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Don't Be Fooled By "Fake" HCI

December 21, 2020 By BlueAlly

by Mike Koponen, Senior Director, Product Marketing and Strategic Alliances

Hyperconverged infrastructure, or HCI for short, is one of the fastest growing infrastructure technologies (server/storage/networking) being adopted by IT departments. It’s not surprising; when surveyed, adopters of HCI say it simplifies management, accelerates deployment time, reduces costs, and makes scaling easier and more cost effective.

As IT becomes more involved in physical security, HCI is being discussed more and more as an optimal architecture for video surveillance. As an aside, I find this validating since we at Pivot3 have been providing HCI solutions optimized for video for over 12 years now, and we’re recognized by industry analysts such as Gartner and IDC for having the largest HCI deployments on the planet.

Like any technology or product that becomes popular, companies come out of the woodwork with knockoffs, or use a standard term to get attention even if their product isn’t the real McCoy. The result is you that you don’t get the value and benefits of the real thing. So how do you spot a “fake” hyperconverged infrastructure system and distinguish it from the real thing?

First, it’s good to understand what qualifies as HCI. I’ll use the criteria defined by industry analysts to determine if a solution is HCI:

  • Hyper-converged infrastructure tightly integrates compute, storage and virtualization resources through software into a single system that consists of x86 servers¹.- Meaning the entire system is composed of industry-standard servers pooled together by HCI software developed by the vendor. Developing HCI software takes years of engineering effort by an HCI software vendor.
  • HCI must use software-defined storage (SDS) to pool all the local, direct-attached storage across multiple physical servers into a centrally managed, scale-out pool of shared storage. HCI does not use external storage arrays². – Meaning the system must have HCI software with software-defined storage capabilities, and not separate external storage as part of the solution.
  • HCI must combine virtual machine and software-defined storage resources, both running on the same physical servers, as the primary deployment method². – Meaning in our case the video recording servers or other applications run as virtual servers on the same physical servers that are used to create the storage pool.

As an example, I’ve recently seen the term “Hybrid HCI” being used by one vendor. After digging through the literature, watching videos and talking to people who are familiar with the product, it turns out to be standalone virtualized servers used to run the video recorders, a separate external storage system(s) to archive video, a plug-in to manage some things from within the VMS, and no HCI software or software-defined storage. At best it’s very misleading, since nothing about this is HCI. It certainly doesn’t meet the analysts’ definition, nor does It deliver the value promised by HCI.

In reality, the industry refers to this type of solution as “server-SAN” (Storage Area Network), which has been around for 20 years. It seems as if this vendor used the fact that the servers are being virtualized to convey that something about this is HCI, and then applied the term “hybrid” to infer that it’s innovative just because it has external storage behind the virtualized servers. This so-called Hybrid HCI solution actually devolves us into days gone by where IT and storage specialists were needed to make things work and stay working.

Hey, in the end, it’s not about terminology or acronyms, it’s about getting the value you expect when something is called hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). If a vendor says they have HCI or hybrid HCI, look under the covers and have them prove that it’s truly hyperconverged infrastructure, and explain how it is optimized for video. More on this topic in 2021.

Sources: ‘

¹IDC, WW Quarterly Converged Systems Tracker April 2019

²Gartner, Hyperconverged Infrastructure Software MQ Inclusion Criteria 2020

³Gartner, Market Guide for Integrated Systems Nov. 2020