Moving into the Future with Next-Generation HCI

Flexible infrastructure allows state and local government to more easily leverage IoT, AI and other emerging technologies.

by NETAPP / March 9, 2018

In just five years, hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) has established itself as an ideal technology for organizations grappling with the complexities of delivering new services rapidly, working with limited resources, managing data centers, moving to the cloud and preparing for the future. 

Next-generation HCI eliminates scaling, performance, visibility and other issues that prevent some state and local governments from fully embracing HCI. As a stepping stone to the hybrid cloud and newer infrastructures, it helps pave the way for what Gartner describes as a “dynamic, composable and fabric-based” infrastructure that allows organizations to leverage and control data regardless of where it is. This infrastructure will allow agencies to flexibly, seamlessly and continuously deliver applications and services across cloud, on-premises or other platforms as business needs dictate. Ultimately, it will allow the rapid provisioning of the entire data center infrastructure to support applications, services and emerging technologies.

These capabilities will become increasingly important as state and local governments plan for a future that was once the stuff of science fiction. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), digital twins (digital representations of real-life, physical things such as city parks or hospitals) and blockchain (a method for authoritatively tracking and validating transactions, shipments, votes and other high-value things) have great promise in the public sector. State CIOs have already identified IoT and AI as being the most impactful areas of new technology in the next five years. Next-generation HCI provides the bridge to these revolutionary technologies. It will allow state and local governments to use them to meet their missions and help their citizens and communities thrive.

Preparing to Move to Next-Generation HCIz

To take advantage of these seismic shifts and successfully implement next-generation HCI, government IT leaders need to:

  • Align solutions with current and long-term goals – Beware of focusing on technology for technology’s sake. Understand how the agency’s goals support the goals of state, county or local leadership, and be able to articulate how solution requirements align with these goals. Become educated about emerging technologies such as AI and the IOT; learn how they can support goals and how they tie into existing infrastructure investments. 
  • Understand your data center in terms of a data fabric – A data fabric is a key component of next-generation HCI, allowing agencies to visualize, move, manage and protect large volumes of disparate data in a hybrid environment. To use a data fabric strategically, know what types of data exist in the extended enterprise, where it lives, who accesses it and what processes are connected to it.
  • Decide how to transfer data - It’s easier to transfer and virtualize data from some operating systems than others, and it’s important to have a strategy to address challenges.  
  • Shift from a legacy silo mindset to a focus on independent scaling – To spend wisely, increase agility and ensure that the organization always has the right amount of resources, focus on scaling compute and storage separately. Use a data fabric to understand, analyze, plan and move data, processes and resources as needed. Automate processes to automatically provision or re-allocate resources when quality of service limits are reached, or when enterprise-wide analysis of resource usage indicates a need for additional resources. 
  • Prepare for an IP-based environment – HCI relies on Internet Protocol (IP) addressing to easily provision VDI and other infrastructures. If the agency is running legacy systems, there’s a good chance that its IT environment isn’t set up for IP addressing. Decide how you will accommodate IP as you move forward. 
  • Accommodate automation – Consider open standards-based automation tools that integrate easily into your infrastructure, and research use of containers (standardized, prepackages pieces of code) and other strategies that support automation. Look for opportunities to reduce manual processes and apply policies consistently. Instead of writing policies that focus on specific hardware components, build a library of data-center-level automation policies that can be applied to more general use cases. 
  • Redefine IT roles as needed – A shrinking pool of IT talent, operational efficiencies, AI and other changes are driving the need to redefine data center roles. Where an agency once had separate specialists for storage, compute and other functions, it may now have one person managing it all. Even if an organization is still staffed with multiple specialists, it needs to cultivate an environment where skills can be brought together and tasks divvyed up in a way that drives maximum value for the organization. 
  • Plan for the future – While planning for immediate needs, always keep an eye to the future and how you will migrate to future generations of technology as current technology reaches the end of its life cycle.

Investing in Tomorrow

In a 2018 survey, state and local government respondents ranked cloud services and consolidation/optimization as their top IT strategies (after cybersecurity). Next-generation HCI provides a foundation to move forward with these strategies and embrace technologies that are just beginning to show their promise in the public sector. The key to success is choosing the right solution and the right solution provider.

Choosing the right solution depends on the agency’s individual goals and requirements. Start by identifying the most important criteria for evaluating a solution (e.g., scaling and performance, cost, vendor stability), and then use a matrix to rate the solution in each area. In the long run, thorough research and good planning will ensure the best outcomes.

Apart from the technology itself, working with the right solution provider is critical. Next-generation HCI is a relatively new market and not all early pioneers will survive; vendors with well-established offerings in related areas have the financial, organizational and technological means to support and further develop the solution over the long haul. Besides deep technical expertise and experience in the public sector, the right provider has the ability to work outside of a legacy mindset and has a vision for moving into the future.  

When choosing a solution provider, be sure to inquire about its track record for product support, the skill level of support staff and the types of support included in pricing. Also ask about its end-of-life policy for migrating data from current solutions to newer versions; data migration is one of the costliest storage-related expenses. Finally, evaluate the solution provider for its suitability as a long-term partner that offers mutually beneficial opportunities for collaboration, research and solution development tailored to your agency’s needs. 

Technology Checklist

  • Data visibility, control and protection across the entire hybrid ecosystem (via a data fabric)
  • Non-disruptive, independent scaling of storage and compute
  • On-demand re-allocation of resources
  • Granular control of application and workload performance
  • Guaranteed performance of storage and compute within specific workloads
  • High availability
  • Ease of automation
  • Open standards-based (non-proprietary) architecture
  • Ease and impact of workload upgrades, migration and consolidation to a new HCI platform
  • Support for multiple platforms, including cloud, on-premises, hybrid and software as a service (SaaS)
  • Return on value in terms of cost savings, operational efficiencies and solution longevity

Learn more about NetApp next-generation HCI.