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How to Choose a Hyperconverged Infrastructure Solution – Product Maturity and Company Stability – by Eric Slack

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Evaluating products in the IT space is a complex process. A simple “feeds and speeds” comparison isn’t enough as features and functionality proliferate. This is especially true with Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) products where the evaluation now encompasses compute and management functions, not just storage.

In this blog series we’re looking at a new tool, Eval(u)Scale, created by Evaluator Group, that IT professionals can use to make better product decisions. In it we list what we consider the ten most important characteristics and rate each product according to those criteria. In this blog we’ll look at the maturity of hyperconverged products and the companies behind them as factors to consider in an HCI decision.

Risk

A big part of the evaluation process is identifying and minimizing risks associated with each alternative. For new products or technologies this means obtaining assurance that the products do more than meet current needs, but can evolve and improve over time to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workloads. Mature products have a history of regular upgrades and a roadmap of future versions. One indicator of this maturity is how successful the product has been and how long it’s been on the market.

The foundation of all HCI appliances is the storage virtualization software, which for many was first sold as a software defined storage (SDS) product. This fact should be taken into account when looking at product maturity, as it effectively extends the product’s history. As an example, HPE’s HC200 hyperconverged appliance was released in 2014 but StoreVirtual VSA, it’s underlying SDS technology, has been sold by HPE since 2008 (and was originally developed and sold by LeftHand Networks in 2001). Pivot3 and Scale Computing came to market with their scale-out storage products in the 2008/2009 timeframe which they later released as HCI appliances.

Nutanix released in 2011, developing a new software stack based on the Google file system. SimpliVity developed their technology from scratch, first releasing OmniCube in 2012. VMware vSAN came out in 2013, through the acquisition of start-up Virsto. Maxta’s MxSP came out in 2013, a year or so before USX from Atlantis Computing, the software for their HCI appliance. Cisco’s HyperFlex was released in 2016, using software from start-up SpringPath. And HyperGrid, released in 2016, is essentially the GridStore software stack which was first sold in 2011 as a scale-out storage solution.

HCI Consolidation

In the past year we’ve seen consolidation in the HCI industry. Dell acquired EMC, which married the VxRail HCI product with Dell’s server platform. And most recently, HPE acquired SimpliVity, combining an established HCI product (OmniStack) with another server vendor. These moves may drive down the cost of HCI solutions, as server manufacturers cut out the hardware “middle man”, and squeeze the margins of independent HCI vendors that must buy hardware from server OEMs.

One trend we’re already seeing in the HCI market is a move away from independents exclusively selling their technology as a hardware appliance and offering their software through those same OEMs. Maxta and Atlantis took this approach out of the gate, currently offering their HCI solutions through a half dozen or so server OEMs, and VMware’s Ready Nodes product is available through twelve vendors. Selling through multiple OEMs could help address some of the cost pressures on the independents, but can complicate the support experience for customers. Currently, Dell EMC VxRail, Scale Computing, Cisco HyperFlex and HPE’s HC 250/380 are not available on multiple platforms.

While the chance of an independent HCI vendor being acquired by a larger company can present a risk for current customers, acquisition can also be a positive development. SimpliVity customers, as an example, can look forward to the continuation of OmniStack products on HPE servers, at potentially lower prices, and the positive aspects of HPE support and resources.

Product maturity and company stability are subjective characteristics. While being on the market longer does help, it’s selling more units and encountering more real-world issues from a growing installed base that’s probably the real driver of product maturity. Larger vendors certainly have some advantages over smaller ones in terms of having the resources to survive a few bad quarters, but that’s no guarantee they won’t drop an underperforming product. Focus is also important, as we’re seeing some smaller vendors concentrate on a use case like VDI or ROBO, or a market segment like SMB. This allows them to reduce competition and concentrate their development and marketing efforts.

In the next blog we’ll look at hypervisors, containers and the cloud.

 


The amount and diversity of technology available in infrastructure products can be overwhelming for those trying to evaluate appropriate solutions. In this blog we discuss pertinent topics to help IT professionals think outside the checkbox of features and functionality.