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Comparing: HCI vs. Traditional IT vs. dHCI vs. Composable Infrastructure

June 17, 2020 / Swati Lunge

  • Compare outcomes of hyper-converged, traditional/converged, disaggregated HCI and composable infrastructures, plus hybrid cloud .

  • Some hyper-converged vendors have figured out there is a need for a more configurable resource buffet that retains the management benefits of HCI.

  • Rather than monolithic all-in-one nodes, dHCI products ship separate compute and storage nodes so you can decide the right mix of each without scaling compute and storage linearly in lockstep.

For over a decade, we've seen the meaning of hyper-converged infrastructure evolve. What started as almost a throwaway term has slowly morphed into an actual thriving industry, complete with Magic Quadrant and vendors fighting over the true meaning of HCI. Beyond duking it out on Twitter, hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) vendors have attempted to move mountains in an effort to shoehorn their infrastructure paradigm into every aspect of IT life -- from the data center to the edge to the public cloud.

For the hyper-converged industry, the mission is clear: supplant every legacy platform with a neatly integrated hyper-converged stack. It's HCI vs. traditional infrastructure and the world. To be fair, this is a good goal! Anyone who knows me at all understands I'm a fan of hyper-convergence in general. I love what it can bring to organizations and enjoyed watching previously startup HCI vendors turn into hyper-converged powerhouses that help customers simplify IT operations .


Unlike hyper-converged, which tightly integrates data center resources into individual nodes, converged infrastructure's data center components -- compute, networking, servers, storage -- remain separate in the traditional infrastructure mode.


Nutanix has grown from a pure HCI hardware play to a software-centric platform company for which HCI is the core. Scale Computing wrangled edge computing environments into submission, while NetApp, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Pivot3, Datrium and DataCore all created HCI products with their own unique flavor. One-size IT infrastructure doesn't fit all. As much as I like hyper-converged, it's clear the one-size-fits-all nature of the technology isn't the right choice for every workload.

For general-purpose needs, it's a fantastic replacement for traditional infrastructure. The very nature of HCI -- linear scalability -- can also be its downfall. Should you start to drift away from general-purpose workloads, a more traditional infrastructure approach may be a better fit than hyper-converged. HCI isn't always appropriate for workloads with intense demands on a single part of the resource stack; for example, big data workloads in which storage capacity can't increase linearly with other resources.

Hyper-convergence does this by making it easier to run the same software in the cloud that runs on on-premises hardware. This makes shifting workloads where they're needed eminently simple.

Hyper-convergence may not be the answer for CPU-intensive workloads either -- especially, if you need to pay for hypervisor licenses for every node -- and it may not work well when virtualizing resources doesn't make sense. Of course, as the hyper-convergence market continues to splinter, hyper-converged products that address these disparate needs may actually appear. Hyper-converged vendors, for example, now view disaggregated hyper-converged infrastructure (dHCI), which decouples storage and compute, as a possible answer. Still, the fact remains many organizations will prefer more traditional IT approaches that leave in place the fine-tuned knobs administrators can use for more granular control of resources.

One possible answer in the software-defined mode is composable infrastructure, which merges aspects of HCI and converged infrastructure with programmatic control of resources to make it easier to stand up and down virtual servers for specific workloads. Let's explore reasons you may or may not choose HCI vs. traditional infrastructure vs. dHCI or composable architecture. Also, what about taking a hybrid approach that brings cloud in the picture or uses a mix of infrastructures? For many, the flexibility provided by a more traditional infrastructure approach just can't be beat. You get to choose each vendor you want to work with. You get to custom-build an infrastructure that meets the unique needs of your applications. And you get to make granular choices around the configuration of each discrete resource.