Making Sense of HyperConfusion: Understanding The Hyperconvergence Market
Well here we are… the Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) space that everyone 6 months ago would have responded with “you mean Nutanix” has officially been validated by some larger players. This poses an interesting time and place for us to exist in the world of Hybrid IT as we now have some choices in what is gearing up to be a real life Thunderdome… Two men enter, one man leaves.
The market itself is where the analysts are starting to agree that the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) is the highest of all categories of on-prem industries that are hot right now. You can find numbers as high as 70% in this space. What does this actually mean for people buying HCI? It means that there are going to be growing pains as the technology is released, sometimes faster than the developers on the backend really want it to.
We started off in the HCI market with two players, Nutanix and Simplivity. It’s pretty safe to say from the numbers they will float around in meetings (both are currently private companies) that Nutanix came out as the clear leader: with brand recognition, a strong sales force, and really good documentation around use cases like VDI. Remote office and infrastructure assassins like Splunk further their cause. But the world of HCI just changed drastically with Cisco, EMC/VCE, and HP entering the market in full force.
In any good story you have three acts that must unfold as the story progresses. In the first act of HCI we have seen everyone get to a place where storage is invisible. If you are going to achieve cloud-like principles and economics, you have to be agile and performance needs to be good as well. Arguably all of the players today (minus HP, simply rebranding Lefthand AGAIN) have this first act down, like I said before… it’s a prerequisite.
In the second act of the story, we are going to see some of the architectural decisions being made make a major difference. I believe that this phase of the story will focus on the hypervisor and finally breaking away from the chains of the big ticket VMware licensing costs. In fact, if you had asked me five years ago if I felt like people in 2016 would still be paying for the hypervisor itself I would have laughed at you. Brand recognition and trust really do go a long way. That all being said, if the hypervisor is “good enough” the same way Amazon’s S3 is, why would people care? In this regard, currently there aren’t many choices as it relates to hypervisors available on HCI. Nutanix has Acropolis (KVM Variant) and Cisco Hyperflex is making claims in later releases they will support other operating systems. Most of the other contenders like EMC VXrail, Simplivity or HP all rely on VMware and in some cases VSAN as well to function. For some this will be fine, the cushy world of VMware is a nice place to be and you get single pane-of-glass management from some of the offerings.
The third act is where things get tricky… making the cloud invisible. There is a holy war happening at the storage level today that some people will say is paramount to how well you are able to port to the cloud… Data Locality. The argument is simple, VSAN-based architectures, and up until very recently, Simplivity Omnistack software, all relied on data being spread out among the nodes for performance and availability. Nutanix and now Simplivity have used data locality under the guise that having your data as close to the VM lowers latency and provides a better experience without taking away any of the advanced availability characteristics of software-defined storage. Some are now making claims that this locality is exactly what will be required to move things in and out of the cloud seamlessly without down time… only time will tell.
I do a lot of speaking on this topic and it’s pretty clear that this high-level blog post (if you actually made it this far) is just that, high-level. I can debate until I am blue in the face, for or against, any of the products/brands etc. that I have mentioned, so keep your underpants untwisted if you like one more than the other. The point I am trying to get to here is that you need to make choices when you buy Hyperconverged Infrastructure and those choices could greatly impact where you end up in the future. The other thing that everyone seems to be forgetting as they are beaten over the head by marketing dollars is that while this market is the fastest growing one out there… it’s also the least mature! Most of the kit available today has very limited use in the field outside of a few less critical use cases. Unless you fit the mold exactly for a very specific use case I think we need another 6 months to let this one brew into maturity.