The last decade has seen great steps in the evolution of health care in terms of legislation as well as technology. Integrated IT systems are attractive to most health organizations as well as hospitals with large record files. The move from traditional integrated IT systems to more IoT (Internet of Things) based solutions and SDDCs (Software-defined data center) has been on the rise in recent years.
The talk around town now, in particular, is Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI).This is a consolidated software-based technology that combines all the functionalities of computing, storage, and network into one single unit. It builds on the concept of converged data center infrastructure
Difference between Converged Infrastructure and Hyper converged Infrastructure
Converged infrastructure has been around much longer than HCI. It offers an all-in-one pre-packaged solution to the three core needs of an IT system: compute, storage, network. What happens is the manufacturer custom-makes the architecture of the data center to fit the needs and framework of the client. One of the most common forms of converged infrastructure is the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE). A single management software tool is used to control core aspects of the system so that administrators can provision and de-provision changes on the fly.
Converged Infrastructures are pretty much traditional IT systems but with expanded server virtualization. Hyper-converged infrastructure takes this to a whole new level as it brings in extra features that create a more streamlined environment. These include data deduplication, replication, backup, recovery, and compression. The main difference from CI is that these features are controlled from a single web-scale platform. It is, therefore, possible to lightly say that CI is more hardware-based and HCI, software-based.
Below is a summary of the evolution of IT systems over the years and in projection according to a Gartner Study:
- Phase 1(2005 to 2015)-Blade systems
- Phase 2(2010 to 2020)-Converged infrastructures and the advent of HCI
- Phase 3(2016 to 2025)- Continuous micro-service delivery of HCI platforms
Examples of converged infrastructure providers
- Cisco, EMC, VMware
These three companies are the creators of Vblock converged stacks. These stacks are prebuilt and tested before implementation. The hardware layer has specific configurations that are set according to customer requirements.
In this arrangement, Cisco provides the networking architecture and servers while EMC provides the storage. VMware supplies the hypervisor layer. Some of the existing tools that run the VBlock include Cisco UCS management tool, EMC Unisphere software and VMware’s vCenter Server. Vblock solutions come in a variety as not all databases and systems are the same.
One of the most impactful tools that Microsoft has offered so far is the Microsoft Azure stack solution. The latest development in Microsoft towards converged IT is the Windows Server package. It is made up of three main components: Hyper converged Infrastructure Standard, Hyper converged Infrastructure Premium, and Soft-ware defined storage.
- Hewlett-Packard Enterprise
HP is a known provider of converged solutions not just in the health sector but manufacturing and finance as well. The company provides own products that include the HP blade system, 3PAR storage capability, and a networking technology. The converged solutions that it offers cater for areas such as virtualization, Big Data, cloud computing as well as Collaboration.
Some of the Dell converged giveaways include servers, storage, and switches. The package also comes with its own VMware or Hyper-V software.
IBM’s solutions are marketed under the PureSystems brand.
The brand provides general solutions that meet infrastructure-as-a-service requirements. Some of these needs involve integration of the IBM database, the v7000 series storage, networking products as well as service blade products.
- Hitachi Data Systems
Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) is divided into two: the pre-integrated converged infrastructure and reference solutions. This Unified Compute Platform is combined with the HDS blades and Cisco UCS servers through switching.
Advantages of CI
The silo data center setup often required a lot of time for hardware installation, cabling and putting up the different components together. Converged solutions come pre-packaged from the vendor. This saves time and does not require specialized expertise to set up.
There are also lower deployment risks as compared to investing in bespoke solutions. The main benefit is that the package comes certified since its configurations have been tested and verified elsewhere. Deploying conveyed infrastructure is therefore only a matter of days or weeks.
Cuts down on cost
Provisioning a converged data center can prove costly at first in comparison to the total value of different elements as in the traditional system. However, the overall cost is way less. First off, the capital expenses are favorably reduced as one vendor can provide the whole package. There is no need for additional servers. Secondly, the maintenance support by the vendor caters for all functionalities of the data center, therefore, saving on the cost of hiring different specialized people for different areas.
Converged architecture is automated. There is a standard set of tools that oversee the performance of the whole system. When the IT admin gets used to the system, he/she can comfortably navigate through it which makes service delivery faster and more efficient. Interoperability is also achieved as the user can easily connect with APIs or other tools.
Another important aspect of control that CI offers is the scaling functionality. Since the data center is unified to be treated as a central resource, scaling of platforms, networks or the cloud, if any, can be realized.
No component choices-The customer is restricted to the components that the package comes with. This limitation on the vendor’s part makes it unlikely for the customer to implement setups that he/she may deem better.
Fixed configurations-There’s no allowance to modify the configurations or the features.
Convergence in infrastructure aims towards unifying data center resources to one central point. By doing this, there’s better management of the system as well as risk analysis.
While implementing this solution, it is crucial that organizations and vendors remember to comply with HIPAA Privacy and Security rule concerning electronic systems and protection of patient health information.