What is hyperconverged storage?
Explore IBM software-defined storage solutions
Technicians in a data center

Published: 13 February 2024
Contributors: Josh Schneider, Ian Smalley

What is hyperconverged storage?

Hyperconverged storage is an approach to data storage architecture in which software-defined storage resources are pooled and managed within a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI).

Traditional storage arrays and components used in data centers require separate storage management, often resulting in over-partitioning and inefficient resource allocation. Alternatively, hyperconverged storage integrates all storage directly into the HCI stack, along with compute and networking functions. Through virtualization, HCI untethers storage resources from individual pieces of hardware, making hyperconverged storage far more flexible and scalable than traditional storage solutions. 

Software-defined architecture: The foundation of IT infrastructure transformation

Discover how a software-defined architecture provides the greatest value, whether deployed as software, as an array or as hyperconverged infrastructure.

Related content

Subscribe to the IBM Newsletter

Converged infrastructure vs. hyperconverged infrastructure

To better understand hyperconverged storage, it helps to compare the differences between converged infrastructure (CI) and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI).

What is converged infrastructure?

Data centers built on a converged infrastructure methodology integrate various components like servers, storage and networking into singular, pre-engineered solutions. These systems use modular hardware appliances to incorporate compute, networking and storage features into one manageable system. Actual data storage is handled by storage area networks (SAN), network-attached storage (NAS) and direct attached storage (DAS) modules.

CI systems do simplify deployment and management compared to non-converged systems but fail to take full advantage of software virtualization as the storage of any given appliance is still bound to the underlying hardware.

What is hyperconverged infrastructure?

Hyperconverged systems take convergence a step further. By not only integrating hardware components but also abstracting them into software-defined storage (SDS), hyperconverged infrastructure can more efficiently pool and share hyperconverged storage resources across the entire virtual storage area network (vSAN). This abstraction effectively untethers storage to create a shared storage pool that’s flexible, cost-effective and agile.

A hyperconverged infrastructure solution provides admin access and resource automation through a software layer known as a hypervisor, a single system capable of integrating all available storage across all data center components into one hyperconverged platform.

Since HCI software does not require specialty HCI appliances and runs on common commodity hardware with high availability, both HCI vendors and IT teams recognize hyperconverged storage as a cost-effective way to scale out data storage resources.

Key components of hyperconverged storage

Hyperconverged storage is one element of a hyperconverged system. To understand how hyperconverged storage fits into a hyperconverged data center, let’s take a look at the key components of hyperconverged infrastructure.

Software-defined storage (SDS)

The lynchpin of hyperconverged storage, SDS abstracts and virtualizes the underlying physical storage of data center components, eliminating the need for specialized storage arrays and allowing for a more efficient partitioning of total storage resources. 

Hypervisor

A hypervisor is a specialized software layer that manages the workloads of hyperconverged systems by creating virtual machines (VMs), which function like digital representations of unique hardware components.

Nodes

Within an HCI environment, a node is a self-contained unit comprising compute, storage and networking resources. Nodes work together to create a unified, virtualized IT infrastructure. 

Compute

Compute components run VMs and apps within hyperconverged platforms.

Networking

The networking component of each node uses software-defined networking (SDN) to enable communication between nodes and facilitate data transfer within the HCI.

Benefits of hyperconverged storage

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) offers several cost-saving and performance-enhancing advantages:

  • Scalability: Hyperconverged storage is extremely simple to scale, allowing organizations to start with any number of nodes and seamlessly add or subtract additional nodes as their workload demands evolve.
  • Data protection: HCI solutions typically offer improved resiliency and data security through automated snapshot backups and redundancies. In the event of hardware failure, HCI can quickly repartition hyperconverged storage to restore lost data and reduce downtime. 
  • Simplified management: HCI simplifies data center management for IT teams and admins by combining full system control into a single, unified dashboard. 
  • Cost savings: Hyperconverged systems offer a variety of savings benefits, from utilizing high-availability commodity hardware to streamlining operational expenses. 
  • High performance: Hyperconverged storage systems are competent at leveraging high-speed storage devices, such as solid-state drives (SSDs), for fast and responsive resource allocation during even highly demanding use cases like the operation of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

 

Challenges of hyperconverged storage

Although hyperconvergence is typically an effective way to streamline IT operations for efficiency and scalability, there are a few drawbacks to unpack when considering hyperconverged storage:

  • Vendor incompatibility: While HCI does not require specialized hardware and can run on industry-standard x86 servers, many HCI vendor solutions tend to lock consumers into their own specific, walled ecosystems. However, there are also many vendors whose products aren’t locked off if compatibility is a priority when considering an hyperconverged solution.
  • Specialized performance: Improved performance is generally considered to be a major benefit of hyperconvergence, however for some particular workloads like high-performance computing (HPC) and generative artificial intelligence (AI), hyperconverged storage may not be the best choice. Some HCI vendors offer uniquely tailored solutions better engineered to accomplish certain demanding tasks, but these specialized solutions often come with higher costs. 
  • Migration: Hyperconverged storage offers a lot of flexibility within a hyperconverged system. However, organizations that may want to migrate away from a HCI later may encounter specific challenges migrating to a different type of architecture. 
  • Capacity: While not true for all hyperconverged nodes, some nodes are only able to scale up and are not designed to be scaled out. Practically speaking, adding more storage may also require adding more compute and networking as well, as many HCI solutions do not support additional traditional storage arrays. 
Hyperconverged storage use cases

The following are just a few of the main uses cases for hyperconverged storage.

Cloud computing

While public cloud computing services such as those offered by providers like IBM, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft or Dell do offer scalable storage solutions, hyperconverged storage offers an excellent alternative for organizations looking to invest in their own private cloud or hybrid cloud alternatives. 

Physical expansion

For growing organizations looking to establish a new branch office, hyperconverged storage offers increased resources with a smaller on-premises footprint.

Disaster recovery

Hyperconverged storage makes it far easier for organizations to back up and store their data, making hyperconverged infrastructure solutions ideal for disaster recovery.  

Related solutions
IBM software-defined storage solutions

Software-defined storage (SDS) provides the flexible storage foundation you need for hybrid cloud, digital transformation and more.

Explore IBM SDS solutions

IBM Storage FlashSystem

More in store for your business. Cyber resilience, performance and power efficiency.

Explore IBM Storage FlashSystem

IBM Storage Fusion

Accelerate time to value by leveraging cloud-native infrastructure for your applications on virtual machines and containers on Red Hat OpenShift.

Explore IBM Storage Fusion
Resources 5 key reasons to opt for hyperconverged infrastructure

Explore why many organizations are turning to hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) to greatly simplify and optimize data center operations and realize capital expenditure (capex) reductions for many use cases.

IBM Storage Fusion brief

IBM Storage® Fusion helps enable organizations to achieve the cloud-native agility and speed they seek, while mitigating the risks associated with the introduction of new technology.

What is data storage?

Data storage refers to magnetic, optical or mechanical media that records and preserves digital information for ongoing or future operations.

Storage for server and desktop virtualization

Storage virtualization makes your data and storage resources for virtualized server and desktop environments secure, reliable and efficient.

What is VMware?

Learn more about VMware, virtualization software, virtual machines, and how they are all a crucial part of many enterprises' IT infrastructures.

What are hypervisors?

A hypervisor is software that enables multiple instances of operating systems to run on the same physical computing resources.

Take the next step

Learn how IBM can help your organization take advantage of hyperconverged storage. From optimizing for performance to scaling for growth, software-defined storage storage provides the flexible foundation you need for hybrid cloud, digital transformation and more. Discover how software-defined architecture provides the cost-effective agility you need to enable data-driven, multi-cloud enterprise without the need for proprietary hardware.

Explore IBM software-defined storage solutions