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Differences in Hyper-Converged vs Converged Infrastructure

By: Alan Seal on November 7, 2019

Today’s data centers stand at the front lines of a revolution in IT architecture. Longstanding practices are giving way to innovative new solutions that allow facilities to manage power, space, and cooling more effectively than ever before. As data centers become more important for companies delivering digital services, adopting these new practices will be essential to market growth.

Two of these innovations, converged infrastructure and hyper-converged infrastructure, have already had a big impact on data center operations. While they are quite similar, there are a few key differences that set them apart.

What is Converged Infrastructure?

Converged infrastructure (CI) is in some ways a return to an older model of computing infrastructure. In the early days of computer hardware, all functions were combined in a mainframe unit that handled all storage, processing, and networking functions. While this “all-in-one” approach made sense at the time given the technical limitations of the era, it was an expensive solution available to only a few enterprises.

Centralized mainframes fell out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s as microprocessors made it possible to miniaturize many computing functions. Storage, processing, and networking functions were split into separate devices, which allowed IT professionals to mix and match components and manage them independently. This proved a much more versatile and cost-effective alternative to unified mainframe hardware.

As data centers have become much more integral to today’s networking and computing solutions, this approach led to sprawling hardware deployments that proved inefficient and difficult to manage. With space, power, and cooling at a premium in these deployments, a new approach was needed to consolidate IT architecture.

Converged infrastructure is a hardware-defined solution that combines compute, networking, storage, systems administration, and software into a preconfigured package that operates as a singular system. Since it consolidates multiple functions, converged architecture greatly reduces the costs associated with power, cooling, and cabling in the data center. It is much easier to manage because everything is contained within a preconfigured, converged system, providing a single point of contact for maintenance and service.

Most converged infrastructure solutions are also easy to scale due to their modular design. Increasing compute, memory, or storage is a simple matter of adding pre-configured modules that provide predictable capacity increases. Since converged infrastructure is centralized and easy to manage, it tends to be highly compatible with cloud computing architecture, especially when it comes to integrating with a private or hybrid deployment.

What is Hyper-Converged Infrastructure?

Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is similar to converged infrastructure in its basic principles. Like converged architecture, hyper-convergence combines computing, storage, and networking functions into a single turnkey solution. The core difference is that hyper-convergence architecture is software-defined rather than hardware-based.

By using virtualization techniques, hyper-converged infrastructure abstracts the resources of data center hardware into software-defined blocks that can be provisioned and scaled on-demand. As a virtualized solution, the underlying hardware that supports hyper-converged infrastructure is typically managed by a vendor. This makes it an ideal solution for smaller organizations that aren’t able or willing to invest in the hardware necessary to build their own converged infrastructure in a data center environment.

Hyper-converged solutions are very scalable and flexible since they are virtualized. This also makes it very compatible with cloud computing solutions, a major advantage for organizations looking to take advantage of hybrid and multi-cloud solutions. They can also easily accommodate backup solutions since the distributed nature of hyper-converged storage spreads functions across multiple nodes within the virtualized architecture.

Benefits of Converged and Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

Given the similarities between these technologies, it should come as no surprise that they deliver many of the same advantages to data centers.

Simplicity

The consolidation of core infrastructure functions into converged solutions, whether accomplished via hardware or software, streamlines data center operations significantly. Core networking functions can be automated on the software level, and there are fewer dedicated devices that need to be managed. Data center personnel and IT staff can focus more of their time and energy on monitoring and managing performance rather than tending to a sprawling array of siloed components.

Cost

Both converged and hyper-converged solutions can greatly reduce capital expenses for enterprises. There’s less hardware to procure and less cabling to manage, not to mention the reduced power and floor space requirements. When it comes time to scale, the modular nature of these technologies allows them to grow their network capacity evenly, ensuring, for instance, that processing power doesn’t outpace storage capabilities.

Flexibility

With less hardware and fewer dedicated resources needed to manage it, organizations can be more proactive and responsive when it comes to their technology needs. Spinning up additional capacity, whether permanently thorough easily integrated hardware additions or temporarily by bursting into the cloud, is easier than ever, ensuring that companies aren’t caught flat footed by shifting circumstances that force them to rethink their network capabilities.

Converged and hyper-converged infrastructure are revolutionizing data center deployments, consolidating the sprawling, siloed systems of the past with far more sensible and easily managed solutions. As data centers search for ways to better manage power and storage demands, convergence and hyper-convergence architecture will play a key role in facilitating market growth and promoting energy efficiency.

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