The cloud is an increasingly popular and useful tool that can help companies go digital. But no matter how advantageous the cloud is, companies still need on-site IT infrastructure to keep their operations running. Cloud systems aren’t yet secure or cost effective enough to handle all a company’s needs.
Knowing that some servers, storage, and other hardware will have to be on site, which IT solution should you choose? The answer will depend on your company’s unique situation. This article will walk you through some questions to consider, as well as some of the best options. For personalized advice and support, you can reach out at any time to the R2i team of IT experts.
How should I choose an IT solution?
Every company is unique, and your unique IT needs will require a unique IT solution.
At R2i, we work with you to find the best IT solution for your situation. We do that by considering three questions.
- What is your IT and business environment? Is your work relatively static, or rapidly changing? Do you have strict administrative policies that make certain options more difficult?
- What are your plans for growth? If your company is planning to expand, then you need an IT solution that can expand with you. How much growth you anticipate, and how quickly you intend to grow, will impact which IT solution is the best for you.
- How much of your storage, CPU, and other IT resources are you using? You may not have enough of some resources, and be overprovisioned in others. Most companies, for example, have more CPU than they need because of recent advances in technology.
Once we have that information, we can make recommendations of what IT solution would work best for you.
For example, if your company’s environment is relatively static, but you need to replace the IT equipment you have because it’s nearing the end of its lifespan, then a traditional IT solution may be best for you. Traditional IT solutions are also a good choice in cases where administrative policies make it difficult to change IT systems.
While traditional IT solutions can be ideal in many situations, they do have a major drawback: they can make it difficult and expensive to grow.
Traditional IT solutions usually manage storage through a Storage Area Network (SAN). This requires buying and installing specific storage hardware, which means you have to accurately predict how much storage your company will need in three to five years.
If your growth is rapid or variable, it can be difficult to make that prediction. If you overestimate, you end up paying for hardware you don’t need. And if you underestimate, then you will have to purchase more storage and upgrade your storage array earlier than intended. That can take a significant amount of time, and require shutting down your entire system to transfer data. It can also be challenging to find IT workers skilled in the specifics of SAN.
If your growth is dynamic, we recommend considering another IT solution: Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI).
Hyperconverged Infrastructure for flexible growth
Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) is a software-only solution built on standard servers. It unifies all the elements of a traditional data center stack: storage, networking, computation, and management.
In traditional IT solutions, the three infrastructure elements (storage, networking, and computation) each have their own hardware. That’s what makes it difficult to scale or to quickly adjust resources. Any change to any of the three elements requires purchasing and installing new hardware, an expensive and time-consuming process.
With HCI, all three elements and the IT management systems all run on the same servers. There is no hardware specific for storage or networking, so your company doesn’t have to invest in storage arrays, storage controllers, or fiber-channel networking. Instead, the servers have locally attached storage devices, with the HCI software emulating a storage array. The HCI software then distributes all operations across the cluster, which improves performance and resilience.
Essentially, HCI gives you high availability and all the benefits of a SAN, without the complexity.
Similarly to the cloud, HCI also offers more flexibility. But while the cloud can be expensive and can create security issues, HCI lowers costs and leaves your company completely in control of your IT infrastructure. Because HCI uses much of the same distribution technology as cloud systems, HCI also enables your organization to create private clouds, so you can have all the advantages of a cloud system with fewer security risks.
Here are the six biggest advantages of Hyperconverged Infrastructure:
- Respond quickly to changing business needs. Because HCI is a software-only solution, you can change workloads in minutes. When IT resource needs for CPU, RAM, or storage change at your company, the HCI software can independently scale each resource.
- Get built-in high availability. In traditional IT infrastructure, creating clusters for high availability requires servers, switches, and central storage – all of which gets expensive and complex. With HCI, data is distributed across the servers and always available.
- Scale without disruption. With traditional IT infrastructure, installing new hardware required for growth can take significant time and disrupt your operations. With HCI, you can install new servers in hours without impacting operations at all. That means you don’t have to make predictions for three to five years in the future when buying hardware. You can purchase and install a new server only when you need it.
- Improve storage performance. With a traditional IT solution, improving storage performance required investing in expensive high-end hardware. With HCI, your storage performance can improve simply by adding more standard servers.
- Easier to use, even for non-experts. Because everything is unified in one place, HCI makes it easier for your IT team to make adjustments. You don’t need to find and hire a highly specialized expert. HCI also alleviates your IT management overhead, so your IT team will spend less time keeping the lights on, and more time on impactful projects.
- Maintain and upgrade without disruption. When you need to upgrade your servers, you can simply add a new one and retire an old one. You avoid the traditional IT forklift upgrades, which require shutting everything down to spend hours moving data. Maintenance is also easier, because when one server goes down for maintenance, the rest can pick up the slack without disruption to your operations.
Who should consider HCI infrastructure for their IT solution?
Flexible scalability is the biggest advantage of HCI, and the reason that R2i recommends HCI for companies that are growing rapidly or variably.
But no matter your situation, if you are refreshing your IT infrastructure, HCI is a solution worth considering.
If desired, HCI solutions can be combined with existing traditional SAN storage. A common example of this is when companies decide to implement virtual desktops. HCI is a perfect platform to handle virtual desktop systems, since they have a demanding workload. Companies can keep their existing IT infrastructure for their other systems, and seamlessly establish an HCI infrastructure for their virtual desktop system.
HCI is also perfect for projects, like a virtual desktop system, that start with a small pilot. Since HCI scales so easily, companies can set up a few servers for a pilot of their new system, and then scale it out as needed.
If HCI is new to you, you may have some questions. Here are some common concerns and R2i’s response.
- HCI is new and unstable. HCI has been used by large companies for many years. It’s a stable technology.
- HCI is complicated. In fact, the opposite is true. HCI systems are simpler and easier to run than traditional IT solutions.
- HCI is wrong for us. There are certainly situations where a traditional IT solution is the best option. But we recommend at least considering HCI to see if it may improve upon your current IT solution.
Where to start setting up my IT solution
When choosing an IT solution for your infrastructure, it is essential to begin by assessing your workload. The details of your workload will determine which IT solution is best for you.
This is equally true if you are updating an existing IT solution. If you replace what you currently have without reassessing your workload, you may overprovision or underprovision some resources unknowingly.
Our experts at R2i have tools to measure workload, and can advise you on the most appropriate platform for your needs.
Implementing a traditional IT solution will require a specialist, since building and networking a storage array is a specialized skill. We recommend engaging an expert, like our team at R2i, to ensure that your IT solution is implemented correctly.
If you choose Hyperconverged Infrastructure, implementation is typically faster and simpler than a traditional 3-tier architecture, especially with the assistance of R2i’s skilled technicians. The key is to ensure that you have properly sized the workload and understand your performance requirements, so you can select the right server hardware. Once installed and configured, a skilled VMware administrator can easily manage VSAN.