Legendary science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke once postulated in his third law that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Of course, this assumes the observers of said “magic” are themselves unaware of the technology. In the world of data centers, IT executives and tech-savvy end users, there is no magic. When an infrastructure technology evolves into the de facto foundation of other solutions - well, it may not be magic, but its ubiquity makes it almost invisible.

That invisibility doesn’t necessarily make the technology less valuable to its inventors or users. Take electricity, for example. It is both visible and invisible, and its presence is almost assured wherever you go. Yet without electricity, countless applications and supporting devices would never have been invented. Civilization as we know it wouldn’t exist.

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is on such a journey. HCI technology is fast becoming perfected and adapted to the point that it’s just assumed it will be the core of the modern data center, both today and tomorrow. Now it’s time to innovate on this foundation, finding and illuminating use cases that - without HCI - could not be addressed in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

electricity pylon power line distribution Thinkstock gyn9038
– Thinkstock gyn9038

The magic begins: A brief history of HCI

HCI began as a software-defined IT infrastructure based on a hypervisor to virtualize all the primary components of a computing environment - CPUs, storage and networking. This led to the development of modular and scalable HCI appliances tightly integrating all these components. Such appliances were (and are) ideal for use in cloud data centers and have enabled companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon to build and hyperscale their own private clouds. HCI has also enabled virtual desktop environments (VDI) for enterprises in every industry, not to mention other specific applications like video surveillance.

HCI applications have typically focused on single use cases, but continuous advances in policy-based management and performance enhancements have driven more rapid, broader adoption.

Today, corporate IT teams are searching for simplified and cost-effective solutions for managing hybrid cloud infrastructures (on-premise private clouds connected to public clouds). HCI can help bridge the management gap between public and private clouds. Highly composable - that is, configurable, scalable, and “orchestrate-able” - HCI can be fine-tuned to specific environments - whether core, cloud or edge - workloads and workload performance priorities.

Beyond Infrastructure to Purpose-Built Solutions

HCI is no longer “new.” Its acceptance is now broad enough that customers are looking for more than just efficient virtual infrastructure management from their vendors and appliances. They are looking for purpose-built solutions.

Best-of-breed HCI solutions are built so they can adapt to leverage emerging technologies as they evolve. That’s important to vendors that want to provide robust vertical solutions on top of their HCI architecture. Customers simply want something that works, works immediately and solves their problem right out of the box.

As Gartner analyst John-David Lovelock observed, “Information technology has changed. IT has gone from supporting the business to being the business.”

In other words, customers want more from their IT dollars than hardware, support personnel, contracts and just keeping the lights on. They want to buy IT innovation, services and solutions that deliver more than just infrastructure, but also the business solutions the infrastructure supports.

Becoming Invisible, Maybe, But Hardly Irrelevant

Should this worry today’s HCI providers? Not if they’re thinking strategically and listening to their customers.

We vendors have provided reliable, efficient and high-performance infrastructure, and these solutions work very well. But customers aren’t likely to call up asking about HCI alone. Because while HCI isn’t magic, it is becoming almost as invisible as electricity many years ago.

To evolve, HCI has to become a standard service on which broader business solutions are grounded. To a customer’s mind, “HCI-as-a-Service” should be a “software-defined platform that can handle my business’ unique needs.” And it should do that regardless of whether physical devices are on-premise, in a cloud or even IoT devices on the edge.

It needs to be simply managed and customized on the fly, with hardly a thought to how the underlying operations are carried out. The distinction between appliances, software and, business processes will blur to the point where underlying infrastructure will no longer be a consideration in the procurement and deployment process.

It’s not Magic, Just the Invisible Foundation for Future Innovation

What does all this really mean for the future of HCI?

Yes, businesses need HCI for specific uses cases. They also need extensibility, simple cloud integration, workload and workload performance automation, and the overall intelligence required to simplify management of all this at enterprise scale. HCI delivers these today. But tomorrow, customers will ask for more encompassing solutions that address a broader business need.

Emerging technologies are endless—software-defined everything, Everything-as-a-Service, edge computing, fog computing, automated composability and more. Some of these will survive, some will not. The true digital renaissance, however, isn’t born solely of shiny new objects like IoT, robotics and AI/ML. These innovations will fundamentally change not only the way business works, but the world itself and how we solve global challenges. That kind of renaissance, however, requires a proven foundation that can stand the test of time. One that can evolve, silently and invisibly thrive, and enable the newcomers to reach their potentials.

That platform of platforms? As we ride the wave of continuous disruption, HCI remains stable, and now almost invisible in its ubiquity. It will be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It may not be obvious or shiny, but it’s the foundation on which new breakthroughs will rely.