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Should VDI shops use hyper-converged infrastructure?

The tighter integration in hyper-converged infrastructure gives VDI shops the performance and management they're looking for, but some companies might deem it too big of an adjustment.

Hyper-converged infrastructure can provide VDI shops with a streamlined way to deploy virtual desktops, but companies that view hardware flexibility as an advantage might still prefer traditional VDI.

In many ways, using hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) makes a lot of sense for VDI shops, because some hyper-converged platforms come pre-loaded with VDI software and are already optimized for use in VDI environments. Some VDI vendors, such as VMware, even offer their own HCI products. EVO:RAIL comes with built-in VMware software and what the company calls the Rail engine, which provides a centralized location for deploying, configuring and managing virtual machines. This type of compatibility makes hyper-converged systems seem like an obvious choice for some shops that want to do VDI.

Challenges of hyper-converged systems

Even so, hyper-converged systems do have their drawbacks. The primary disadvantage is that you cannot upgrade hyper-converged systems at the hardware level. This can cause problems for your IT shop if you're working on a limited budget, because it means you need to upgrade all components collectively, even if it's not necessary to upgrade some of them.

To give a more concrete example, imagine that a hyper-converged system is running low on storage, but has plenty of compute resources available. In this situation, you can’t upgrade just the storage. Instead, you would have to add another node to the system that includes compute, network and storage resources. Granted, you may be able to get around this problem in some situations by connecting to an external storage array, but doing so undermines the benefits of using matched hardware. One of the tradeoffs between converged infrastructure (CI) and HCI is that with the former you can just snap on another storage node. CI only includes hardware, though, so you're not getting the tight software integration that comes with HCI.

Using hyper-converged systems is a good idea for organizations that want perfectly matched hardware and simplified administration. However, hyper-converged systems are likely to be a poor choice for organizations that want to retain a lot of flexibility, especially with regard to being able to upgrade hardware components at will.

Hyper-converged systems might also be a poor choice for organizations with siloed IT departments that assign admins a specific area of focus. You really can’t separate storage and compute in the hyper-converged world, so HCI management might require a light touch to avoid setting off a turf war in the IT department.

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