About the Author:  Shyam Iyer is a Software Sys Sr Principal Engineer in the Server Solutions Office of the CTO focused on accelerating S/W stacks and Applications with H/W assists.

If you take a look at the typical architecture of a Hyperconverged Infrastructure offering in broad terms, a picture speaks a thousand words.

The hypervisor/Host is a glue connecting the Compute with the Storage. If horizontal scaling is the name of the game then HCI solves this by isolating the storage network from the compute network using abstracted storage stacks more commonly branded as Software defined storage (SDS). 

Storage

The idea has led to significant changes in the storage industry in the last five years not just in terms of how storage is viewed but also in the manner commodity servers and components with their huge supply chain advantage have democratized the aggregation of resources. Storage happened to be the first to get revolutionized but Networking was in lock step with “software defined” being the buzzword for moving anything to an x86 server.

But the real truth was in the supply chain economics being just right for the type of workload being tested for.

VDI was the first winner and the benefits could be quickly realized. For a virtual workstation demanded by a consumer in a school district or a hospital the administrator/CIO didn’t have to shop for expensive large systems to just keep the shop running.  And when companies provided the agility to scale on demand the customer lapped them up way too easily.

This led to a sort of revolution by word of mouth that builds trust in an architecture and customers become emboldened to try newer workloads. And that is exactly what has happened…

In an IDC briefing organized in the backdrop of VMworld 2016 Eric Sheppard described the changing workload profile being deployed in HCI deployments.

IDC

Essentially an HCI architecture is beginning to look more conducing to customers as a primary storage architecture for more demanding applications.

If that is an artifact of a changing customer usage model then underlying technology trends are moving right towards it creating a perfect storm at the compute.

Trend

And while this is happening the compute is undergoing its own revolution.

http://en.community.dell.com/dell-blogs/dell4enterprise/b/dell4enterprise/archive/2017/01/26/memory-centric-architecture-vision

So, while software defined is cool it has to run on something. The demands of an application mean you can’t just dumb down hardware and layer software on it but you also need to solve the bottlenecks/pain points by working on a solution that leverages Hardware innovatively.

For, example in the picture shown here the vSwitch/Network latency between a VM and a hypervisor is shown.

There are two observations here in this picture.

1)      The latency is increasing with increasing packet size.

2)      The latency is higher when the system is loaded.

As core counts and VM/container density increase latency is going to be a critical metric. I believe latency needs to be solved outside of the realm of a compute/storage network.  I also envision a need for data services to depend on H/W assists.

An approach could be to take an off the shelf H/W part and use it innovatively to fit into the HCI deployment towards solving a problem.  This is valiant and sometimes necessary too. The cost economics of an off the shelf part can be hard to beat. But, many times this can be more limiting then liberating. The flexibility in an H/W architecture to solve customer problems is imperative for a solution provider. This allows you to have a solution to the next problem an application demand presents. Enter programmable hardware like FPGAs. Once thought of as being useful for simulating ASIC design FPGAs are becoming interesting enough that an entire workload acceleration industry is taking of. And sooner than later the ecosystem gravity will catchup.

So if you are a data center geek like me watching this industry wondering where the action is you just stumbled on it. As for me, I am going to be rolling my sleeves and get back to work.