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This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter - Recent posts by Zeus Kerravala.

Once primarily put in place for virtual desktop infrastructure,
HCI is now handling mission-critical workloads — UC included.

When two seemingly unrelated things come together, the combination often can have great results. For example, a Reese’s peanut butter cup is the “perfect combination of chocolate and peanut butter and the perfect companion for movies sports and parties.”

Does such a thing exist in the tech world? Sure. When mobile devices first started sporting cameras, that combination seemed weird. But now it’s become a core requirement for every Snapchatting, Tweeting, Instagramming teen out there.

What about hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and unified communications (UC)? Seems like an odd combination, but bringing the two together actually makes a lot of sense — particularly in this communications era that has enterprises rethinking the architecture of their solutions.

One or Two?

To fully understand, let’s take a step back and look at current UC deployments. Enterprises have two options in rolling out UC. The first, and most widely used, is on-premises — the UC software runs on servers that IT either manages internally or through a managed services provider. The benefit of this is the company maintains complete control over the operations and security of the system. On the downside, on-premises systems are notoriously complex. And they don’t scale very well, so the enterprise typically needs to over-provision to accommodate for peak usage, which, of course, is a waste of resources.

Option two is to use a cloud service. UCaaS provides all the benefits one would expect from cloud anything, including elastic scaling, consumption-based pricing, and dramatically simplified operations. On the downside, enterprises lose direct control over the infrastructure and security. (I can argue both sides of the security coin with respect to cloud, but many companies perceive cloud to be less secure.)

In many ways the cloud versus on-premises decision comes down to which things the enterprise is willing to compromise on, since both have their strengths and weaknesses. What if there was a way to deliver the benefits of the cloud and on-premises deployments? Wouldn’t that be ideal?

Well, there is, and it’s called HCI.

If UC is going to deliver a great user experience, core foundational technologies — networking, storage, servers, and virtualization — need to work in concert. HCI vendors bring these technologies together, leveraging low-cost, commodity hardware. The HCI vendor handles all of the testing, tuning, and configuration settings, so the enterprise gets the benefit of a fully validated, integrated solution.

Elastic Like a Cloud

Think of HCI as a turnkey, private cloud solution managed through vendor software. Not only can IT organizations use the product almost right out of the box, they can optimize their storage, compute, and network utilization. HCI allows companies to buy for today and then easily scale as needed. This is what gives HCI the elasticity for which enterprises typically look to the cloud.

Additionally, if deployed in conjunction with a storage-area network (SAN), administrators can use snapshot tools for backups or live migration tools to move UC workloads from one system to another, enabling ease of maintenance without disrupting the user population. Smaller businesses that don’t have a SAN can run UC on bare metal with multiple hypervisors to create a higher level of resiliency.

HCI solutions have been available for a number of years now, primarily for use with virtual desktop infrastructure. Recently, however, I’ve talked to a number of enterprises using HCI for SQL, Oracle, SAP, and other mission-critical workloads — and there is no reason UC systems can’t run on them as well.

UC buyers should take note and consider HCI as a way of radically simplifying the infrastructure required to run UC. In the diagram below, from Nutanix, you can see the allocation of varying amounts of resources to different workloads based on their needs. An enterprise could scale the system by allocating more cores as needed or by attaching another system to the node. (For more on how HCI could work for UC, tune in on demand to the recent Nutanix-sponsored webinar, hosted by No Jitter and Enterprise Connect, “Virtualizing UC&C: The Role of Hyperconvergence“.)

Digital trends are causing organizations to rethink their IT strategies so they can be faster and more agile. The world of communications has lagged behind other parts of IT even though UC is a critical enabler of digital transformation. UCaaS is dominating UC decisions today, but it’s not for everyone. Businesses that want to retain on-premises deployments but still have that cloud-like experience should consider HCI — it’s a proven, mature technology capable of simplifying UC deployments.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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