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Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) – What’s Included, What’s in It for Credit Unions and Other Financial Institutions — and How to Get Started (Part 2)

Hyperconverged – What’s Included?

Does a “data center in a box” sound appealing?  Hyperconverged infrastructure is oftentimes referred to in this fashion as after the preliminary cabling and minimal networking configuration, it has all of the features and functionality of the traditional 3-2-1 virtualization architecture (except that single point of failure).

Fast Deployment

Due to its appliance-based architecture, hyperconverged infrastructure systems can be deployed much more quickly than other virtualization solutions. Racking and networking are usually the most time-consuming elements of the implementation. Deployment times differ by vendor, especially if there is a third party hypervisor to install and VSAs to configure. But with a native hypervisor pre-loaded, an entire cluster of appliances can be up and running in under an hour in your financial services environment.

Streamlined Management

Single pane of glass management, or a single pane view, can be enjoyed with a hyperconverged infrastructure solution. This stands in stark contrast  to the multiple management consoles and interfaces necessary in 3-2-1 architectures. Of course, this is not automatically the case for hyperconverged infrastructure solutions using third-party hypervisors which typically end up using two interfaces. For hyperconverged infrastructures with a native hypervisor included, this single interface tactic dramatically decreases management time and effort and streamlines management tasks for the administrator.

Backup and Disaster Recovery (DR)

In order to help eliminate yet another vendor from your IT environment, backup and disaster recovery (DR) are often times included at no extra cost in hyperconverged infrastructure solutions. And really, backup, failover, failback, and DR should be a part of every IT environment. Consequently, it makes perfect sense to include these features natively in hyperconverged infrastructure solutions. Unlike third-party solutions, native solutions are typically embedded in the storage layer and allow innate awareness of block changes for cleaner backup, replication and recovery options.

Clustering for High Availability

While a hyperconverged infrastructure can many times be deployed as a single appliance for selected use cases, it is commonly architected as a cluster of appliances for high availability. Hence, not only can an appliance absorb the loss of a disk drive, but the cluster can absorb the loss of an entire appliance. Clustering also enables the hyperconverged infrastructure system to scale seamlessly by adding additional appliances to the cluster. Some hyperconverged infrastructure solutions require clustering appliances of the same model and configuration, while others allow clustering of heterogeneous appliances.

Software and Hardware Updates

Conducting regular system software and firmware updates can be a dreaded task in financial organizations. But, hyperconverged infrastructures can make this process easy. By owning the entire virtualization, server, and storage stack, and operating in a highly available cluster, updates can be performed automatically across the entire cluster. All software layers (hardware firmware, hypervisor, storage, and management) can be upgraded simultaneously as a single, fully tested system to eradicate component compatibility concerns. VMs can be automatically moved from appliance to appliance in the cluster as updates are made to keep all systems operational. hyperconverged infrastructure can eliminate downtime and headaches when performing updates.

Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) 

A hyperconverged infrastructure may not always be the lowest cost solution in terms of the initial capital investment―although it often is due to the ease of scalability which enables organizations to purchase only the needed appliances and does not require excessive over-provisioning in the initial investment. Buying only what you need, when you need it, can lead to dramatic savings. In addition to capital savings, a hyperconverged infrastructure provides considerable operational savings over time as well, by greatly reducing the costs of management and maintenance. Simplifying an IT environment with a hyperconverged infrastructure can save over 50 percent in the total cost of ownership over 3-2-1 solutions.

 So, What’s In It for Financial Services Organizations?

Hyperconverged Infrastructure is designed as a replacement for 3-2-1 architecture to eliminate excess cost and complexity. Therefore, it can benefit any size financial services organization that requires a robust virtualization environment. However, the extreme simplicity of a hyperconverged infrastructure makes it highly beneficial in use cases where IT staff is limited, for instance smaller branch offices and credit unions. Small and medium business (SMB) and distributed enterprises with many remote offices or branch offices (ROBO) typically have staffing issues that make a hyperconverged infrastructure an ideal choice.

For a small to mid-sized financial organization, the entire IT staff may be as small as only one full-time or even part-time IT administrator. The complexity of a 3-2-1 architecture can be extremely troublesome. It can require levels of training and certification that push the cost of qualified administrators out of reach. The simplicity of a hyperconverged infrastructure, in turn, can allow it to be managed easily by a junior administrator. Or, it can mean that a more senior administrator can spend less time managing the infrastructure and more time delivering better applications and services that positively impact the bottom-line.

In a distributed financial services organization, remote offices and branch locations seldom possess dedicated IT staff. These remote locations often require frequent visits from IT staff which can result in high travel costs and lower productivity. The simplicity of a hyperconverged infrastructure includes multiple redundancies for HA, failure handling, and self-healing. A failed drive at a remote site does not lead to an outage and does not require immediate replacement (nor the risk of business, legal and/or regulations non-compliance consequences). Greater uptime and accessible remote monitoring and management lead to lower travel costs of IT staff to these locations and significantly lower operating costs (OpEx)―not to mention the increase in productivity.

Ready to Get Started?

Hyperconverged infrastructure offers credit unions and other financial services organizations a straightforward, highly innovative and affordable path to digital transformation. A transformation that enables great leaps forward in capabilities and management ease, while dramatically reducing overall costs.  But where to begin? My recommendation is to start by doing a bit of homework. You can start by asking potential vendors the following questions:

• Does the solution provide a native hypervisor or does it require an additional purchase of hypervisor licensing and support?

• Does the solution offer hypervisor-embedded storage or does it use virtual storage appliances (VSAs)?

• Can the solution combine and scale with dissimilar appliance models and configurations?

• Does the solution offer native backup and DR capabilities?

• Does the solution integrate with cloud computing? How?

The Next Logical Step

Credit unions, together with virtually all other financial institutions, are challenged with ensuring  remote, branch locations deliver top quality services to their clients. Today’s customers expect instant access to data and on-demand IT services at every location. Infrastructure, including servers, storage, virtualization, and disaster recovery (DR) can be both costly and complex using traditional methods. 

As the credit union banking and the overall financial services industry and its associated compute requirements continue to evolve, hyperconverged infrastructure is the next logical step in on-premises and cloud-integrated virtualization infrastructure. Standing still with more traditional virtualization solutions like the 3-2-1 architecture may end up costing organizations far more in capital, manpower, and training, than moving on to the dramatically increased capabilities, simplicity and cost savings of a hyperconverged infrastructure solution. 

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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