Striking a sensible workload balance between on-premises datacenters and public cloud resources is a difficult endeavor when each environment is strikingly different for many organizations. One environment is typically fraught with complexity and unacceptable hardware provisioning times, while the other has simplicity and provisioning speed. However, some customers are accelerating the full-scale transformation of their on-premises environments by implementing not only the use of automation-friendly management platforms, but also infrastructure that better supports those platforms. The goal: to create a cloudlike environment on both ends.

The 451 Take

The urgency to transform on-premises IT environments is at a fever pitch, driven in part by nearly limitless provisioning freedom, speed and agility in public cloud services. Automation and orchestration initiatives are underway in most large organizations, but tools to enable those initiatives represent just one part of the overall transformation process. When the underpinning infrastructure inherently supports cloud-like provisioning and management, the transformation ball rolls downhill quickly, gathering processes, people and culture as it reaches its ultimate destination of policy-driven automation. For a rising number of customers, hyperconverged infrastructure is now the base upon which environment-wide automation can begin to flourish.

Ground-Up Transformation via HCI

Adoption of automated capabilities is practically a given in most environments because modern server and storage infrastructure management platforms include a host of discovery and orchestration tools that allow policy-based resource deployment and management. Tools such as Chef, Puppet, Ansible and SaltStack have strong adoption, particularly in large organizations that demand greater levels of simplicity as internal technologies expand and IT team resources typically dwindle. However, willingness to hand over the infrastructure management reins to technology is a market-wide work in progress that demands at least a minimal level of culture change. This change will be critical moving ahead for organizations that seek to embrace a seamless, invisible data ecosystem that leverages the best of on- and off-premises technologies.

For some, overcoming internal resistance to change that initially prevented automated processes is not enough to reduce provisioning times to a significant extent. Seeing light at the end of the tunnel is difficult when that tunnel is littered with stand-alone servers and storage that help legacy personnel cling to old habits fraught with manual processes. However, when the infrastructure itself joins the management platform in a streamlined approach, those habits generally have no choice but to fall away. A prime example of this concept is hyperconverged infrastructure, which increasingly represents the key catalyst in on-premises IT transformation.

What is IT transformation? It is not simply an upgrade to modern technology, but rather ecosystem modernization, which includes the people and processes underpinning technology. Enabling site-wide IT transformation is a tall order for organizations of any size, but particularly for those with deep IT teams and mountains of infrastructure. But when key pieces of the IT transformation puzzle are fused (for example, IT infrastructure and processes), the remaining pieces eventually head downstream toward the ultimate modernization goal. Those that do not join that path – whether personnel refusing to join or technology that does not fit – will eventually exit the picture.

This becomes apparent when examining the perception of hyperconverged adopters, as well as those who plan to adopt, according to recent findings from 451 Research's Voice of the Enterprise: Servers and Converged Infrastructure. When asked to identify the role hyperconverged will serve in their organization's infrastructure deployment strategy in two years, 71% of respondents said it would simplify their infrastructure management/maintenance, while 60% said it would accelerate provisioning and/or optimization (see Figure 1). These impressive percentages are actually lower than those of respondents who currently use hyperconverged, indicating that those who have yet to adopt will enjoy even more impressive results than expected.

Figure 1: Role of hyperconverged infrastructure in two years

Source: 451 Research's Voice of the Enterprise: Servers and Converged Infrastructure, Budgets and Outlook 2017

For IT managers who believe their traditional, manual-laden IT environments will continue to serve their respective businesses well into the future – and such managers still exist – a stark reality will eventually materialize for most of them. Forward-looking competitors are already taking advantage of deep orchestration and automation tools included with their traditional servers and storage platforms. Those and others are also injecting hyperconverged into these on-premises environments to further accelerate their speed to provisioning. Of equal importance is the ability to mimic the agility of public cloud providers, which continue to influence business leaders, who in turn force (or heavily influence) IT to send more data and workloads to those off-premises resources.

Our research has also found that if an organization has deployed HCI, the more likely its environment is automated and orchestrated. Among organizations that have HCI in use, 38% use policy-based automation and orchestration for their workload or service provisioning, while just 21% describe that same process as manual with limited automation tools. This trend is equally illuminating for those who have not adopted HCI or have no plans to do so. Among organizations that consider their workload or service provisioning process to be 'highly manual,' an alarming 57% do not have HCI in use, compared with just 19% of organizations using policy-based automation and orchestration.

Workloads Pave The Way

Although the benefits of orchestration and automation appear gradually for many organizations as they migrate processes to the new technology in measured fashion, the long-term benefits are generally significant – particularly compared with legacy IT management. The move toward automation often begins at a workload level, but this doesn't mean that widescale automation and orchestration will cause organizations to drift away from the workload-level thinking.

"If you have large flagship applications that run a significant portion of the divisional groups' revenue through it, then traditionally, you've had as large of an operations team as the development team, enhancing the application and delivering the change or maintaining compliance to the application. So automation or orchestration has been a driver to reducing the operational or expense headcount to maintain these applications and just to provide a lower cost of ownership through their lifecycle just from a maintainability perspective."
– Mid-level manager, 100,000+ employees, $10bn+, healthcare

Working knowledge of and experience with automation tools is a requirement for organizations implementing an IT transformation strategy. But the automation process grows easier and more natural when the infrastructure inherently supports streamlined provisioning and configuration. Customers that have not yet adopted HCI will find that IT transformation – and the elements that contribute to it – can be a long, arduous journey, especially if they are not prepared for the learning curve inherent in tools such as Chef and Puppet. Likewise, customers that remain wary of migrating processes to automation and orchestration tools may simply need an infusion of infrastructure transformation, which HCI can, and often does, deliver.
Christian Perry
Research Manager

As a Research Manager covering IT infrastructure, Christian manages the Voice of the Enterprise (VotE) products – built on 451 Research's proprietary global network of senior IT decision-makers – covering datacenter, server and converged infrastructure topics. With more than 20 years of experience tracking and analyzing the IT datacenter market, Christian brings broad market knowledge to research around traditional technologies and emerging infrastructure, such as converged, hyperconverged and software-defined technologies.

Rosanna Jimenez
Research Associate

Rosanna Jimenez is a Research Associate at 451 Research. Prior to joining the analyst team, Rosanna worked with 451 Research sales supporting vendor and end-user research requests. Rosanna holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Suffolk University.

Aaron Sherrill
Senior Analyst

Aaron Sherrill is a Senior Analyst for 451 Research covering emerging trends, innovation and disruption in the Managed Services and Managed Security Services sectors. Aaron has 20+ years of experience across several industries including serving in IT management for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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