Hyperconverged infrastructure is hot. Here are some of the companies leading the charge.
As companies look for ways to make their IT infrastructure more agile and efficient, hyperconvergence has become a top consideration. The integrated technology promises faster deployment and simplified management for the cloud era.
An Enterprise Strategy Group survey last year found that 70% of 308 respondents plan to use hyperconverged infrastructure while 15% already use it and 10% are interested in it. IDC reported that hyperconverged sales grew 48.5% year over year in the second quarter of this year, generating $763.4 million in sales. Transparency Market Research estimates the global HCI market to reach $31 billion by 2025, up from $1.5 billion last year.
"It's moved well beyond the hype phase into the established infrastructure phase," Christian Perry, research manager covering IT infrastructure at 451 Research, told me in an interview.
With hyperconvergence, organizations can quickly deploy infrastructure to support new workloads, divisions, or projects, he said. "In that sense, it really provides an on-premises cloud-like option."
Hyperconverged infrastructure leverages software to integrate compute and storage typically in a single appliance on commodity hardware. Fully virtualized, hyperconverged products take a building-block approach and are designed to scale out easily by adding nodes. According to IDC, a key differentiator for hyperconverged systems, compared to other integrated systems, is their scale-out architecture and ability to provide all compute and storage functions through the same x86 server-based resources.
ESG Analyst Dan Conde told me that some newer hyperconverged systems include broader networking features, but that for the most part, the technology's focus is on storage and "in-the-box" connectivity.
VDI has been a top use case for hyperconverged infrastructure, but Perry said 451 Research is seeing the technology used for a range of use cases, including data protection, and traditional virtualized workloads such as Microsoft applications. Because it's easy to deploy, the technology is well suited for branch and remote locations, but companies are also running it in the core data centers alongside traditional infrastructure, he said.
Vendor lock-in, high cost, and inflexible scaling (compute and storage capacity must be added at the same rate) are among the drawbacks that some have cited with hyperconvergence platforms. Perry said he hasn't seen scalability issues among adopters, and that opex costs are much lower than traditional infrastructure. Hyperconverged products also have proven to be highly resilient, he added.
Perry said the first step for organizations evaluating hyperconverged products is to clearly identify their use case, which will narrow their choices. They also should take into account how the product will integrate with the rest of their infrastructure; for example, if it uses a different hypervisor, will the IT team be able to support multiple hypervisors? Companies interested in a product supplied by multiple vendors also need to determine which one will provide support, he said.
The hyperconvergence market has changed quite a bit since its early days when it was dominated by pure-play startups such as Nutanix and SimpliVity. Today, infrastructure vendors such as Cisco and NetApp have moved into the space and SimpliVity is now part of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. Nutanix remains a top supplier after going public last year, and some startups remain, but they face stiff competition from the established vendors.
Here's a look at some of the key players in hyperconvergence today. Please note this list is in alphabetical order and not a ranking.
Cisco plunged into the hyperconvergence market in March 2016, when it launched HyperFlex on its UCS platform in partnership with Springpath. The networking giant touted HyperFlex as improving on first-generation hyperconvergence with capabilities like more efficient scaling and integrated networking. In September, it wrapped up its purchase of the hyperconvergence software startup. Despite its relatively late entrance into hyperconvergence, Cisco has managed to claim a piece of the market, and is routinely cited as a top HCI vendor by market-research firms.
Dell EMC's hyperconverged infrastructure portfolio includes VxRail appliances and VxRack systems. Co-designed with VMware, VxRail combines VMware vSAN and vSphere with Dell PowerEdge servers. VxRack integrates Dell EMC ScaleIO software-defined storage with PowerEdge servers. In August, Dell EMC announced updates to its HCI line, including the new VxRack SDDC model, which integrates VMware vSphere, vSAN, and NSX.
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise bought top hyperconvergence startup SimpliVity earlier this year. SimpliVity, widely viewed in the industry as the top contender to Nutanix, launched out of stealth mode in 2012 with its OmniCube platform. In September, HPE introduced a new entry-level version of its SimpliVity 380 product line, which it claimed provides all-flash storage at 20% lower cost than competitors.
Maxta's hyperconvergence software, MxSP, is available as stand-alone software-defined storage or preconfigured on partner x86 hardware platforms. In September, Maxta added the ability for customers to migrate virtual machines from VMware ESXi to Red Hat Virtualization, which is based on open source KVM, and to run both hypervisors on its software. The company promoted the new functionality as helping users reduce "VMware tax" by migrating to supported open source virtualization.
Storage supplier NetApp unveiled its long-awaited hyperconverged infrastructure product, NetApp HCI, in June, making it a late-comer to the hyperconvergence party. NetApp HCI incorporates all-flash arrays from its 2015 SolidFire acquisition. Some have questioned whether the product is truly hyperconverged, but analysts at 451 Research said it's more important to focus on whether the product improves on issues with early HCI platforms, including scalability and performance. NetApp HCI's architecture differs from most first-generation HCI products "in that it has separate storage and compute nodes, which the company believes will provide customers with granular scalability for storage, compute and memory resources," they wrote.
NetApp HCI, which supports hybrid cloud through tight integration with Amazon Web Services, is scheduled to be generally available this month.
Hyperconvergence pioneer Nutanix remains a leader in the market despite the growing competition from established players moving into the space. The company launched its first product in 2011, focused on a marketing message of "ban the SAN." Today, Nutanix touts its Enterprise Cloud platform as simplifying data center infrastructure with "one OS, one click." In September, Nutanix wrapped up its first year as a public company, reporting fourth-quarter 62% year-over-year growth compared to the same quarter in 2016. The company counts a number of OEM partnerships, including Dell EMC, Lenovo, and IBM.
Pivot3 is an early pioneer in the HCI market, launching its first hyperconverged appliance targeting video surveillance applications back in 2008, well before the term hyperconvergence came into fashion. In April, Pivot3 launched its Acuity HCI platform, which leverages NVMe flash technology and QoS controls from Pivot3's 2016 acquisition of NexGen to support multiple applications.
The QoS controls, which manage resources when there's contention between applications, are a differentiator in the HCI market, according to 451 Research. "Given some customers' concerns about the ability of HCI to perform adequately when running mixed enterprise applications, they could prove to be a winning formula," wrote 451 Research Senior Analysts Tim Stammers and Steven Hill.
Scale Computing bills its HC3 platform as a data center in a box, integrating server, storage, and virtualization into a single appliance that's quick to deploy and easy to use. In September, the company said it's working with Google Cloud to develop HC3 Unity to make it easier for companies to run applications in a hybrid cloud. Storage expert and independent consultant Chris Evans wrote in a blog post that HC3 Cloud Unity enables Scale Computing customers to use the public cloud as a disaster recovery location.
StorMagic sells a virtual SAN, SvSAN, that's designed to run either as part of a hyperconverged platform or storage-only solution on commodity hardware. SvSAN runs as a virtual storage appliance and supports both VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V. Customers can either build their own HCI solution using industry-standard servers or buy a pre-configured appliance from StorMagic's partners Cisco or Lenovo. Storage guru Howard Marks of DeepStorage wrote in a blog post that while many HCI vendors like Nutanix are focused on the data center, StorMagic has designed its software for remote offices and SMBs, where HCI is well suited.
VMware entered the hyperconvergence market back in 2014, when it teamed with hardware partners to unveil EVO:RAIL. That product is history, and the company is now a subsidiary of Dell Technologies, but VMware plays a major role in the hyperconverged market with its vSAN software. In addition to VxRail, jointly engineered with Dell EMC, VMware partners with x86 server vendors such as Hitachi, Lenovo, and Supermicro through its ReadyNode program to offer hyperconverged infrastructure based on its vSAN, vSphere and vCenter software.