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How to Choose a Hyperconverged Solution – Data Protection, Business Continuity and Management – by Eric Slack


Evaluating products in the IT space is a complex process. A simple “feeds and speeds” comparison isn’t enough as features and functionality proliferate. This is especially true with Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) products where the evaluation now encompasses compute and management functions, not just storage.

In the 3rd installment of this blog series we’re looking at a new tool Eval(u)Scale created by Evaluator Group that IT professionals can use to make better product decisions. In it we list what we consider the 10 most important characteristics and rate each product according to these criteria. In this blog we’ll look at the ways HCIs assure data protection and business continuity, and the management options they offer.

Data Protection

Storage systems must protect data against internal and external events. For hyperconverged infrastructures this includes drive- or node-level failures, as well as human error, malicious activity, data corruption, etc. All HCIs protect data internally by making additional copies of each write or using parity-based scheme and distributing these data around the cluster.

Many hyperconverged systems give you the option to increase the level of protection for more critical data sets or to choose RAID 5/6 to save storage space. Pivot3 uses forward error correction (erasure coding) on all data at the outset to improve capacity efficiency. Most vendors set this level of data availability or resiliency by policy at the volume level.

Most HCIs include snapshots, cloning and replication features that support the capture of regular backups and getting them to a destination system, typically at a remote location. Nutanix and SimpliVity have built-in backup features that provides one-click backup and file- or VM-level restores for end users. Other systems support third party backup applications that leverage the HCI’s snapshot and replication capabilities.

Business Continuity

Most HCI systems provide some kind of stretched clustering support to protect against rack-level failure (losing the entire cluster) or the loss of the data center. Using synchronous replication they spread copies of each write to nodes in remote locations, subject to latency requirements, before acknowledging it to the originating host. In the event of a disaster applications can be restarted in these secondary locations while data is restored to the primary site, if possible.

Some HCIs take steps to reduce recovery time by controlling the placement of these secondary copies. SimpliVity, as an example, replicates each data set to one or two other nodes instead of striping data across multiple nodes and has an automated failover feature to reduce downtime.

HCI management includes infrastructure-level tasks, such as resource allocation, cluster expansion and firmware upgrades and hypervisor-level tasks, such as creating, moving and protecting VMs. Some have a sophisticated management utility, like Nutanix’s Prism, or they integrate with a third party management platform as Atlantis does with Citrix Desktop Director.

In addition, most HCIs include some kind of integration with the hypervisors they support, allowing the user to control VMs from within the HCI management utility. More commonly they include a plug-in to the hypervisor management console, such as vCenter, allowing infrastructure control from within the hypervisor dashboard. vSAN is integrated into VMware itself.

Some vendors include policies that provide VM-level management over data protection, availability and performance parameters. As an example, Maxta and VxRail and VMware Ready Nodes (through vSAN) allow operators to specify RAID levels for each VM when it’s created. Others have VM-level policies around data protection and recovery or around caching, such as Scale Computing.

All HCIs provide multiple options for ensuring data availability and data protection and different ways to manage the hyperconverged infrastructure and the VMs it supports. The trick is to identify which products’ approaches best support your workloads and environment. If you want to dive deeper, Evaluator Group subscription includes Comparison Matrices and product reviews with all the details. In the next blog we’ll look at two more criteria for choosing a hyperconverged infrastructure solution.

The amount and diversity of technology available in infrastructure products can be overwhelming for those trying to evaluate appropriate solutions. In this blog we discuss pertinent topics to help IT professionals think outside the checkbox of features and functionality.