You may have noticed already but HCI has been on our minds lately. We’ve talked about it in-depth on our solutions page and JR Rivers, Cumulus Networks co-founder & CTO, has shared more about it in relation to a network of pods in his on-demand webinar. JR will share more about his take in an upcoming Kernel of Truth podcast episode but in the meantime, we’ll get Naveen Chhabra’s, a senior industry analyst at Forrester, opinion on the future of HCI.

We sat down with him recently to discuss this and here’s what he had to say.

Question: Why is the network such a critical consideration in any hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) deployment?

Let’s look at the major transformational projects the organizations globally are working on. One project that spans all organizations, verticals, and geographies is digital transformation. IT leaders upgrade or acquire new technologies to support these projects. One pertinent issue across a large percentage of projects is that these are still focused on technology silos.

Specific to HCI, organizations have successfully collapsed the compute and storage silo. Network infrastructure is still not integrated to the extent that it could and should be. Firms have the capability, via HCI, to scale compute and storage infrastructure rapidly.

The questions IT leaders face are:

  • Can the network scale in line with the rest of the infrastructure?
  • Can the network be configured at the same pace as compute and storage?
  • Is the network manageable as an integrated entity with the rest of the infrastructure?

As part of digital transformation, business leaders expect increased speed of IT services delivery, flexibility, scalability, and resiliency. Delivering to these demands means networking tools and infrastructure must be integrated into the rest of the technology ecosystem.

Question: What is the biggest networking challenge for HCI?

Scalability and security. HCI systems can be deployed in a scale-out manner and can flex up and down seamlessly. The services are not disrupted in any way as the infrastructure — compute and storage — scales. Integrating network infrastructure and achieving scalability along with HCI is a significant challenge — not because of technological limitations, but because different personas have owned and managed it. Hyperscale cloud providers have demonstrated that it is doable. IT leaders recognize the need for such integration. It is easier said than done but not impossible. As it involves people transitions, it will take time to come to fruition.

The other significant challenge is security. Since their first implementation, several firms have expanded the HCI footprint significantly. As firms host multiple applications on a single cluster, security emerges as a key requirement that must be solved. The question is, how do you create micro-segmentation that complies to security requirements yet is easier to manage?

Question: Many HCI vendors offer both appliance and “bare metal” solutions; is there a trend favoring one over the other?

There is traction and demand for the appliances as well as the bare metal offerings. It depends on criteria like the organization’s IT maturity, vendor relationship, in-house engineering expertise, and vision. A large section of the IT leaders prefers appliances, as it helps them:

  • Speed up via quick onboarding.
  • Validate architecture and design for key business applications.
  • Save a lot of time otherwise spent on quality assurance and validation exercises.
  • Optimize on the support ecosystem (single vendor to support).
  • Easily manage the infrastructure.

However, I see the real innovation is on the software side, as vendors can iterate quickly, develop new capabilities, support a broader application ecosystem, abstract the underlying complexities, integrate with the rest of the IT ecosystem, and make it simple to consume. Because of these factors, I believe software-led innovation is poised to gain market share and customer trust.

Question: A major value proposition for HCI has emerged around simplicity; what is networking doing to become “simpler”?

That’s a great question. Simplicity (of onboarding and operations) is one of the key benefits that organizations expect to drive from the adoption of HCI systems. You can argue that simplicity is tough to achieve if the complexity of today’s infrastructure can’t be abstracted. Nutanix and Cumulus have joint engineering developments that are leading the way to solve some of the complex problems of the network stack and its management with an HCI setup.

Question: What are the impacts on the network of hyperconverged storage traffic?

It is important to understand that with the HCI architecture there is no central storage pool, and the storage is directly attached or connected to the compute nodes. The workloads run parallel operations to connect to storage. Unless the HCI nodes talk to an already existing storage using network protocols, there is no network and storage traffic overlap.