At VMworld a few weeks ago it seemed that every storage vendor had a hyper-converged solution. So it goes with this industry, a term gets popular and everyone jumps on the bandwagon – like happened with software-defined storage. But behind all the hype is usually a certain amount of compelling technology, as is the case with hyper-converged systems. In this blog we’ll look at why this space is so hot, what’s so attractive about this technology and how you can accurately compare hyper-converged solutions.
While companies do want flexibility and the lowest cost they’ll give up some of each to get a solution they can implement quickly and use without a training class. Hyper-converged products are sold as appliances, meaning they include all the components required and are designed for easy deployment. Most can be set up in an hour or less and have simple, intuitive management interfaces that can be operated by non-IT personnel when necessary.
Companies are relying more and more on IT generalists, or employees with no formal IT backgrounds, to run their in-house systems, especially in small offices and remote locations. Hyper-converged systems offer a centrally managed alternative to the small, traditional server and storage infrastructure that’s been a mainstay in departmental and remote office computing. For companies that can’t run everything in the cloud hyper-converged makes a lot of sense.
Most hyper-converged systems use industry standard hardware and ‘commodity’ storage components when possible to keep costs down. But that doesn’t mean these products are all the same. On the contrary, we’re seeing more differentiation than ever, around the platforms available, the models available, the amount of disk and flash available and the way they expand when you need more compute power or storage capacity.
At Evaluator Group we have just completely revised and updated our Hyper-converged Comparison Matrix, Product Briefs and Evaluation Guide. With all the changes happening in this space, we’ve chosen thirteen products for your comparison to represent the current state of this technology.
Two vendors give you the choice of server platform and use channel partners to integrate their hyper-converged systems. Most (but not all) offer multiple server nodes in each physical appliance and all allow you to scale-out the cluster to at least 16 nodes. One offers all-flash storage exclusively, one offers only disk drives, but all provide at least 14 TB of storage capacity per appliance. Current offerings max out at 60TB of hard drive space and up to 38TB of flash per appliance.
Most users want to start smaller than those maximums and scale capacity as needed, especially storage. Unfortunately, most hyper-converged systems have been relatively inflexible, forcing users to expand compute and storage together. Vendors are now starting to address this issue. Many solutions are offering nodes with more storage and less compute power built-in, and some even allow external storage systems to be connected to the hyper-converged cluster. This lets you scale storage only or use an existing storage infrastructure when capacity growth becomes an issue.
There’s no “magic” required to get included in Evaluator Group’s Comparison Matrix, and no money either. Since most users are evaluating products for an eventual purchase, we only include viable solutions from established companies. Many are relatively young companies, for sure, but all the products featured have significant installed bases and support infrastructures. When newer vendors get established we’ll add them to the matrix as appropriate.
Hyper-converged systems are another example of the power of the appliance. We first saw this about a dozen years ago when Data Domain came out with a disk backup appliance that replaced tape backup system integration projects for many environments. Companies have fewer and fewer experienced IT people and need to leverage the advantages of turnkey solutions to save money and lower overhead.
So far, most of the traction hyper-converged products have enjoyed is in smaller environments and remote offices. But many of the vendors in this space are actively pushing that threshold, trying to get companies to use hyper-converged solutions for more ‘mainstream’ implementations. We’ll see how successful they are and include all the latest products in future updates of Evaluator Group’s Hyper-converged Comparison Matrix, Product Briefs and Evaluation Guide.
Many products have long lists of features that sound the same but work very differently. It’s important to think outside of the checkbox of similar-sounding features and understand how technologies and products differ.