Real Words or Buzzwords?: Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

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This is the 32nd article in the “Real Words or Buzzwords?” series about how real words become empty words and stifle technology progress.

By Ray Bernard, PSP, CHS-III


Hyper-Converged Infrastructure has been a hot phrase in IT for several years, but do its promises hold true for the physical security industry?

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  • The phrase Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) has been appearing in my email Inbox for several years, and I realized it was not going away. That meant I needed to closely examine the technologies out there in case they could hold some value for physical security systems. Sometimes when a popular phrase itself sounds kind of hype-ish, especially when the words are more conceptual than tech-specific, it is easy to dismiss it out of hand, which I thought in this case might be a mistake. But that’s just what I had been doing without realizing it.

    Many IT folks already know most of what I’m about to say, except for the parts about the impacts on the physical security industry. So, for IT-savvy readers who already understand what HCI is about, the first portion of this article may be a very fast read.

    Converged Infrastructure

    How did I make the mistake of dismissing HCI in the first place? I realized that I have been hearing the term Converged Infrastructure for nearly a decade. Six years ago, in an article titled, Converged Infrastructure Takes the Market by Storm, David Valente described it this way (I added the bold emphasis): “Converged infrastructure (CI) is an integrated set of compute, storage, and networking components with infrastructure management software that provides a single logical chunk of hardware and software that is either specifically engineered together or at the very least tested and proven in a variety of configurations and applications. Converged infrastructure simplifies hardware and software management and accelerates the deployment of infrastructure for private clouds.”

    That didn’t sound so revolutionary to me at the time, and I thought of it as “something to help data center efficiency.” I didn’t catch the true value of “infrastructure management software”, and I didn’t understand the role of commodity hardware components (which David Valente didn’t mention), until yesterday. It turns out that virtualization, infrastructure management software, and commodity hardware are a big deal, especially for Hyper-Converged Infrastructure. But what is the “Hyper” label about?

    Let’s jump to a 4-1/2-minute video where Saturn Business Systems has Carol Z. explain what “hyper-converged” means. You’ll hear many value statements that apply to physical security systems deployments, especially on-premises video surveillance system deployments. All the points that Carol makes in this video are critical to understanding the value of Hyper-Converged Infrastructure.

    Both converged and hyper-converged infrastructure provide a preconfigured package of software and hardware in a single system for simplified management. But with converged infrastructure, the compute, storage, and networking components are discrete and can be separated. With hyper-converged infrastructure, the preconfigured package is a single product provided by a single vendor. The way it scales up is by connecting more preconfigured packages together, whose infrastructure management software keeps it all looking like a single package to its users.

    The Value of Converged Infrastructure

    The full value of converged infrastructure (including hyper-converged infrastructure) becomes more apparent when you consider it in the context of the two major information technology trends: prices go down while capabilities and capacities go up, both on exponential curves. Data disk drives are one example of exponential capability advancement.

    NVMe (non-volatile memory express) is a recently developed standard for technology that uses a computer motherboard’s Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) bus for solid state drives to communicate with a computer.  NVMe SSDs are a good example of an exponential increase in technology capabilities over time. The sustained data throughput of three common types of drives as of August 2018 is:

    • SATA Hard Drive: 200 MBps (megabytes per second)
    • SATA SSD: 550 MBps
    • NVMe SSD: 3GBps

    Converged infrastructure combines various types of components to optimize performance and capacity. For example, it may utilize more NVMe storage and less traditional SATA drive storage, to increase the throughput of some types of data to eliminate bottlenecks.

    Converged infrastructure’s management software remains basically the same, regardless of the type and number of computing, storage and networking components that make up the infrastructure. This drastically lowers the infrastructure management burden regardless of scale.

    Converged Infrastructure can take maximum advantage of key digital technology sub-trends for cost and performance benefits, as changes to the underlying infrastructure don’t change the overlying application systems, who are running in a virtualized environment. It’s a future friendly experience for application developers and end users.

    Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

    Converged infrastructure is what the cloud’s resource pooling is all about. Hyper-converged infrastructure bring that cloud computing characteristic down on the ground, not just to corporate data centers but to any location where applications require high computing power and sizeable data storage. That, of course, makes it ideal for networked security video surveillance systems.

    I got a deeper understanding of HCI from the recorded Q4 Converged & Hyperconverged Infrastructure MegaCast that compares eight different approaches to hyperconvergence. One of the eight is a name you may know, Pivot3.  This is a four-hour video. The Pivot3 presentation by Ben Bolles starts at 33:12 into the video and runs for 30 minutes.

    Pivot3 has appliance products for data centers as well as for security video surveillance deployments. It’s the video surveillance products that interested me.

    Robustness and High Data Security

    One of my pet peeves about the security industry (as I have mentioned throughout this article series) is what I call “shallow IT adoption”, by which I mean that bits and pieces of information technology are adopted for physical security systems, but not to the extent that they should be, especially regarding IT design, development and deployment practices.

    It turns out that this does not describe Pivot3, who has taken the application of information technology to the Nth degree with their products, utilizing HCI capabilities to tune the infrastructure for security video workloads, providing this these advantages:

    • Tech Manageability. Ability to host multiple applications/workloads on same cluster of server hardware in an easily managed environment. For example: Access Control, VMS, Video Analytics, PSIM, etc.
    • Inherent Resiliency. Provides a much more fault-tolerant platform than is typical, without having to utilize, for example, third-party hot redundancy software.
    • High Scalability. Enable simple expansion of compute and storage capabilities. Just add another HCI appliance which becomes a part of the underlying infrastructure, sharing its computing power and capacity with no change to the overlying operating system or applications. It’s the HCI infrastructure management software that makes this a simple change.
    • High Performance. Optimize for high ingest performance and is ideally suited for write-intensive video surveillance/recording applications. The ingest data path can include NVMe SSDs, SATA SSDs and traditional SATA spinning hard drives to provide maximum throughput performance and minimize the potential for bottlenecks and/or packet/frame loss. One version of Pivot3’s infrastructure management software, Acuity for IoT/Surveillance, accomplishes this optimization.

    Some of Pivot3’s products include Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) technology – a term coined by VMware – by which virtualization technology is used to run a desktop operating system and its application software on a centralized server in a data center or in a hyper-converged infrastructure package. To access the desktop requires only a VDI-enabled display and keyboard – or a VDI application running on a touch-screen tablet.

    What this means is that, for example, if a Security Operations Center’s security system applications are running on Pivot3 HCI packages, they can be securely accessed on a workstation, laptop or tablet remotely through an  encrypted connection, without concern for electronic data loss via the network or the connected device. All the electronic data remains safely in the secure SOC location. No data resides at the end user’s location.

    The Future of Security Systems

    Expect to see more adoption of advanced information technologies to provide us with physical security systems that give end users full capabilities regardless of where they are. Also expect to see IT-style improvements in security system infrastructure management,  such as the Camera Firmware Update Manager from Viakoo, which can handle automated firmware updating of many thousands of cameras deployed across hundreds of facility locations.  The IT industry learned long ago that automated infrastructure management tools were the only cost-effective way to reduce the human infrastructure management burden and eliminate human errors – and the only possible way to deal with large-scale technology deployments. The arrival of hyper-converged infrastructure out of the cloud and into security system deployments, and the arrival of large-scale deployment infrastructure management tools, are strong signs of good things to come for security industry technology.

    Ray Bernard, PSP CHS-III, is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (RBCS), a firm that provides security consulting services for public and private facilities (www.go-rbcs.com). In 2018 IFSEC Global listed Ray as #12 in the world’s top 30 Security Thought Leaders. He is the author of the Elsevier book Security Technology Convergence Insights available on Amazon. Mr. Bernard is a Subject Matter Expert Faculty of the Security Executive Council (SEC) and an active member of the ASIS International member councils for Physical Security and IT Security. Follow Ray on Twitter: @RayBernardRBCS.

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