Hyperconverged Architecture for Small and Medium Business

We meet with customers faced with server refresh projects or the need to add storage on a daily basis. Few customers have missed the increasing prevalence of hyperconvergence (HC) in the marketplace. Major players in the HC infrastructure market include HPE SimpliVity, Dell/EMC XC Series and VxRail, Cisco HyperFlex, and Nutanix, among others. The idea behind HC is that today’s servers can be equipped to function not just as “computers,” but also as other traditional datacenter components, such as the enterprise storage and datacenter networking subsystems sold separately in traditional systems. There are huge potential benefits to be had for many customers.

  1. All the components of a HC system are designed, tested and supported together. Most are packaged with software that dramatically simplifies the management and monitoring of servers and storage. As a result of this integration and simplification, HC systems may not require a storage administrator or network specialist to perform day-to-day activities and maintenance. The increased simplicity and manageability can result in a tremendous reduction in the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
  2. As the datacenter begins to scale, HC systems easily grow by adding additional units almost like “building blocks.” Each node contains all the processing power, memory, storage, and network capacity that is required to expand the overall system by a specified amount. Not only are these building blocks quick and relatively simple to install and integrate, but they offer business a great deal of agility in budgeting for and executing upgrades and expansion.

Are there disadvantages? There may be.

  1. Hyperconverged systems emphasize stability, which is a very good thing for business. But the need to test, integrate, and develop management tools for all components at once means that sometimes systems may not be based on the fastest components or the absolute latest hypervisor versions currently available.
  1. The major performance challenge is I/O throughput. Because of the high level of integration, internal bandwidth that once was dedicated strictly to virtual machine workloads is shared with storage and networking tasks. Server and storage workloads, in particular, must be planned and carefully balanced.
  1. Vendor lock-in is inevitable for the life of a hyperconverged system. Growing businesses who want to leverage their investment will want to continue adding nodes, and that can mean long-lasting ties to one particular manufacturer for expansion and technical support.
  1. HC systems don’t allow the granularity of hardware upgrades found in traditional systems. For instance, expanding storage (or any component) in a HC system can require the installation of an entire computing building block, with processors, memory, networking and disk. This can be costly in situations with very particular needs (for instance, a business that needs a high level of compute and memory, but very little storage). HC is often best utilized for applications where the demand growth is more or less linear across all datacenter components.

The majority of potential disadvantages to hyperconvergence are easily addressed during the planning and design stages of a datacenter refresh. Fowler Technology Services takes a business-first, customer-focused approach to datacenter engineering. We work with clients to understand their business, their existing workloads, their IT competencies, and plans for future growth. We then engineer a bespoke vendor-agnostic solution for the customer, whether it be an HC solution from one of our hyperconverged partners, or a traditional datacenter design with discrete servers, storage, and other components. Both HC and traditional solutions can be turnkey, paired with our best-of-breed managed services for customers who value the ultimate in support and security; we are also glad to work on a project basis with customers for assessments, engineering, procurement and/or deployment services. Nothing gives Fowler Technology Services more satisfaction than delivering solutions that not just meet, but greatly exceed, customers’ expected return on investment.

—Jared A. Faulkner, Director of Information Technology

Fowler Technology Services, a Donco company

Business Wins with IT Best Practice

One reason many IT companies have low customer satisfaction and high churn rates is that they do not embrace sound service management practices, particularly ITIL® processes and best practices. ITIL is the most widely accepted approach to IT service management in the world. It is a framework that technology organizations can use to help customers realize transformation and growth. Fowler Technology Services trains employees using ITIL principles, and has a senior manager with the coveted ITIL Expert certification. This gives us a unique perspective on the relationship between business and IT service provider. Take these examples:

  1. Quality IT services must focus on delivering value to the customer. The alignment of our services with the customer’s business strategy is the key to our success.
  2. A customer-centric strategy doesn’t need to cost more than run-of-the-mill service, but a high degree of business knowledge and proven best practices must be woven into the service provider’s DNA.
  3. One size does not fit all with respect to technology services. Services should be designed and tailored to the customer’s needs.
  4. Customers have a right to total clarity in service delivery, including a well-defined scope of work, clear service and process roles, and open communication.
  5. Both the costs and benefits of technology should be plainly visible to the customer through regular service level reviews and outcome assessments.
  6. Business risks inherent in technology are immense, and the stakes are high. The service provider must be prepared—both trained and equipped—to bear and/or mitigate risks for customers to reduce expense and exposure.
  7. The key to successful service delivery is the management of change. Careful design, planning, testing, management and documentation of change throughout the service lifecycle is critical to achieving technology objectives.
  8. Automation of routine background processes creates rapid return. Small and large businesses alike benefit from automation, freeing the most valuable resources—people—to focus on “big picture” organizational goals.
  9. By combining IT services (such as managed service for workstations and servers, firewall maintenance, security cameras, and telephone service and support) under one IT service agreement, the entire organization can benefit from tighter integration of services, end-to-end change management and quality control, and a single point of contact dedicated to the customer’s technical success.
  10. Good enough is not good enough. Continual service improvement based on specific metrics and key performance indicators adds value, improves stability, and builds increased satisfaction year after year, leading to lasting bonds with customers.

As we begin our work with clients moving from less customer-focused service providers, we repeatedly find that by aligning with the business—partnering with customers to accomplish their goals—we can optimize performance and provision of technology resources, give greater visibility to IT costs (revealing and eliminating waste), introduce stability into fragile environments, and consistently exceed customer expectations. That is why we do not ask customers “What can we sell you?” Instead we ask, “Where are you now and where do you want to be?” Our cooperative and collaborative approach let us put our knowledge and experience to work to accomplish customer goals, wherever and whenever we’re needed.

—Jared A. Faulkner, Director of Information Technology

Fowler Technology Services, a Donco company