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.
Eval(u)Scale is a new tool 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 for an HCI evaluation and rate each product according to these criteria. In this blog series we’ve covered each of these characteristics (linked below). In this final blog we’ll discuss management capabilities and look at some of the advanced features and functionality that HCI vendors are coming out with.
Deployment and Operation
Management of HCIs starts with set up, and all vendors have simplified this process, making it possible to get an HCI cluster up and running in as little as an hour. HCIs are promoted as easy-to-deploy so most have GUI driven set-up wizards that don’t require much planning, and simplified expansion capabilities as well. Most enable nodes to be added to the cluster seamlessly, rebalancing the storage pool and making new resources available to VMs in the HCI environment.
The purpose of a hyperconverged infrastructure is to support virtual machines (or virtual desktops) so after getting the infrastructure set up, most of the management tasks involve the ‘care and feeding’ of the VMs supported by the HCI. All HCIs (that support VMware) have plug-ins for VMware vCenter that allow the user to open the hypervisor management interface as a tab from within HCI UI.
All HCIs have a native program or utility, to control basic cluster resource management tasks, typically one that runs in a web browser. Some, like Nutanix Prism, provide dashboards for managing performance and resource allocation, as well as control the data services that support data protection, resiliency, etc. Some can be connected to 3rd party management tools like Cisco UCS Manager, UCS Director, Microsoft Systems Center or VMware vRealize. Most solutions include an on-board management utility, but functionality can vary greatly, as does compatibility with 3rd party management tools.
Prism can also model projected workloads to forecast future capacity requirements.
This use of analytics to automate system management and improve efficiency is something we’re seeing from more HCI vendors, as we are from storage arrays vendors. While interesting, these features aren’t all the same. Some automate routine tasks to save time while others crunch usage data to forecast future needs or compare system history with norms to improve uptime. It’s easy to say your system does “analytics”, but users should take care to understand what each vendor’s management and analytics features really do and make sure it’s something they need.
As a category, most HCIs provide an impressive list of data services, things like deduplication, compression, remote replication, encryption, snapshots and even stretched clustering. Advanced features can combine some of these basic functions to simplify an operation or eliminate the need for another product altogether.
SimpliVity was one of the first to offer a dedicated backup utility that replaced backup software, using the product’s data architecture to capture data for backup without actually creating a copy or a clone. Other products automate the traditional snapshot process to provide a ‘one-touch backup’ feature. Nutanix has several features around its AHV hypervisor that simplify the conversion of VMs from VMware to AHV and facilitate its movement into the Nutanix cluster or the cloud.
Some vendors allow their clustered storage pool to be shared with external servers, as block or file-based data, allowing companies to replace their file server or SAN storage array with storage from their HCI cluster. VxRail (through vSAN) and Maxta have implemented a system of VM-based control and management that enables admins to set policies around data protection, resiliency, VM performance and storage efficiency.
Features abound in the software-defined environment of HCI and what yesterday was an advanced feature can today be a standard capability that’s essentially “table stakes”. When evaluating products, refer to tools like the Eval(u)Scale to get a rundown of what most products offer and which features may be the most important for each particular use case.
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.