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Why federal agencies are showing increased interest in hyper-converged infrastructure

This content is provided by Connection and Dell.

The smartphone was one of the greatest technological coups of the past 20 years. Its genius stemmed from the way it took the various devices a person might carry—cellphone, camera, mp3 player, personal digital assistant—and condensed their functions into a single, easy-to-carry device. Now some federal agencies are looking to duplicate that kind of dynamic in their data centers, turning to hyper-converged infrastructure to collapse their servers, storage and networking into a smaller, more modular footprint.

“We see a lot of organizations struggle with complexity. They struggle with managing their cluster of servers and their virtualization environment and the backup environment, their networking and their storage. And maybe they have primary storage, backup storage, or different tiers of storage for different use cases,” said Jake Bernier, senior solution architect at Connection Public Sector Solutions. “So the benefit for many organizations is in going to a more simplified architecture, managing through a single management plane rather than multiple, but also just kind of having that agility.”

Hyper-converged infrastructure is easily scalable, unlike legacy storage. That’s because the resources involved essentially comprise building blocks that can be added inline whenever needed. And that provides the flexibility to be proactive rather than reactionary when agencies are challenged by uncertainty in their future budgets.

“I think that’s where the federal government agencies really see the benefit, just because of the nature of their purchasing cycles, it fits really well for them to have something that is predictable,” Bernier said.

In that way, hyper-converged infrastructure is an on-prem answer to cloud capabilities. And as a foundational component of VMware Cloud Foundation, it can be a useful addition to any agency’s hybrid cloud strategy. VMware Cloud Foundation allows organizations to run secure and consistent infrastructure both on-prem and in the public cloud. It also allows for portability of workloads between the two environments for the sake of resiliency and locality, or to accommodate rapidly shifting resource demands.

“But again, it’s a reaction to the cloud in that cloud technology is instant,” Bernier said. “If you have a credit card and a budget, you can you can go spin up a virtual machine whenever you need to. With traditional architecture, that’s a bit harder. So if folks wanted to set up an environment for whatever need or expand an application or expand their storage needs, they’d have to go through this whole cycle of procurement, justify the need to go get budgeting for it, look at multiple different solutions, identify the right fit, put it through procurement, and actually go get it, install it, so on and so forth.”

Hyper-converged infrastructure, then, is a balance between the security of an on-prem environment and the scalability and usability of a cloud environment.

That’s why many federal agencies have been adopting VxRail, a collaboration that features VMware’s software-defined storage layer running on Dell EMC’s market-leading PowerEdge servers. Between the two companies, they created a platform with unified management layers that even further bury complexity. It makes it easier for admins to manage and utilize resources, and it’s supported singularly—whether it’s hardware or software, agencies can call one place for diagnosis and support.

These agencies had traditional architectures in place and were looking to expand or refresh their storage. But their servers were also close to falling out of compliance and due for a refresh in another year or so as well.

“And this is kind of where we get to that point where we say, is it appropriate to just say, ‘let’s do it all at once?’ Let’s do it. Let’s refresh your servers. Let’s take that shared storage array and that Fibre Channel networking that connects it and let’s just bring it up into those servers,” Bernier said.

Refreshing aged equipment like this is one of the main reasons agencies might want to explore hyper-converged infrastructure, but it’s by no means the only one. Bernier said it’s also an excellent platform for virtual desktop infrastructure, which is something many agencies are currently using in order to support their remote workforces. Employees working from home often need to access resources from a centralized data center, so they use VDI to access it.

“Hyper-converged is a really solid platform for that. Because you get the benefit of duplication and compression on your data sets, because VDI has so much redundant data in it, a lot of your end users are on the same operating system and accessing the same files and sharing a lot of the same information. So with data reduction technologies, these environments are able to minimize a lot of that redundancy,” Bernier said.

And it makes scaling to accommodate an increasing number of users easy as well. Because agencies already know how many nodes they have to support a certain number of users, figuring out how many to add to support their increasing workforce is simple arithmetic.

“Scalability is important with VDI as well because, as we’ve seen this year, the demands of a remote workforce can increase quite rapidly,” Bernier said. “If you have a modular scalable architecture supporting those remote users, then you can quickly expand IT resources by just adding nodes. That’s the predictability and agility that is so important. Knowing exactly what steps you need to take to match your users’ needs without kicking off a lengthy and exhaustive procurement cycle.”

In fact, there really aren’t that many things hyper-converged infrastructure won’t work for, Bernier said. About the only things outside of its use cases are extremely high performance compute or massive storage capacity workloads, or situations where the legacy hardware is necessary.

“This isn’t a silver bullet for everything,” Bernier said. “But we see that it’s a really effective bullet for many things, a lot of the workloads that organizations are running, a lot of the IT challenges that they’re facing can be addressed with this type of approach.”

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