Hyperconverged Infrastructure: An Effective and Efficient Path to Federal IT Modernization

This content is sponsored by Nutanix

Many federal IT managers are faced with managing data centers that experience sub-optimal infrastructure performance,security, availability and scalability challenges. A recent study found the solution to these challenges may be in transitioning from legacy 3-tier architectures to hyperconverged infrastructure. U.S. federal and defense agencies that have adopted this innovative data center architecture are experiencing great results — specifically, an ability to focus resources on application delivery and mission-critical initiatives rather than high-touch hardware infrastructure management. In addition, the study respondents say total cost of ownership is lower, infrastructure performance is better and streamlined procurements make maintenance and management easier.

Executive Summary

One one hand, Federal agencies are pressed to focus resources on Administration priorities
such as cybersecurity, data center consolidation and cloud computing. On the other hand,
the cost of maintaining and refreshing legacy hardware-centric infrastructure threatens
to obstruct progress by soaking up 75% of IT budgets, leaving room to do little more than
maintain the status quo.
No one knows better than IT managers that legacy systems are expensive, brittle, inefficient
and time consuming to maintain — and that they are an obstacle to successfully addressing
Administration priorities. Yet, many are unsure or unaware of the options.
Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) is a promising — and proven — option to consider.
HCI’s software-centric architecture natively converges compute, storage, networking and
virtualization resources from scratch in a commodity hardware box supported by a single
vendor. Some of these turnkey appliances are secure by design, can be deployed quickly
(often in 30 to 60 minutes), and they have the ability to run any application and workload
at any scale right out of the box. It has already proven itself to be a cost-efficient, reliable,
scalable solution in federal agency IT environments. Each of these benefits is important,
and agencies interested in adopting HCI should look for vendors who offer all of them in
their HCI product.
To help IT managers grappling with the challenges of modernizing their network and
wondering if HCI makes sense for their agency, Nutanix commissioned Market Connections
to determine the degree to which federal IT managers are using HCI and the impact using (or
not using) it has on the pressing needs and challenges agencies face.

Hyperconvergence in Federal Agencies: What We Found
The study found that more than one-third of respondents (36%) have implemented HCI, or
plan to in the near term. Another third (34%) are either not considering it at all, or are not
familiar with it. The remainder are interested, but are not sure when they may adopt it.
Of those who do not plan to implement HCI, the top two reasons are acquisition and
implementation costs (45%) and that it needs to prove itself for mission-critical needs
(40%). Respondents noted that the siloed nature of their infrastructure is an obstacle to
adopting new technologies, including HCI. In fact, one study respondent added: “We are
so organized in infrastructure/operational stovepipes that hyperconverging is viewed as a
threat.” Dan Fallon, Director of Systems Engineering, U.S. Federal, Nutanix, confirmed that
this is a sentiment he has frequently heard from federal IT professionals.

For those who are unsure of the benefits, or need proof to back a decision to investigate it, the data tells a solid story: While the numbers of those using it, considering it and not considering it are evenly split, the impact this status has on how agencies rate the performance of their current infrastructure varies significantly. In short: the data shows that HCI delivers exactly what it promises.

Infrastructure Support of Priority Initiatives

Vendors say a key benefit of HCI is its flexibility for incorporating new technologies and architectures. Those federal agencies that have implemented it agree: A significantly greater proportion of respondents that have adopted HCI (55%) note it is very easy to incorporate new technology/architecture into their existing environment, versus only 2% of those who do not plan to implement it.

That 2% number is not surprising considering how difficult it is to incorporate and provision new services and architectures into a traditional 3-tier model. HCI is different: Hyperconverged architectures provide a single pool of compute and storage resources, which allow new applications and technology to be added without the need to rearchitect the underlying infrastructure. In traditional environments this re-architecture would require time to design, implement and provision, with the result creating another hardware silo to manage and maintain in the data center. With HCI, the underlying pool of resources can scale to meet the demands of requirements for new technologies. And with one-click provisioning, virtual machines can be created for new applications in a matter of seconds versus the days it takes to provision in a traditional 3-tier environment.
In addition, a significantly greater proportion of respondents that have HCI indicate their current infrastructure is able to support key Adminstrative and agency initiatives. Respondents whose agencies are using HCI are also significantly more satisfied with the features their current infrastructure offers — features that are important for agency modernization and mission readiness. For example, more than three quarters (79%) are satisfied with the scalability of their infrastructure versus 42% of those who are not considering it. In terms of the ability to incorporate new technologies into the environment, 76% of HCI adopters are satisfied with their infrastructure versus 39% of others. Provisioning new capabilities is also an important feature of modern data centers, and again 76% of those using HCI are satisfied versus 39% of those who are not.

Satisfaction with Current Infrastructure Performance
Uptime, operational efficiency and ease of deployment are just a few of the mission-critical challenges IT managers are addressing in their data centers. In addtion, a significantly greater proportion of HCI adopters rate performance higher as well. Data storage, backup and recovery is a key performance metric for data centers, and 79% of those adopting HCI are currently satisfied, versus 27% of those not considering it. In fact, nearly three quarters of respondents who have adopted HCI are pleased with application performance, versus two in ten of those who are not considering it. Uptime, compliance support, speed of implementing new applications and ease of deployment also rate higher. And satisfication with total cost of ownership (TCO) mirrors what Howard has heard from his customers: 72% are pleased with the TCO, while only 25% of those not considering HCI are satisfied with the TCO of their infrastructure. When looking at the benefits HCI promises (using web-scale technologies and architectures to simplify data center infrastructure, while lowering TCO, increasing agility, eliminating guesswork around capacity needs and providing consistent performance), these numbers make sense, says Howard. What perhaps doesn’t make sense is why there is still uncertainty about adopting HCI.

Recommendations for Implementation

In recent months, the number of HCI offerings has increased significantly, offering buyers a range of choices. When evaluating and comparing solutions, Federal IT buyers should focus on several must-have features: natively converged compute, storage, networking and virtualization; proven ease of solution deployment; security in the fundamental design; flexibility to work within a heterogeneous IT infrastructure environment, and the ability to run any application and workload at any scale out of the box. Solutions requiring high-touch professional services in order to effectively implement erode the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of a HCI platform. Likewise, solutions where security features are ‘bolted on’ to the platform, versus being in the fundamental design can’t offer the agility in meeting changing Federal security requirements. One of the other key benefits of adopting HCI is the ability to start small with only what you need. Fallon says HCI is the opposite of “big racks and stacks.” He likens it to building a Lego fort — one piece at time, as many pieces at a time
as you need.

When beginning the transition, Fallon recommends first looking at the whole picture
of what is happening in your data center and start where you need to start today. The
simplicity and plug-and-play design allows you to start small and buy as you grow.
Acquiring HCI is a different approach than the traditional 3-tier models, which require
acquisition of three different silos of technology — forcing buyers to guess capacity
requirements for anywhere from three to five years out, and regularly resulting in
overpurchasing. As agencies start small with HCI and buy only what they need, when they
need it, the dual issues of speculating about the future and overpurchasing go away —
ultimately saving precious budget resources while enabling the data center to be more
dynamic.

Conclusion

HCI promises to simplify Federal data centers, reduce costs and improve IT resource and
service delivery. A HCI solution should make IT infrastructure seem invisible — to provide
a level of seamless performance for IT managers and administrators believe that it will
“just work,” as we do when we flip a light switch or turn on a water faucet. Based on the
agencies that have adopted it, HCI is delivering on these promises. Performance metrics
such as scalability, ability to easily incorporate new technologies, ease of provisioning and
application performance are all critical to operating modern data centers, says Howard.
Agencies are looking for these performance metrics with each acquistion, and current
adopters consistently rate HCI signficantly higher than those not using HCI. That’s because
they have learned first hand that HCI makes the data center work.
This simple solution allows federal IT professionals to focus on more strategic work, such
as application delivery and mission initiatives rather than “keeping the lights on.” This is
what HCI promises. And based on the data, it’s delivering exactly that.

About The Study
Nutanix commissioned the hyperconverged infrastructure study to determine the degree
to which federal IT managers are using HCI and the impact using (or not using) it has on
the pressing needs and challenges agencies face. The blind, online survey of 150 federal
IT decision makers represented Defense/Intelligence (47%) and Civilian (including
legislative and judicial) (53%) agencies. Nearly two thirds of respondents (60%) evaluate
and recommend data center infrastructure and virtualization tools; 58% are on a team that
does so; 30% make final decision and 43% manage or implement solutions.