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Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) – The Key for Driving Digital Transformation Across Credit Unions (Part 1)

by on August 2, 2019

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a software-defined solution
that is gaining rapid interest across the financial services industry due to
its ability to enable seamless connection of systems, bulletproof protection of
data and significant increases in agility, as well as an overall decrease in
all associated costs. Today, credit unions in particular, are looking to
hyperconvergence as a key enabler of their digital transformation strategies
for reasons, such as the potential benefits it can provide to its emerging and
increasing use of the Internet of Things (IoT) and its growing need for edge
computing systems.  

With the billions of smart devices spread across the globe, each
with the ability to connect, communicate, share and analyze data, it should
come as no surprise that along with virtually every other sector, IoT offers
credit unions a truly unique opportunity to transform IT and business
processes, and deliver greater value and experiences to customers (CX). With
IoT, not only can customers access their finances, as well as financial
information and applications in real-time, from anywhere at anytime, but banks
can better view, manage, control and protect all of their customers’ data.
Moreover, that customer data can then be analyzed and leveraged to create and
deliver solutions and services specifically tailored to meet current and
emerging customer wants and needs, which in turn drives increases in customer
loyalty, revenues, profits and the bottom-line, as well as shareholder
value.  

Likewise, edge computing is spurring otherwise unattainable
advances, enabling financial services organizations to decentralize the
workload, and to collect and process data at the edge or nearest to where the
work is actually occurring, which can overcome the “last mile” latency issues.
In addition to reducing complexity and enabling easier collection and initial
analyzing of data in real time.  

Credit unions and other financial institutions’ edge data centers
can also be leveraged to offload processing work near end users, acting as an
intermediary between the IoT edge devices and larger enterprises hosting the
high-end compute resources, for a more in-depth processing and analytics.
However, many financial organizations have faced a number of challenges as they
have endeavored to deploy, manage and reap the benefits of IoT and edge
computing. And, that’s where hyperconvergence can make all of the difference.

Unfortunately, the common misuse and misunderstanding of the term
hyperconvergence has led to confusion and continues to serve as a barrier for
those that could otherwise benefit immensely from an IT, business agility and
profitability standpoint. Let’s try to clear up that confusion here. 

The Inverted Pyramid of Doom

Before hyperconverged infrastructure came the inverted pyramid of
doom. This refers to a 3-2-1 model of system architecture. And, while it can
get the job done in a few key areas, it is the polar opposite of what a
businesses truly want or need today. 

The 3-2-1 model refers to a scenario where there are
virtualization servers or virtual machines (VMs) running three or more
clustered host servers, connected by two network switches, backed by a single
storage device – most often, a storage area network (SAN). The issue here is
that the virtualization host relies totally on the network, which in turn
relies totally on the single SAN. To say it another way, everything rests upon
a single point of failure – the SAN. (Of course, the false yet popular argument
that the SAN can’t fail because of dual controllers is a story for another
time.) 

Introducing Hyperconverged

When hyperconvergence was first introduced, it meant a converged
infrastructure solution that natively included the hypervisor for
virtualization. The “hyper” wasn’t just hype as it is today. This is a critical
distinction as it has specific implications for how architecture can be
designed for greater storage simplicity and efficiency.

Who can provide a native hypervisor? Just about anyone can.
Hypervisors have become a market commodity with very little feature differences
between them. With free, open source hypervisors like KVM, anyone can build on
KVM to create a hypervisor unique and specialized to the hardware they provide
in their hyperconverged appliances. Many vendors still choose to stay with
converged infrastructure models, perhaps banking on the market dominance of
VMware―even with many consumers fleeing the high prices of VMware
licensing. 

Saving money is only one of the benefits of hyperconverged
infrastructure. By utilizing a native hypervisor, the storage can be
architected and embedded directly with the hypervisor, eliminating inefficient
storage protocols, file systems, and VSAs. The most efficient data paths allow
direct access between the VM and the storage; this has only been achieved when
the hypervisor vendor is the same as the storage vendor. When the vendor owns
the components, it can design the hypervisor and storage to directly interact,
resulting in a huge increase in efficiency and performance.

In addition to storage efficiency, having the hypervisor included
natively in the solution eliminates another vendor which increases management
efficiency. A single vendor that provides the servers, storage, and hypervisor
makes the overall solution much easier to support, update, patch, and manage
without the traditional compatibility issues and vendor finger-pointing. Ease
of management represents a significant savings in both time and training from
the IT budget.

For example, one financial institution that turned to hyperconvergence
was the Guardian Credit Union. The bank was
seeking a solution that would support its need for an infrastructure refresh
(replace aging hardware) and a hypervisor licensing renewal. It also needed a
solution that would support higher uptime service level agreements (SLAs) for
critical workloads. And, like most IT organizations, it wanted a solution that
would reduce operational costs. 

Guardian Credit Union conducted a thorough evaluation of all viable
solutions. It kept in mind it had just three IT personnel responsible for its
entire infrastructure, including its 25-49 virtual machines (VMs). A
hyperconverged platform solution was chosen as it clicked all of the critical
boxes for the bank, including reducing the time spent managing infrastructure,
as well as ensuring the availability of critical workloads, scalability of
infrastructure, and disaster recovery (DR). It also solved the single vendor
support of infrastructure challenge. And, it promised to dramatically reduce
operating costs. 

Since the deployment, Guardian Credit Union has decreased the
time spent recovering from a hardware failure running a critical workload from
one-to-eight hours to less than 10 minutes (83-97% reduction in recovery time).
And, the bank reports that it has enjoyed dramatic improvements across
virtually every facet of datacenter operations, including: ease of use, ease
and speed of implementation, HA of VMs, reliability, scalability, and DR. And,
the icing on the cake — a dramatic decrease in capital and operational
costs!  

The Cloud 

The cloud and its benefits are well established, and most
financial organizations have already leveraged it, whether from an on-premises,
remote or public cloud platform, or more commonly a combination of each (i.e.
hybrid-cloud).

Hyperconverged infrastructure, as a fully functional
virtualization platform, can nearly always be implemented alongside other
infrastructure solutions, as well as integrated with cloud computing. For
example, with nested virtualization in cloud platforms, a hyperconverged
infrastructure solution can be extended into the cloud for a unified management
experience.

Not only does a hyperconverged infrastructure work together with
cloud computing, but it offers many of the benefits of cloud computing in terms
of simplicity and ease-of-management on premises. In fact, for most
organizations, a hyperconverged infrastructure may be the private cloud
solution that is best suited to their environment. 

Like cloud computing, a hyperconverged infrastructure is so easy
to manage that it enables IT administrators to focus on apps and workloads,
rather than be tied down managing infrastructure all day as is common in 3-2-1.
A hyperconverged infrastructure is not only fast and easy to implement, but it
can be scaled out rapidly when needed. A hyperconverged infrastructure should
absolutely be considered along with cloud computing for any data center
modernization.

###

Stay tuned! In part two, I will talk about what is and what should
be included in a hyperconverged solution, what’s in it for you – a credit
union, and how you can get started on your journey towards hyperconvergence.

In the meantime, to learn more about hyperconverged infrastructure
please visit: https://www.scalecomputing.com/.

Alan Conboy is the Office of the CTO at Scale Computing (https://www.scalecomputing.com/) since 2009. With more than 20 years of experience, Conboy is an industry veteran and technology evangelist specializing in designing, prototyping, selling and implementing disruptive storage and virtualization technologies. Prior to Scale Computing, Conboy held positions at Lefthand Networks, ADIC, CreekPath Systems, Sun Microsystems and Spectra Logic. Conboy is notably one of the first movers in the X86/X64 hyperconvergence space, and one of the first 30 people ever certified by SNIA. 

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