- Hyper-convergence is emerging in healthcare IT as a way for organizations to consolidate their IT systems to cut back on costs and management.
Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is a framework that combines storage, computing, and networking into a single system so organizations can reduce the complexity of their data centers through virtualization and software defined storage and networking.
HCI allows organizations so manage things a lot more efficiently because there’s one team that can solve problems much more quickly through a common user interface.
Many healthcare organizations began their hyper-convergence with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), VMware VP of Products, Storage and Availability Lee Caswell told HITInfrastructure.com at VMworld 2017.
“Entities are looking for a cost-effective way to go and add virtual desktops for nurses and doctors,” said Casewell. “Nurses usually got non-persistent desktops, and doctors would get persistent desktops, so they had mixed workloads.”
The adoption of HCI for VDI drove the need for flash.
“HCI gave organizations access to all flash at about half the cost, which became really important because most people know what a desktop is supposed to look like and feel like. If the desktop didn’t boot fast enough or perform quickly enough users notice,” Caswell explained. “There are a lot of flash systems using VDI. VDI is a good starting point because a lot of the deployments are outside the data center.”
“The healthcare market by its very nature tends to move relatively slowly, and service people move slowly anyway,” Caswell continued. “It's the organization’s data at the end of that day, so they just need to pick the right applications to get started. That's why VDI was such a good early use case, and we're seeing some hospitals, and some healthcare facilities adopting it.
Healthcare organizations see what HCI can do for VDI deployments and are starting to really consider what it could do for them if they used HCI to run regular database applications.
However, some organizations remain hesitant because of their more conservative applications.
“When organizations look at Cerner or Epic or some of the classic healthcare apps, they're taking their time with those,” said Caswell.
Replacing infrastructure systems with hyper-convergence is a large undertaking, but organizations are considering HCI against refreshing their storage array.
“If you look at what an all-Flash storage system costs, and you compare it with an HCI system, you can get started for about half the cost,” Caswell explained. “Organizations basically buy these in server increments, so they're more like bite-sized chunks, as opposed to something that's so big and it can’t be reconfigured.”
Many organizations have traditionally bought storage, which can get cumbersome. HCI calls for an organizational change that some entities may not be ready for.
The most common HCI use is VDI, but there are other use cases for HCI that are being explored in health IT infrastructure.
“Organizations are using HCI for testing and development,” said Caswell. “HCI is good for organizations that need a flexible environment to deploy and redeploy quickly during development.”
“This is the first year that the majority of our workloads are databases,” he continued. “That's because once you get a very consistent performance, you can simplify and bring down the cost. For a lot of hospitals, costs are a big driver right now. The second is just how many IT people do they have for storage? It turns out it's a smaller number who know storage than who know virtualization, so far.”
HCI is also based on ethernet so the servers are not hindered by wireless internet speeds.
“Most healthcare storage systems are based on proprietary SANs, like fiber channel,” Caswell explained. “So you've got a separate switch architecture and fiber channel. One of the nice things about hyper-convergence is it's based on ethernet. There's no LAN installed somewhere. So you've got all this common leverage of just fewer skills to go and learn. Part of that is because it used to be that fiber channel was faster than ethernet.”
“Then Ethernet caught up and now is past it,” he continued. “Storage systems used to be faster because they were proprietary hardware, and you could build something that was special. It's all coming to servers first. You have all this massive influx of technology that's hitting HCI and making it possible to go do things with standard servers or standard technology that used to take proprietary stuff that was expensive to buy and then complex to manage.”
Caswell made a case for on-premises servers and HCI over cloud because it saves organizations money in the long run.
“Organizations have really looked at the cloud and realized that it's flexible, but it's not cheap,” Caswell advised. “It's like a rental car. It's great for a day. It's good for a week, but if you rent a car for a year you start thinking, ‘I could lease or own that car. It'd be less expensive, and I know how to drive a car.’”
“If what you really want is to be responsive and flexible, then HCI gives you that by having a building block approach where you've got servers that are smaller increments and less expensive,” he continued. “Then to scale it up you just buy another server, and that adds to both the compute and then the storage piece as well. You had a little bit more inbred flexibility, and now you have a cost basis that looks more like the economics that you like.”
Caswell advised healthcare organizations considering hyper-convergence to consider their servers and what they can consolidate.
“There's a lot of new servers out, and organizations refresh their servers about every three years,” said Caswell. “Entities should find a server refresh where they can deploy hyper-convergence and get storage along with the servers. Healthcare really values the choice of server. HCI gives organizations the flexibility of choosing the hardware that they want.”
Hyper-convergence gives organizations the option of managing their own systems while cutting back on overall infrastructure costs. Consolidating the network, storage, and compute aspects of IT infrastructure gives organizations much more visibility and control over their environment.