Guaranteeing application performance, creating a cloud like consumption model and timing the simultaneous replacement of three data center architectures are the biggest hindrances to HCI adoption.
Hyperconverged infrastructures (HCI) promise to simplify a data center, making it more cloud like. But organizations have specific applications that must have consistent performance. Also the purchasing model for HCI resembles a legacy storage system or server purchase and despite some of the creative leasing options offered by suppliers look nothing like how resources are purchased from the public cloud. Finally finding a moment in time where the servers, storage and networking are all due for a refresh is almost impossible.
Guaranteeing specific application performance in a shared everything architecture is the first big HCI challenge. This performance challenge is basically a noisy neighbor problem. Fundamentally there are two ways to overcome this challenge. First, the HCI software could provide advanced analytics and quality of service monitoring to re-balance workloads on the fly. We’ve seen these capabilities in dedicated storage systems, but making it work in the shared everything world of HCI is a much different story. While there are a few vendors offering some level control, truly guaranteeing performance remains difficult.
The other alternative is to provide so much performance that even at peak demand other workloads are not impacted, resolving the problem with a performance sledgehammer. If the organization can afford it, overwhelming performance is a much easier solution to manage. Performance is always fast for every workload, all the time.
In the past providing more than enough performance was an expensive proposition. But at Dell EMC World, the company announced the Dell EMC PowerEdge 14G servers. They look tailor made for hyperconverged architectures. While details on the exact processing power can’t be released until Intel releases its latest processors, we do know these servers will be powerful and NVMe ready. Dell is promising 19X NVMe capacity. The combination of the latest processors and the lowest latency performance at affordable prices make the performance sledgehammer a reality.
The power of these systems also address another HCI issue, increasing management difficulty at scale. The more nodes added to the environment the more operationally complex it becomes. The capabilities of the PowerEdge 14G servers should lead to more virtual machines per node and less physical nodes.
Addressing Consumption and Timing
The other challenge facing HCI adoption is how customers are expected to purchase the systems. Almost every HCI vendor presents their solution as a private cloud. The problem is they sell these solutions in the same way that legacy solutions are sold. Total purchase price upfront. Certainly after initial purchase more nodes can be added, but again all of the node needs to be paid for upfront.
The Dell EMC World announcement that helps address the consumption issue is Flex Cloud. Flex Cloud is not a technology, it is a new and innovative way to acquire HCI.
The first step in Flex Cloud is the customer selects and acquires the HCI solution they want (Dell EMC has four distinct offerings). There is no down payment only a monthly payment. The customer commits to keeping the solution for a minimum of one year. At the end of each year the customer can decide to keep using the solution, but Dell accounts for the declining value of technology by lowering the monthly payment by 30% each year.
The customer can decide instead to return the system at the end of any year of the contract without penalty. At that point Dell EMC will work with you to find a new solution that addresses your updated business needs.
The new consumption model also resolves the timing issue. Since the customer does not have to bear the upfront cost of the HCI purchase they can afford to move sooner, even though the timing may not be perfect.
HCI is a technology that looks good on the whiteboard, but has struggled in execution. Those issues have been a combination of technology and business related. The consumption problem is eliminated and while scaling is still a concern, especially as it relates to managing east-west network traffic flow, it is certainly less so. Dell EMC, with these announcements, is taking a massive step forward in overcoming some of the objections to HCI and makes the technology more practical for a much broader range of customers.