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Evaluating a Hyperconverged Solution – Hypervisors, Containers and Cloud Support

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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 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 look at how platform support can impact an HCI product decision and list the hypervisors that several HCIs can run on. We also look at how HCIs are starting to provide cloud functionality as more vendors integrate their products with public clouds and incorporate private cloud features into their solutions.

Hypervisors

Most HCIs run as a VM, making hypervisor support a central part of the product decision. VMware is the dominant player in server virtualization and most HCIs support it, but if your company is running (or plans to run) Hyper-V or KVM, as an example, you’ll want to look at an HCI that runs on that hypervisor as well.

The cost of the hypervisor adds to the total cost of the solution, prompting many companies to go with an HCI that includes the hypervisor at no cost or supports one of the open-source hypervisors. And since license costs are typically based on CPUs, adding nodes, which also adds CPU cores, can drive up the hypervisor cost quickly.

Of the dozen vendors in the HCI Eval(u)Scale, Nutanix has the broadest hypervisor coverage, supporting VMware, Hyper-V, Citrix Xen and their proprietary AHV (KVM-based). SimpliVity supports VMware, Citrix Xen and KVM and Maxta supports VMware and KVM. Scale Computing has taken a unique approach by providing a KVM-based hypervisor at no charge, but not supporting any other hypervisors.

Nutanix has a migration utility called the App Mobility Fabric that converts VMs from other hypervisors to AHV, simplifying the process of moving to their no-charge hypervisor. It also facilitates the physical transfer of workloads between hosts and locations, including the cloud.

Containers

Each container shares the same OS with its host, reducing time and resources required to run multiple applications, compared with a hypervisor. This can lower the cost and speed application development, making containers popular in the DevOps area, a growing use case for HCIs. Nutanix, VxRail and vSAN have integrated container support and Atlantis has incorporated the Rancher container management solution into their USX software that runs their HyperScale HCI solution.

HCI-Cloud Integration

One selling point for HCIs is their ability to simplify the backup and DR process. Since most include snapshots, cloning and replication, they make it easy to get data off-site to another HCI cluster in a remote location. Many of these products are starting to support connectivity to the public cloud, allowing VMs to be replicated to an instance of the HCI software in AWS or Azure, as an example. This “hybrid cloud” capability can also provide the flexibility to run workloads in the cloud, in many cases.

Some HCI solutions are integrating a software layer that provides varying degrees of private cloud-like functionality, on-site. These typically include a self-service capability for users on the front end to simplify the creation and management of VMs and containers and automated management for IT on the back end to reduce admin overhead and improve resource efficiency.

Cisco’s HyperFlex runs the company’s CloudCenter cloud management platform and VxRail supports Dell EMC’s Enterprise Hybrid Cloud software stack, both providing private and hybrid cloud functionality. Nutanix and HPE support the Microsoft Cloud Platform, an Azure-consistent software stack that provides public cloud connectivity, enabling workloads to be developed on-site and run in the Azure cloud.

VMware also offers vCloud Air, a service based on vSphere that provides cloud-based infrastructure for VMware environments on any HCI. It can be used as a DR target for replicating VMs off-site or for running workloads in an isolated or multi-tenant environment.

Hybrid Cloud functionality is a hot topic in IT and HCIs have the potential to be an ideal platform for this technology. HCI vendors know this and are adding cloud-based features at a rapid pace. Evaluator Group research on the cloud is available to help potential users better understand this technology and the benefits it can bring. In the final blog of this series, we’ll look at HCI management and advanced features.


 

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.