HCI with Integrated Networking: Is it Right for You?

If you’ve been researching hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), you’ve surely noticed that it comes in a variety of flavors. Differentiators for consideration will include things like integration with VMware’s software stack, choice of hypervisor, workload uses cases and integrated networking.

The last one in the list is a hot topic of conversation because it is what often sets most solutions apart. So how do you decide if integrated networking is for you?

Basically it comes down to your overall IT strategy and consumption model preference. If you have the staff, time and desire to build and maintain a network then an appliance, like VxRail or XC Series, is for you. This option gives you maximum control and choice to implement or leverage an existing networking system of your choosing.

If you are looking to go all in on software-defined transformation (which is a much bigger undertaking but delivers high value and low risk) and anticipate a need for extreme scalability, then a solution with integrated networking like VxRack would fit the bill. It’s a turnkey system with all of the components accounted for – you buy everything pre-assembled and call it a day.

One option isn’t better than the other, the reality is that it depends on what your needs are: scale, SDN, IT staffing requirements, budget, consumption preference, etc.

So now that we’ve laid the groundwork, let’s say that you’ve decided that integrated networking is the path you want to take. Let’s take a closer look at the crucial role that networking plays.

A recent IDC report described networking as such: “In an HCI environment, the network effectively provides the interconnected nervous system for the applications that ride over it… Integrated networking moves data into and out of the system. In a software-defined datacenter (SDDC) system, however, it also provides the inter-node fabric over which all the software-defined components communicate to deliver the virtualized compute, storage and network services. This inter-node fabric becomes more critical to application performance as the SDDC systems scale.” It comes down to this: the reliability, availability and scalability of the network is what determines the overall performance of the HCI system in your datacenter

Because I love analogies, here’s another way to look at it: It’s like buying a high end sports car (your HCI), but then driving it on an old dirt road. You’re not going to get the speed, agility and handling that the car is capable of when you’re spinning your wheels in the mud and hitting pot holes, you need a smooth race track (in this case your network architecture) to hit peak performance. Your HCI’s performance is dependent on how well-maintained and up-to-date your networking is. Some companies have the staff and knowledge in-house to ensure this. For others, networking can be an after-thought or a crucial component that is overlooked.

If you’re in the camp of wanting a vendor to ensure your smooth race track, then what are some of the integrated networking attributes you should be looking for in an HCI solution? Here are some snippets from IDC:

  • A solution that integrates compute, storage, networking and software tightly together to operate as a single entity
  • An architecture that provides the same level of network performance as dedicated, physical devices
  • A fully validated, end-to-end network that is optimized for HCI workloads and software-defined storage and hypervisor flows.

If an HCI solution with integrated networking sounds like the right choice for you, you can read the full IDC White Paper to learn more: The Importance of Integrated Networking to HCI.

About the Author: Donna Brasure

Donna is a Product Marketing Manager within Dell EMC’s hyper-converged infrastructure division. In her role she supports go-to-market strategy, execution of programs and content creation. Prior to joining Dell EMC, Donna has held various marketing roles with PTC, Lionbridge and Egenera. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Tufts University with a double major in Communications and Sociology.