‘A Guide to Understanding Common HCI Architectures’

NetApp HCI allows organisations to transform how they consolidate, manage, and run workloads in the hybrid multicloud. Read on to discover how it could add value in your organisation.

If you’re short on time, our guide can teach you:

  • Why hyper converged infrastructure is a key enabler of digital transformation
  • How to understand the different HCI architectures
  • The strengths and weaknesses of different HCI architectures
  • How NetApp HCI works
  • Which solution you should choose

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A Guide to Understanding Common HCI Architectures


What is hyper converged infrastructure (HCI)?

Hyper converged infrastructure (HCI) solutions are built as clusters of commodity servers (x86) that provide an abstracted pool of capacity, memory, and CPU cores that are used as the foundation for server-centric workloads (the hypervisor, VMs, and applications) as well as storage-centric workloads (e.g. data persistence, data access, and data management).

NetApp HCI is an enterprise-scale hybrid cloud infrastructure that exceeds traditional hyper converged offerings through independent scale and guaranteed performance, while enabling cloud data services in an easy to consume on-premises model with self-service opportunities.

NetApp HCI delivers compute, storage and virtualisation resources in building blocks that are easy to consume and manage in a way that is predictable, flexible, and simple.


Hyper converged infrastructure explained

In HCI, both the storage area network and the underlying storage abstractions are implemented virtually in software (at or via the hypervisor).

Because all of the software-defined elements are implemented within the context of the hypervisor, management of all resources can be shared across all instances of a hyper converged infrastructure.

How does NetApp HCI work?

NetApp HCI integrates compute and storage nodes into a solution that is easy to deploy, manage, and scale. NetApp HCI is designed to simplify and automate otherwise mundane tasks with a low-friction, self-service, automated, and consistent consumption experience for multiple tenants running concurrently. This allows engineering teams to stop managing infrastructure and focus on delivering against the organisation’s service objectives and desired outcomes.


What is driving HCI?

The way that customers and users consume IT is changing. Growing expectations and an increasingly competitive landscape are driving infrastructure that can scale quickly and easily as new requirements and opportunities arrive.

Those that cannot follow cannot take advantage and will lose the competitive race. HCI is designed to be a low-friction, self-service, automated, cloud-like consistent consumption experience across all clouds, public and private, with additional commercial benefits.

To successfully implement digital transformation and create new applications, you need a multi-tenant cloud that can run all types of applications and workloads simultaneously.

Your business can no longer plan several years in advance and instead must be able to scale in small steps on demand. Organisations must be able to control the private cloud with API calls and code. Strong integration with container platforms is also vital. Finally, your business must be able to connect its private cloud to public clouds, provision a microservice in any of these clouds, and make it work together with other microservices. This is driving businesses to build private clouds with HCI.

HCI solutions deliver the proven benefits of traditional converged systems, but do so through a software-defined, scale-out architecture.

HCI deployments are driving benefits in three key areas:

  • Lower capex
  • Lower opex
  • Reduced risk

First made popular by public cloud operators like Google, Microsoft and Amazon, hyperconvergence emerged as a modern converged infrastructure architecture for next-generation applications.


Smaller companies that were ‘born in the cloud’ ignited further demand for scale-out, software-defined HCI systems. Meanwhile, established enterprises around the world began demanding the benefits that an HCI approach can provide — that of scale, automation, and agility.

On-premises HCI solutions found early success within midsize companies, remote office/branch office (ROBO) environments, and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) projects, due largely to their ability to eliminate the complexity, expense and latency often associated with SAN-based storage solutions.

Awareness of the benefits these solutions bring to the table has risen steadily among enterprise IT teams, resulting in increased market adoption.

NetApp HCI has since evolved beyond ‘hyper converged infrastructure’: a tool for sharing compute and storage resources that can start small and grow into something medium-sized.

NetApp HCI can now also be seen as ‘hybrid cloud infrastructure’, the private cloud in your multicloud environment. An HCI solution needs to be ready to receive all kinds of applications and microservices with guaranteed performance, integrated into the public clouds and container platforms.

NetApp HCI overview

NetApp HCI is an enterprise-scale hyper converged infrastructure that delivers predictable performance on a highly flexible, efficient architecture that is simple to deploy and manage. With NetApp HCI, you can run multiple applications with predictable performance to confidently deploy a hybrid multicloud experience across your entire data centre.

“We use HCI to provide shared compute to a variety of customers across the country.”

— Product Manager, Communications Industry (Gartner)

Unleash the true power of your infrastructure by simplifying management and independently scaling both compute and storage resources. One of the top differentiators for NetApp HCI, this allows your organisation to scale compute and/or storage on your terms without having to install capacity you cannot use, which is likely to increase costs.


Software is typically licensed by the CPU core. However, overprovisioning the CPU core is costly and wasteful. With NetApp HCI, you can buy as much as you need, when you need it. Netapp HCI has a selection of Intel Xeon CPUs with different core counts and clock speeds to meet your needs.

NetApp hyper converged architecture is Data Fabric-ready out of the box so you can access all your data across any cloud — public, private, or hybrid.

Why NetApp for HCI?

Regardless of your business needs, your hyper converged solution should be easy to buy, simple to control, and have consolidated management. HCIs should also make private cloud easy, provide a single vendor for support, provide pay-as-you-go expansion and economics, be easy to plan and scale, and respond rapidly to business demands. Different HCI vendors approach these business objectives differently. NetApp HCI took an enterprise approach to the current HCI market by separating compute and storage in our architectures.

No data centre or application requires compute and storage at the same rate or ratio. NetApp HCI provides flexibility to scale your infrastructure according to what your data centre and applications require. This predictable performance is based on an HCI industry first: quality of service (QoS) that guarantees minimum performance by application. This is another top differentiator.

NetApp HCI supports mixed workloads, meaning the workloads run together on the same HCI platform. They can also contend for the resources that they need to run such as memory, CPU, and storage. Contention causes unpredictable performance, affecting the delivery of service to the consumer. QoS gives you the means to portion performance on the basis of what your organisation requires to drive the desired performance outcomes for each workload.

Other HCI solutions do not have this granularity of QoS control, meaning they cannot mix workloads and end up selling multiple systems or silos/islands to support mixed workloads effectively.

NetApp HCI integrates with hybrid cloud on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and our proprietary Data Fabric.


In the past, traditional HCI vendors chose to deliver a shared core architecture that virtualised storage operating systems, or integrated them with the hypervisor. Running this architecture can consume up to 30% of infrastructure costs, and this approach leads to unpredictable performance at utilisation rates of 70% or above.

Software licenses are charged when applications only need more capacity. Traditional HCI also requires dedicated hardware and awareness of the location of customer data to ensure an optimal experience. It is simple enough for single application, remote office deployments, but quickly escalates into complexity in multi-application scenarios.

Unlike other hyper convergence solutions, NetApp HCI delivers enterprise-grade features including no-tax efficiencies such as inline deduplication, inline compression, and postprocess compression turned on by default.

The NetApp HCI architecture is designed for workload consolidation and VMware private clouds. NetApp HCI can scale to 40 storage nodes and 64 compute nodes, so you can scale at the ratio and rate that the application needs for compute and storage.

NetApp HCI features

NetApp is delivering a truly seamless hybrid multicloud experience. Features include availability of NetApp® Cloud Data Services on NetApp HCI, the ability to expand with persistent storage across the biggest public clouds, and the ability for customers to manage, use, and pay for cloud services the way they want to. This makes for a truly tailored, customisable service.

“They [NetApp] deliver what we need and understand our business.”

— IT Operations Manager, Communications Industry (Gartner)

To be successful, organisations must fuel data-driven innovation by leveraging the cloud and modernising their IT, bringing the power of the cloud to every part of their business through a hybrid multicloud experience. Only NetApp, with its data fabric strategy, has what customers need to build a unique data fabric designed for their business — in any cloud, through a single experience.

“NetApp’s data fabric offerings enable enterprises to seamlessly manage data across a multitude of IT infrastructures, covering on-premises and multiple public cloud service platforms”

— Deepak Mohan, Research Director, IDC

Key benefits NetApp HCI provides include:

Bring the public cloud experience on-premises to free developers to build anywhere

NetApp offers users a true hybrid multicloud experience with a consistent service consumption model across public clouds and on-premises. Now, customers can simplify effective infrastructure-as-a-service delivery on-premises and deliver new services and applications faster with NetApp Cloud Data Services on NetApp HCI, including:

  • NetApp Kubernetes Service on NetApp HCI
  • Cloud Volumes on NetApp HCI

Manage your data on any of the world’s biggest clouds

NetApp Cloud Data Services help customers transform their businesses by enabling them to take advantage of cloud innovation with enterprise data services that are consistently delivered across their choice of cloud. New enhancements in NetApp Cloud Data Services announced today include:

  • Cloud Volumes Service for Google Cloud
  • Cloud Volumes ONTAP® for Google Cloud

Build your data fabric

A data fabric provides a common framework for a seamless hybrid multicloud experience. NetApp helps customers build their unique data fabric to discover, integrate, automate, optimise, protect, and secure their data, applications, and resources.

This equals a common data, management, and service plane across the hybrid multicloud, meaning you have consistent, repeatable, and predictable processes and procedures. This provides your organisation with agility, flexibility, and financial efficiency.

NetApp has introduced new solutions and services including:

  • New fabric orchestration toolset
  • New pay-per-use offerings:
    • Cloud Consumption for NetApp HCI
    • Cloud Volumes Service On-Premises
  • NetApp Cloud Insights
  • New NetApp Professional Services for the Data Fabric

NetApp HCI benefits


One of the biggest challenges in any data centre is delivering predictable results, especially in the face of proliferating applications and workloads. Any time you have multiple applications sharing the same infrastructure, it’s possible for one application to interfere with the performance of another. NetApp HCI solves predictability challenges with unique performance guarantees that allow the granular control of every application. NetApp HCI’s performance settings eliminate resource contention and variable application performance.


The relentless pace of business change means you need maximum flexibility to adapt to any workload while using existing investments. No cloud is the same, data centres don’t scale linearly, and each application demands different requirements from the infrastructure.

NetApp HCI offers a highly configurable design that enables cloud-native application development and agile operations for virtualised environments. It has a node-based shared-nothing architecture that delivers independent scaling of compute and storage resources. This enables you to dynamically scale up or down on demand, avoiding costly and inefficient over-provisioning and simplifying capacity and performance planning.


Cloud has set the bar for how users consume IT and manage services. A common experience across private and public cloud is becoming the expectation for IT organisations.

One shared goal is to automate all routine tasks, eliminating the risk of user errors associated with manual operations. NetApp HCI streamlines installation through an intuitive deployment engine, meaning it takes minutes instead of hours. Simple, centralised management with VMware lets you control NetApp HCI through tools you already use. NetApp HCI thus allows you to focus valuable resources on higher priorities that drive business growth.


More specifically, NetApp HCI allows you to:

Reduce Consumption Costs

  • Consolidate multiple workloads and reduce TCO by 59%
  • Pay less as you grow more
  • Remove or reduce infrastructure capex


  • Hybrid cloud, one infrastructure
  • Dynamically scale up and/or down
  • Leverage existing investments and redeploy


  • Common experience across public and private clouds
  • Integrated with data fabric powered by NetApp
  • 92% less administrative time with nondisruptive scaling and no downtime
  • Centralise and streamline management

NetApp use cases

Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure

Only NetApp’s enterprise-scale hyper converged infrastructure lets you consume public cloud services on-premises, run anywhere.

End-User Computing/VDI

Realise your vision. Accelerate deployment. Deliver an optimum user experience with NetApp HCI and VMware Horizon.

Workload Consolidation

Run all your applications on one infrastructure and maximise your investment with minimal performance risk.

“The Netapp HCI system provides great performance with 10G end to end connectivity”

— Senior System Administrator, Manufacturing Industry (Gartner)


NetApp HCI has the most comprehensive cloud connectivity in the industry today, enabling you to design and deliver a consistent consumption experience across your multicloud.

This brings the ease of cloud-like consumption on premise and enables provisioning of well-known platforms such as VMware Private Cloud and Google Anthos, as well as NetApp Kubernetes and NetApp Cloud Volumes services to your on-premises cloud deployment.

What is hybrid cloud infrastructure?

It’s rapidly becoming a multicloud world. To become a data-driven company in the digital era, you need to completely rethink your cloud strategy and your approach to data services.

Hybrid cloud data services act as a toolkit for mastering your digital transformation objectives, allowing you to retain full control over your data while getting the most business value and velocity from the resources at your disposal.

Investing in cloud services allows organisations to take advantage of new data services that are tailored to a hybrid cloud environment and capable of delivering the performance, reliability, and efficiency that critical applications and services require.

Deploying data services across a hybrid cloud can help you respond faster and stay ahead of the competition. In addition, it can help you to:

  • Transform your organisation to become data-driven
  • Control and secure your data in a hybrid cloud
  • Accelerate IT innovation to drive business growth

Based on frictionless consumption, self-service, automation, and programmable APIs, hyper converged infrastructure accelerates new services across your clouds. Extending those benefits, NetApp’s disaggregated hybrid cloud infrastructure allows independent scaling of compute and storage, adapting to workloads with guaranteed performance. Reduce costs with unified data orchestration and integration across public, private, and on-premises environments.

Why build a data fabric?

Data Fabric is an architecture and set of data services that provide consistent capabilities across a choice of endpoints spanning on-premises and multiple cloud environments.

Data Fabric simplifies and integrates data management across cloud and on-premises to accelerate digital transformation. It delivers consistent and integrated hybrid cloud data services for data visibility and insights, data access and control and data protection and security.

The NetApp Data Fabric ultimately helps your organisation unleash the power of data to meet business demands and gain a competitive edge. It allows your IT organisation to better harness the power of hybrid cloud, build a hybrid multicloud experience, and modernise storage through data management.

Download the white paper, ‘Inspiring Innovation with the Cloud’ to learn more about the benefits of hybrid cloud infrastructure and the NetApp Data Fabric.

HCI for mixed enterprise workloads

According to the latest ESG survey, 57% of respondents reported that they use or plan to use HCI solutions. This is not surprising, given the factors driving them to consider HCI. However, many companies are concerned about the capabilities of their HCI environments, especially in terms of performance, scalability, and data protection and disaster recovery features. 

With this in mind, ESG put NetApp HCI to the test to assess its own capabilities using a heavy virtual desktop workload in a hybrid cloud environment.

Scalability testing began with a NetApp HCI cluster with four storage nodes and two compute nodes. They tested the following:

  • The NetApp HCI dashbaoard
  • The independent scalability of compute and storage resources
  • Whether the performance was impacted when using the same configuration of servers and benchmarks before and after a storage upgrade
  • And more..

Organisations that are modernising their data centres to support their current business initiatives would benefit greatly by reading the research to truly understand how their digital transformation, cloud architectures and agile development could benefit from NetApp HCI.

Request your copy of the in-depth report, Guaranteeing Mixed-workload Performance with NetApp HCI to discover how NetApp HCI performed.

HCI for VMware Private Cloud

VMware provides a hypervisor and management console to abstractly provision virtual machines (VMs) for practically any purpose. VMware also offers a suite of products to provide cloud-like provisioning and oversight of VMs, allowing customer self-service, centralised operations, debugging capabilities, and departmental or customer bill-back accounting. VMware defines the construct of the software-defined data centre (SDDC), which enables private cloud models.

By combining NetApp HCI and VMware Private Cloud products, an IT department can quickly build out hardware resources at exactly the required capacity, without unused excesses. It further enables an IT department to conduct, troubleshoot, and monitor the environment from several utilities available from a single console.

The combination also allows you to deploy VMs, either transiently or long term, using exactly the resources needed for the application. If your requirements change, you can alter the resource allocation dynamically to suit your needs without intervention by the IT staff.


Finally, the combination allows detailed accounting of how the infrastructure is being used, both in provisioning and in actual use. Discrepancies between requirements and demands are easily identified, and separate departments and consumers can be accurately assessed for their use of the HCI environment.

Download the technical FAQ, ‘NetApp HCI with VMware Private Cloud’ to learn more about VMware, including the benefits of deploying VMware’s Private Cloud.

HCI data protection with Veeam® software

Veeam® is an industry-leading automated backup, recovery, and replication software that helps businesses achieve comprehensive data protection for all workloads. With a single console, achieve fast, flexible, and reliable backup, recovery and replication of all applications and data, on-premises or in the cloud.

Veeam® can create value for you and your business by ensuring data protection, data recoverability, data availability, and data management within a hyper converged infrastructure.

NetApp Data Fabric and Veeam Availability Platform™ deliver the simplicity, performance, and agility required to meet the explosive demand for data in today’s multicloud world.


With Veeam® and NetApp combined, you can simplify your IT, reduce risk, and lower costs through more automated backup and recovery capabilities for multicloud workloads.

Download the white paper: ‘Five Key Factors to Consider for HCI Data Protection’ to learn more.

HCI in the public sector

Across all industries, the same theme emerges as changes in the way citizens consume services and the expectations for the availability of services are recognised and defined. Being a data driven organisation is now mandatory if you expect to compete, succeed, and grow.

NetApp’s Data Fabric plays a critical role in three IT imperatives that describe a seamless, consistent experience wherever you run your business:

  • Modernise and simplify IT
  • Build private clouds
  • Data driven innovation across the hybrid multicloud

This strategy and vision forms the backbone to all products and solutions NetApp brings to market. NetApp products deliver a consistent, predictable, and repeatable experience both on-premise and in the cloud.

This vision aligns well with current government and education strategies, with NetApp hyper converged infrastructure being a key example of a product that is data fabric enabled.

At the heart of the Data Fabric is connectivity. Government and education organisations are increasingly looking to the public cloud to provide services for certain workloads for greater flexibility and agility.


Gartner reports that 69% of organisations are using one private and one public cloud, while 58% now have a hybrid multicloud strategy in place.

NetApp HCI and the NetApp Data Fabric can help you deliver your digital transformation project though modern, cost effective, cloud connected technology. It will bust silos of operation, allowing you to consolidate applications, data, and services, giving you the flexibility to bring services into the public cloud with simple, automated, cloud-like consumption.

For more information on how NetApp HCI can help you meet your public sector digital transformation goals, request your copy of the white paper, ‘The Evolution of Hyperconvergence and NetApp’s Role in This Rapidly Expanding Market’.

Introducing NetApp HCI in your organisation

The benefits of introducing NetApp HCI in your organisation are numerous — giving you the predictability, flexibility, and simplicity to focus valuable resources on higher priorities that drive business growth. However, knowing how to adopt it successfully is crucial.

At Q Associates, we’re passionate about helping you get it right. As an award-winning IT infrastructure and data management specialist, we work closely with NetApp to ensure we can deploy the latest technology successfully.

In collaboration with your business, we can combine our skills and knowledge to help you adopt NetApp HCI in your organisation seamlessly.

To learn more about NetApp HCI and how it can enable your digital transformation, download the tech insight, ‘Not All Hyper Converged Infrastructure Solutions Are Created Equal’ today.