendors accomplish this through a variety of approaches—businesses using a Kubernetes strategy should make sure an HCI vendor will support it before adopting a solution.
9 Top Hyperconverged Infrastructure Vendors
The right HCI vendor can provide scalable solutions for enterprises looking to improve their infrastructure and reduce their costs by automating provisioning and configuration. Here are the top nine hyper-converged infrastructure vendors.
Nutanix’s Acropolis Operating System (AOS) is an exceptional solution for data center management and high-performance applications. AOS creates a virtual server that can scale when new resources are needed. Nutanix has its own hypervisor, too, known as AHV, which supports most Linux and Windows systems as well as most of the leading hypervisors on the market, including VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix.
Clusters of Nutanix nodes are redundant in case of failure. Storage, computing, and networking exist in one cluster to allow users to run a variety of applications on public, on-premises, or single cloud options. Nutanix also offers Kubernetes support.
The company provides both training and support to customers, including a learning platform with certifications ranging in level from associate and professional to master and expert.
Dell EMC VxRail
Dell EMC VxRail offers multiple integrations with virtualization software, including VSan, which supports HCI environments. VxRail also offers VMware Tanzu, a Kubernetes solution that comes in three different options, depending on companies’ needs for cloud, traditional app development, hybrid cloud, PaaS, or native Kubernetes pods.
VxRail performs extensive testing for the system, validating clusters and testing hardware. It’s also used for compute-dense applications, traditional app hosting, and hybrid-cloud architectures.
VxRail is also able to run—and offer certifications for—SAP HANA, a relational database management system, making it a good fit for enterprises with intensive storage needs like AI, video, and media streaming. Dell also recently added disaggregation to VxRail, allowing users to separate storage and compute resources.
NetApp’s HCI is designed to create a type of data fabric for a company, allowing businesses access from a variety of locations. It integrates with other NetApp technology, such as Cloud Backup, to expand upon traditional HCI by adding the flexibility of hybrid cloud-style data management for a variety of clouds and workloads. Users can deploy the HCI solution on multiple clouds and on-premises infrastructure.
NetApp HCI clusters are managed by VMware VCenter, and NetApp uses VMware as its virtualization platform. Users can scale their storage and compute resources separately, a helpful money-saving feature that decreases overprovisioning and keeps unnecessary storage costs down.
Cisco HyperFlex Systems
Cisco’s HyperFlex Systems is a hyperconverged platform considered a solid choice for critical business workloads and applications because of its fast speed and low latency. Among its options is the all-non-volatile memory express (NVMe) HX220c M5, which uses Intel Optane DC P4800X solid state drives for persistent memory.
HyperFlex is relatively easy to set up and use. Users can choose to create multiple data stores for important data rather than being restricted to a single pool. It can be deployed at edge sites, managed by Cisco Intersight, a cloud-based infrastructure and workload platform that also provides access to Kubernetes.
Microsoft Azure Stack HCI
Azure Stack HCI is a cloud-based solution for hosting virtualized Windows and Linux workloads and their storage in hybrid environments. Microsoft calls its hybrid-cloud style service simply “Azure hybrid.” The HCI solution also integrates with other Azure programs, like virtual machines, and all of these Azure programs can be managed alongside the Azure Stack—including Azure Backup, which is available to HCI users.
Azure Stack clusters contain between one and 16 servers, which run an operating system specifically designed for an HCI. Azure Stack also supports Hyper-V, Microsoft’s native hypervisor.
Virtual machines within Kubernetes nodes are designed to “fail over,” which means Kubernetes will move any container from a failed environment to a working virtual machine.
StarWind Hyper Converged Appliance (HCA)
With its all-flash, simple hyper-converged system and comparatively low prices, StarWind is an excellent choice for smaller enterprises that need exceptional performance and support. The vendor’s hyperconverged appliance, or HCA, is composed of two servers, and clusters are composed of two nodes for failover—if one node fails, the other takes over.
StarWind Command Center, a management console that allows users to manage and monitor HCA performance, has a web user interface, and StarWind uses Intel Optane technology for persistent memory. The vendor also offers free configuration and deployment, which is a boon for smaller businesses, as it’s one of the less expensive HCI solutions. StarWind’s support team is well reviewed by customers.
HPE’s all-flash array, acquired in 2017 when HPE purchased storage company Nimble, uses what the vendor calls dHCI, or disaggregated hyper-converged infrastructure. Not quite either converged or hyper-converged infrastructure, dHCI allows users to scale which component they want when necessary: storage, computing, or networking.
HPE also offers an artificial intelligence (AI) driven predictive platform, HPE InfoSight, which notifies customers when problems arise, applications go down, or the array needs to scale to compensate for growth. HPE InfoSight connects directly to the dHCI stack, allowing for cross-stack analytics.
Nimble provides disaster recovery replication snapshots, including for Hyper-V virtual machines. Replication snapshots can be extended to storage arrays in other physical locations.
Pivot3 Data Center Series offers two hybrid and two flash HCI solutions. The hybrid solutions’ multi-tier architecture combines NVMe flash, solid state drives (SSDs), hard disk drives (HDD), and random access memory (RAM) in each HCI node for faster performance.
Pivot3 prioritizes storage for business critical applications using quality of service (QoS) policies to distribute workloads where they will perform best. Pivot3 storage and computing components can scale independently, allowing users to save money on capacity for either resource.
VMware vSAN is a software-defined storage platform that supports HCI environments using aggregated data storage devices to form a virtual storage pool. The main benefit of using this HCI is its direct integration with other VMware products. vSAN integrates with Vsphere, VMware’s cloud computing virtualization platform, and runs as a distributed layer of software within the company’s ESXi hypervisor.
Users can manage and configure their own vSAN cluster. VMware provides a File Service for sharing files within the Network File System, with one dedicated File Sharing VM (FSVM) on each host. vSAN can be deployed to top public cloud solutions, and it integrates with Tanzu, VMware’s container and virtual machine management solution. vSAN can also be used for disaster recovery.
Bottom Line: Top Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Vendors
Hyperconverged infrastructure combines all the elements of traditional data center architecture—storage, computing, and networking—into a single solution that virtualizes the data center environment, reducing hardware cost and complexity. The best HCI solutions provide maximum visibility about which workloads don’t have the resources they need, which nodes or clusters are failing, and how all virtual machines are performing. A solution that includes built-in analytics or even AI will be better able to provide necessary insights, especially in an environment where data centers are expected to have intelligent systems and machines. Some HCI solutions allow independent storage and compute scaling, but not all. Enterprises looking to lower costs should choose HCI solutions that allow them to scale storage and computing needs separately. Additional storage costs money, and paying for more than you use can be quite costly. Similarly, some support containers like Kubernetes. The best vendors all offer solid HCI solutions to meet a wide range of enterprise budgets, integrations, and needs.