Investment in hyperconverged infrastructure is set to boom this year as companies that had already invested in the technology realize the potential for the blended IT model to modernize their workloads, according to a survey conducted by 451 Research, a unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Hyperconverged Infrastructure, or HCI, is an IT framework that combines all the elements of a traditional data center, such as storage, computing and networking, into one unified system. Dell Technologies Inc., VMware Inc. and Nutanix Inc. are among the major IT vendors that offer HCI platforms to organizations seeking to reduce the operational complexity inherent in traditional, stand-alone infrastructure. A rising number of companies are turning to HCI to deploy and simplify the notoriously complex virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platforms that are used for remote work, for example.
451's "Voice of the Enterprise: Hyperconverged Infrastructure: Technology & Platform Innovation 2020" survey, which published in late December, found that HCI adoption sits at about 35% of the overall IT market, but a significant percentage of customers are testing the platforms or plan to adopt them in the near future. Meanwhile, organizations currently using HCI — whether in production or as a proof of concept — plan to increase their HCI budgets by an average of 50% in 2021 compared to 2020.
Christian Perry, a senior research analyst covering IT infrastructure at 451 Research and the author of the survey report, said that there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic was a tremendous driver for HCI tech.
"As organizations scrambled to outfit their businesses for remote work, some of them found that they can be up and running quickly with HCI," Perry said. "Deployments of that technology can be very complex, but HCI makes the process far easier."
Some government agencies wound up adopting HCI in 2020 in response to the pandemic, Perry said. Police departments, for example, turned to the technology to digitally track various uprisings and protests in the past year, he said.
"Once HCI is within an IT ecosystem, it tends to expand like wildfire, mostly because the experience is very positive and not tremendously different from a standard virtualization server experience," Perry said.
HCI investment is often strategically deployed for specific IT initiatives and projects. Thirty-six percent of surveyed organizations cited new IT initiatives and/or project requirements as the primary reason for increased HCI investment, whereas 15% of organizations said the investments were part of a broad infrastructure refresh.
"The survey results support the point that HCI budgets are now designed for organizations to expand their HCI footprints to support the convergence of IT and critical businesses," Perry said.
Enterprises choose their HCI platforms based on factors including scaling, networking and hybrid cloud capabilities. Ease of scaling — or the ability to add compute or storage capacity without downtime — is the leading feature that drives HCI platform selection, with 50% of surveyed organizations identifying it as important. This became especially important in 2020 when organizations were forced to speed up their digital transformation efforts amid the pandemic, Perry said.
Other important technology features on the radar for HCI platform selection are networking (43%) and hybrid cloud workload mobility to public and/or private clouds (42%).
The study also found that HCI is not necessarily the power-efficient infrastructure that customers expect. Although some IT teams say HCI saves power compared with stand-alone, three-tier infrastructure, 41% of adopters say that HCI has actually increased their data center power requirements to date. Meanwhile, 31% say it has decreased power requirements, and 28% say it has had no effect.
"While everything else about HCI is very efficient, we found that power requirements can actually increase due to the far denser, fully virtualized servers," Perry said. "However, that's a good thing, because it means the technology is functioning properly and the customers are getting their money's worth, even if they have to deal with greater electricity and cooling platforms."
Perry said that once organizations get more accustomed to their HCI platforms, they are able to more easily optimize and manage the power requirements.