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HCI Simplifies Hybrid Cloud Management

HCI, benefits of hyperconverged infrastructure, azure hybrid cloud

The hybrid cloud gives organizations the best of both worlds—leveraging the public cloud for its flexibility and scalability while keeping applications that require more security, reliability, and availability in private clouds or on-premises environments.

But managing environments that combine multiple clouds can get complicated. As the infrastructure expands, organizations can end up with the same problems as legacy environments—application silos, cost overruns, and lack of skill sets and tools to adapt to rapid technology changes.

Data availability, cloud latency, and security concerns also can get in the way of a successful hybrid implementation. Collectively, these problems can slow down digital transformation and adoption of new technology.

But they don’t have to. Implementation of a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) addresses these issues by optimizing hybrid environments. HCI delivers availability, simplicity, and operational efficiency by virtualizing all the elements of the data center—storage, compute, networking, and management—in a consolidated package that can be managed on-premises or in the cloud.

“Enterprises are of course looking to consolidate costs in multiple ways,” says Harshad Kolte, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Lenovo, a leading provider of data center infrastructure solutions. “Having everything in a single infrastructure means they can have data consolidation, skill set consolidation, and optimized costs.”

Infrastructure management becomes simpler, says Christopher Brown, Product Management Team Leader for Solutions within Lenovo. “We’re trying to get rid of islands—islands of automation, islands of storage, islands of skill sets. Otherwise, you really risk your infrastructure fragmenting.”

A New Approach to HCI

When first introduced, HCI was used in limited settings, such as edge deployments and in test and development phases, but it is now being used in other environments, such as edge sites and remote offices. “It had some specific niche use cases at the start,” says Brown. “It’s now maturing. It’s becoming more broadly used.”

While some HCI software providers focus on simplifying on-premises infrastructure, Microsoft is taking an approach more suitable to hybrid cloud environments.

For example, Microsoft’s Azure Stack HCI offering has native Azure services support to connect on-premises infrastructure to the Azure public cloud. And Lenovo has partnered with Microsoft to offer a unique hyperconverged solution, ThinkAgile MX.

Deploying the @lenovous ThinkAgile MX #HCI solution allows organizations to focus on developing business applications and consuming #cloud services instead of having to manage infrastructure. via @insightdottech

“In that scenario, we’re talking about customers who probably are reasonably happy with a public cloud, but know there are things they have to keep on-premises,” says Brown.

“The Azure Stack HCI solution,” says Kolte, “mirrors on-premises environments in the cloud. You run exactly the same thing on-prem as in the cloud. The two work together, and instead of doing it at the cloud infrastructure level, you’re working at a hybrid cloud, application-to-application level. So a lot of people will use this HCI implementation rather than some of the others, particularly because of applications they’ve picked that happened to run on Azure.”

“It’s a true hybrid cloud approach”, Brown says. “If you’re in an Azure Stack HCI cluster, you can move VMs flexibly on and off to Azure.” In a different scenario, moving applications to the cloud would require extensive rewriting for cloud enablement.

Focus on Applications

Deploying Lenovo’s ThinkAgile MX HCI solution allows organizations to focus on developing business applications and consuming cloud services instead of having to manage infrastructure. The solution leverages Intel® infrastructure technology to provide a turnkey experience.

It allows companies to standardize and accelerate development and deployment of applications across their environment while accessing Azure services from the safety of their own data centers.

“The solution,” says Kolte, “is made to plug easily into the customer’s environment. Built into Azure Stack HCI is Windows Admin Center, which has a simple, wizard-based interface that allows the solution to be integrated on the customer’s on-premises setup.” The Lenovo offering is an integrated system with hardware, software, and support services to ensure compliance.

As such, the solution provides an ideal fit for managing branch office and remote edge environments, he says. Among other functions, organizations can use it for backup and recovery and for what Kolte calls “general virtualization.”

“What I call general virtualization is: I have my legacy applications and they have not been written to be cloud native. I know I want to go there, but I can’t yet, so I want to virtualize them but still also have them on-prem,” he says.

One area where the Azure Stack HCI approach is making a difference is manufacturing, says Brown. A traditional HCI hub deployed on a factory floor would have handled a specific function but lacked built-in analytics capabilities.

“People may want to have a small two-node cluster sitting in each manufacturing site,” which HCI would deliver, he says. “But we can coalesce the information and gain deeper analytics through the Azure ecosystem, along with Lenovo. For example, we can leverage Azure hybrid services with ThinkAgile MX and Azure Stack HCI.” The connection to Azure Stack, he says, enables analytics on data collected from the production site.

The solution also lets organizations leverage Microsoft’s new Azure Arc platform, which allows customers to manage multiple sites and clusters across multiple clouds in a consistent fashion when managing upgrades and enforcing systemwide policies. This makes it easier to get a complete picture of the manufacturing environment and make decisions to improve operations.

Simplified Management

Typically, administrators use the Windows Admin Center for management, Kolte says, but points out that XClarity is fully integrated with the Microsoft management tool, giving IT managers the flexibility to manage Lenovo servers as single hosts or as Microsoft Windows clusters.

Customers don’t have to worry about operating system and software updates because Microsoft manages them remotely. Microsoft keeps security up to date, relying on a team of 3,500 security engineers to address cyber risks.

The solution also leverages Intel’s latest hardware-enabled security. Brown points out that Lenovo’s hardware manufacturing process itself is secure, saying that Lenovo has done rigorous security assessments and controls its entire manufacturing chain, eliminating the chance of security issues introduced by a third party.

Brand Value

The Azure Stack HCI solution pulls together some of the biggest technology names to deliver a turnkey solution for hybrid cloud environments. Besides delivering on-premises-to-cloud flexibility, the solution comes with preconfigured, pre-tested NVIDIA Mellanox networking switches and graphics cards (GPUs) that accelerate graphics rendering.

As a certified Intel® Select Solution for Azure Stack HCI, Lenovo incorporates Intel’s memory and storage technology, Intel® Optane Persistent Memory and SSD technology. With Intel Optane, the solution can handle more capacity than DRAM at a lower cost and deliver 30% more virtual machines. Intel Optane SSDs operate at the cache tier of the select solution, offering faster caching and storage of data, resulting in a balanced TCO and performance improvements.

Having such well-recognized names involved in a single solution, says Brown, delivers customers the “confidence of working with the industry leaders.” Customers can count on reliability and top-notch engineering, he says.

Kolte agrees, “Lenovo has been number one in reliability for our servers for the longest time. Microsoft and Intel together work on bringing Azure Stack HCI solutions, and the networking comes from NVIDIA’s Mellanox. We have pre-tested configurations with all those components. That has value and the brand names of course speak for themselves.”

About the Author

Pedro Pereira has covered technology for a quarter century. He has freelanced for some of the biggest names in IT publishing, including Ziff Davis, TechTarget, 1105 Media, Penton and Channel Partners (Informa), and an extensive list of marketing agencies and technology vendors. He was a pioneer in covering managed services and cloud computing, and currently writes about cybersecurity, IoT, cloud, and space. He holds a degree in Journalistic Studies from UMass/Amherst.

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