Hyperconverged storage uses software defined methodologies to virtualize data storage alongside compute and networking functions in a single system. Through virtualization, hyperconverged storage makes far more flexible pools of storage available compared to storage tethered to a specific piece of hardware, such as a networked attached storage device or disk/flash array. Decoupling the hardware from the software and storage lets hyperconverged storage scale readily and provide greater flexibility and functionality.
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How Does Hyperconverged Storage Work?
Hyperconverged storage abstracts storage and its controls from the underlying hardware. This is a different approach than direct attached storage (DAS), in which each computer device has its own storage drive, or networked storage approaches in which multiple devices access a central pool of storage in a storage area network (SAN) or in network attached storage (NAS).
The storage is packaged with compute and networking resources that operate independently of hardware, making it possible to scale incrementally. Businesses looking to implement hyperconverged storage have three options:
- Buy it directly from storage vendors along with the hardware necessary to support it
- Buy it from vendors and purchase commodity servers and storage boxes separately
- Engage a cloud vendor to provide hyperconverged storage as a service
Components of Hyperconverged Storage
Hyperconverged storage is made up of several components, including a hypervisor to run the virtual machines, software-defined applications, and virtual networking tools. Everything can run on commodity hardware—x86 servers, for example—rather than needing more expensive proprietary arrays.
The key aspect to understand is that hyperconverged storage does not need separate boxes for storage, networking, and computing resources, nor do each of these components need to be packaged into a specific piece of hardware optimized for a specific application. Instead, a software layer overlaying everything virtualizes all storage and other resources so they can be shared by many users and devices.
This creates a pool of storage that might include a very large number of NAS devices, SAN arrays, and cloud assets managed as a single entity of tightly integrated components. A key component of hyperconverged storage is load balancing and software-defined networking applications that help to place storage in the best place to optimize performance and adhere to the needs of the enterprise.
Features of Hyperconverged Storage
With hyperconverged storage, there is no need to manage each hardware component separately. Storage is no longer tied to a disk array, a NAS filer, or the cloud, each with its own management systems and sometimes operating with completely different operating systems.
In a hyperconverged approach, storage is managed and administered at the hypervisor level. The hypervisor manages multiple pools of storage and treats them all as virtual resources within one pool, abstracting underlying hardware. Software-defined storage (SDS) is decoupled from the hardware by abstracting storage resources for greater flexibility, efficiency and scalability.
All storage resources can be integrated into a larger software-designed data center (SDDC) design, which adds automation to overall data center functions and brings more automation and flexibility to storage assets—as a result, application programming interfaces (APIs) can easily be tied into storage to integrate across a wider range of platforms and applications.
Benefits of Hyperconverged Storage
Hyperconverged storage offers a number of key advantages over traditional storage solutions.
Storage provisioning is far easier with hyperconverged storage, as there is no need to specify the exact physical location or device on which the storage is to be hosted. This enables storage administrators to adapt more easily to changing needs.
Storage managers used to be stuck with lots of manual labor when it came to provisioning storage. Hyperconverged systems simplify provisioning by letting the administrator specify the performance, capacity, and other parameters, and the storage resources are allocated automatically.
Remove hardware from the equation and storage costs drop markedly. Of course, some vendors offer hyperconverged solutions in their own preferred hardware, but those products are typically priced to compete. Expensive storage hardware is generally needed only when a certain box is optimized to run a specific application.
The advent of software defined storage and hyperconverged infrastructure has led to capabilities such as self-healing, greater levels of redundancy, and higher resiliency. This in turn results in less downtime.
Hyperconverged storage can be ramped up and down granularly. As more storage is needed, it can be added and removed equally rapidly when no longer needed. Organizations only pay for what they need.
Challenges of Hyperconverged Storage
When it comes to hyperconverged storage, there are a few drawbacks to consider.
Adopting hyperconverged storage often means being stuck within a specific vendor ecosystem. Not all vendors lock users into pre-defined hardware—if choice is an important consideration, it might be worth finding a vendor that offers a wide range of compatible solutions.
In general, hyperconverged solutions offer very good performance, but not for everything—some workloads, like high-performance computing (HPC) and generative artificial intelligence (AI) tasks, for example, might not get the performance they need from hyperconverged storage. There are hyperconverged solutions with software, storage, networking, compute, and memory all tailored to run a specific workload or application that achieve excellent performance, but those come at a cost.
Once you place all your data into a hyperconverged storage solution, it may be difficult moving it somewhere else. While there’s flexibility within that solution, there’s less when it comes to migration data to or from that box.
Hyperconverged storage solutions can scale quite high, but not high enough for some applications. Traditional storage has the ability to scale a SAN, for example, much higher than most hyperconverged approaches.
Hyperconverged storage makes life easier in a great many ways, but it also adds another layer—which can also add complexity. Those trained in traditional storage may need further training to master it.
Use Cases of Hyperconverged Storage
Hyperconverged storage is a good fit for a number of applications. Here are some of the most common
- Virtual machines. Hyperconverged storage is a good home for large numbers of virtual machines (VMs), as the virtualization lends itself well to SDS-based infrastructure.
- Databases. Some databases run very well in hyperconverged storage—in fact, some vendors provide boxes tailored to their databases containing a complete hyperconverged infrastructure solution that encompasses storage, compute, networking, and applications.
- Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Desktop virtualization is a way to separate the desktop environment and associated applications and data from the physical client device traditionally used for access. The various desktop components are virtualized, allowing for greater flexibility and simpler disaster recovery as no data is saved locally to the user workstation.
- Data protection. Hyperconverged storage is a good way to unify all storage resources in one virtual pool as a way to simplify data protection. Software can back everything up in the pool from one interface; similarly, disaster recovery (DR) can be implemented across hyperconverged storage instead of having to manually configure each physical storage device for backup and DR.
- Branches. Some companies have branch offices that are supported by centralized, offsite iT—hyperconverged storage can be a good fit for branch office deployments as the infrastructure can be monitored remotely.
Hyperconverged storage is growing in popularity, and works well in many applications. And in the grander scheme of things, IT infrastructure is becoming more and more virtualized. Storage has evolved from a labor intensive function of IT to something that is now becoming more of a general IT task. Hyperconverged storage makes scalable storage more accessible to a larger number of businesses without having to rely upon experienced storage teams.
Read Types of Enterprise Data Storage to learn more about the different ways businesses store, manage, and access the data that fuels their decision-making.