This report, published on May 11, 2023, was written by Todd Dorsey, analyst, DCIG, LLC.
DCIG announces the availability of the 2023-24 DCIG TOP 5 Rising Vendors HCI Software Solutions Report.
This report provides guidance on TOP 5 Rising Vendors organizations should consider for hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) software solutions.
HCI software and its characteristics
The term ‘hyperconverged infrastructure’ was first popularized over a decade ago as a new paradigm for data center infrastructure. Traditionally, the 3 pillars of the data center architecture are compute, storage, and networking. Each of these infrastructure stacks requires time, labor, and expense to size, deploy, manage, and integrate. Further, organizations must allocate funds for specialists in each of these 3 areas. HCIs collapse these 3 pillars into a single system that simplifies the deployment and ongoing management of IT infrastructure.
It may be helpful to think of HCI as a management software layer that ideally includes or integrates hypervisor, storage, and networking software (each of these 3 abstracting the underlying resources below it) to present a unified interface for managing the infrastructure stack. Administrators can create logical groups containing compute, storage, and networking resources that can be managed from a single interface.
The reason for the word ideally is that for some on-premises HCI use cases, the software-defined networking piece of the equation may not be as relevant to the hyperconverged solution. Which leaves just the compute and storage piece of the equation. Some HCI software solutions focus on virtualizing the underlying storage while integrating with other popular hypervisors for a hyperconverged solution. Two of the 5 top 5 solutions can be characterized this way.
Another reason for the word ideally is that while HCI software is designed for use within a hyperconverged appliance containing compute, storage, and networking capabilities, the HCI software may also be able to leverage external storage like a SAN or NAS for a disaggregated HCI solution. Again, several of the top 5 solutions offer these capabilities.
Regardless, and as a general practice, the characteristic of HCI software is that it can be deployed on commodity servers with DAS. Some HCI software solution providers may narrow deployment capabilities by furnishing a list of popular server manufacturers. The main point is that the HCI software compatibility is not limited to a single server vendor but rather deployable on equipment of the customer’s choosing. If networking is involved, network switches may be needed for communication between hosts in the cluster.
Finally, some HCI solutions software solutions are cloud compatible. Organizations may be able to deploy HCI solutions on bare metal servers with popular cloud providers, as cloud compute instances, or as part of a containerized environment.
HCI software benefits
IT organizations have a number of issues to consider these days such as funding challenges, limited resources, management complexity, and providing IT services at the edge. While there is no silver bullet for meeting these issues, IT leaders look for solutions that solve problems and provide positive outcomes in many ways.
HCI software fulfills these goals while addressing current IT challenges through:
- Cost savings. By extending the life of existing hardware or through using commodity hardware, HCI software brings notable savings when compared to proprietary systems. Virtualizing the underlying components means organizations extract more work from the physical resources. Many organizations discover they can eliminate some software licenses and their costs through capabilities provided by their HCI software solution. Because HCI solutions are designed for modular expansion, organizations can purchase only the capacity they need in the short term and then expand the solution as needed, rather than purchasing capacity up front based on multi-year projections.
- Administrative savings. HCI software vendors design their HCI software so it can be administered by IT generalists, which helps organizations overcome skill set shortages. For distributed enterprises, HCI software solutions allow one person to administer a broad set of data center services across hundreds and thousands of nodes from a single interface. Many HCI software products provide automation features, scripts, APIs, or deployment libraries to save time and money.
- Data security and protection. HCI software solutions characteristically include security features to protect data from bad actors and recover data from unpredictable events. For security, HCI software often supports features such as active directory integration, role-based access controls, and data encryption. For data protection, HCI software integrates such features as snapshots, replication, or cloud tiering. HA capabilities ensure continuous availability to end users and applications.
- Scalability. Data organizations look for scalable solutions that can grow (or contract) as needs require. Infrastructure managers can scale up or out their HCI solutions by adding resources or nodes. HCI software addresses data growth challenges through its flexibility to scale incrementally as needed.
- Flexibility. HCI software supports a variety of applications and use cases. Such flexibility enables organizations to change resource allocations of compute, storage and network as needs of the business may change.
- Infrastructure at the edge. HCI has moved out of the data center to the farthest edges of fixed or mobile enterprise locations. The ability to provide a consolidated IT infrastructure at remote locations brings many benefits, including small footprints, remote management, HA, scalability, and cost-effectiveness.
Common HCI software use cases
IT departments can use HCI software for a variety of use cases spanning from the data center, to the cloud, and to the edge.
Common HCI use cases include:
- Data center consolidation. A key use case for HCI software is data center consolidation. Because HCI software solutions combine computer, storage and networking into a single system, infrastructure management becomes much simpler than managing a disparate three-tier architecture. Smaller organizations using a closet or a single rack of equipment will find a consolidated HCI solution attractive. HCI solutions can help organizations reduce hardware, labor, and power costs.
- Server virtualization. HCI’s inherent nature is virtualization. Consequently, HCI software providers frequently promote server virtualization as a use case for their products. With server virtualization, companies can use their HCI solution in conjunction with virtualization software to enable numerous VMs to reside on a single HCI node.
- Virtual desktops. Another popular use case involves using HCI software to provide virtual desktops to their end-users. Here the HCI software partnered with desktop virtualization software, enables multiple desktops to run off on an HCI node or cluster. In this way, businesses can use HCI software to simplify desktop management while providing a consistent desktop experience to end-users.
- Private cloud. Many organizations are repatriating their cloud storage and workloads back to on-premises storage to avoid unexpected cloud costs and for data governance reasons. Because of its single integrated system architecture, organizations can use HCI software to private cloud environments. Organizations can scale up or out their private cloud by adding more components or nodes. Some HCI software solutions can auto-tier storage to the cloud or be deployed as a cloud instance, opening possibilities for HCI-based hybrid-cloud solutions.
- DR. HCI can serve as a second virtual data center in the event of a disaster or extended outage at a primary data center. HCI software allows infrastructure managers to oversee their DR environment to ensure a seamless transition for critical workloads and applications. HCI can provide a cost-effective DR solution by eliminating the need for specific hardware and software.
- Edge computing. HCI becomes a natural fit for providing IT infrastructure at the edge because of HCI’s compact footprint and remote management capabilities. Organizations can architect a highly available HCI solution with two small nodes with all the key data protection and security features necessary for edge computing use cases.
- Testing and development. IT departments can use HCI to provide isolated environments for developing and testing software. Administrators can quickly create VMs and applications for developers. If more resources are needed, organizations can simply scale the HCI test environment.
- The distributed enterprise. Infrastructure managers can leverage HCI for the distributed enterprise through its centralized management capabilities. HCI software can manage all their HCI instances through a single dashboard interface. HA and DR features with HCI software ensure that applications and data remain available in the face of equipment failures.
In short, HCI software provides organizations with flexible, adaptable solutions that address today’s IT challenges. Flexible and adaptable also means that IT organizations can more quickly respond to tomorrow’s business requirements and opportunities. And given the pace of change in today’s business world, it is these types of solutions that help IT leaders succeed in meeting the changing needs of the business.
2023-24 DCIG Top 5 rising vendors HCI software solutions
DCIG identified 15 software solutions for an HCI software use case. Of these, eleven are from Rising Vendors.
The general feature categories evaluated include:
• Deployment capabilities
• Data protection
Based on its evaluation of these features, the following HCI software solutions earned DCIG Top 5 award (in alphabetical order):
• DataCore SANsymphony
• HiveIO Hive Fabric
• StorMagic SvSAN
• Sunlight Hyperconverged Edge
• VergeIO VergeOS