The Future of Hyper-Converged Storage

Thursday Jul 30th 2015 by Greg Schulz
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Hyper-converged infrastructure will be right for some environments, but not for others.

Depending on who you talk or listen to, hyper-converged storage is either the future of storage, or it is a hype niche market that is not for everybody, particular not larger environments.

Admittedly, there is a lot of hype in and around convergence, including hyper-convergence. On the other hand, there is also a lot of reality in various converged infrastructure (CI), hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), cluster in a box (CiB) and other solution bundle approaches.

Not every data center is the same; your data center will be different depending on whether you are a small office home office (SOHO), remote office branch office (ROBO) with a few servers, a departmental workgroup, small medium business (SMB), small medium enterprise (SME), large enterprise, web-scale or cloud services provider.

How converged is the hyper-converged market? There are many environments that can leverage CI along with HCI, CiB or other bundles and pod-type solutions. Granted, not all of those environments will converge around the same CI, CiB and HCI or pod solution bundles as everything is not the same in most IT environments and data centers. This also means that not all CI, CiB and HCI solutions are applicable for every environment. For example, some of the larger CI and CiB solutions may be more applicable for larger and do-it-yourself (DIY) scale-out, or hyper-scale converged vs. some of those better suited for lower-end market segments, and vice versa.

Not All Markets Are the Same

I see and hear people defining or describing the CI and HCI marketplace based on the capabilities of certain HCI products, which can limit the total addressable market (TAM) opportunity. Some will tell you that there is no role for HCI or CI or CiB in large-scale environments; however, that view might be based on how a particular product or vendor has defined the market (e.g. around their product).

The alternative is to look past the particular products and what they can do, instead focusing on the broader market segments and their needs, not to mention the larger TAM opportunity. In this latter approach, the focus is on the different markets and then which CI, HCI or CiB solutions and technologies can meet the needs of those.

Let’s face it, some HCI products are very good and well-suited—perhaps even best-in-class—for specific market segments such as medium to larger SMBs, enterprise ROBO and workgroups, while others are optimized for very small SMBs or SOHOs or SMEs, larger enterprises or even web, cloud-scale and service providers.

Not All Applications Are the Same

There is a common perception that CI and HCI are only for virtual server infrastructure (VSI) and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) markets, in some cases with a focus on or around VMware. In the lower-end market segments (e.g. smaller and mid-sized SMBs), the focus for CI, HCI or CiB solutions may be general purpose VSI supporting database and email messaging, among other things. In larger environments, the focus may be for dedicating the CI, HCI or CiB solution to support VDI or specific databases, among other things.

However there are also other candidate application and deployment scenarios for CI, HCI and CiB. For example, there are also market opportunities for traditional databases, big data including Hadoop analytics and data warehouse using various tools including SAS, SAP HANA and Hadoop distributions from Cloudera along with others from Hortonworks and Pivotal, to name a few. Then there are converged data protection (the other CDP) solutions that do more than the basic purpose built backup appliance (PBBA) data protection target.

Not All Products or Solutions Are the Same

Some of the solutions are not practical until you have a certain size customer environment. Some solutions start small and can be stretched to do more, adding complexity, while others focused on the higher end of markets can scale down, which also adds overhead and complexity.

Some are for DIY, where you define the amount and focus of convergence using various hardware, software, services and tools. On the other hand, some CI, HCI and CiB are very converged for smaller- to medium-sized environments or can be configured by DIY in combination with other technologies to scale up and scale-out.

A sampling of CI, HCI and CiB vendors includes Cisco (partners with various vendors), Citrix, DataON Storage, DDN, Dell (also partners with various vendors), EMC, (VCE Vblock, VxRACK, VSPEX Blue, EVO:Rail), Foxconn, HDS, Hedvig, HP, Huawei, IBM, Intel (servers in addition to processors), Lenovo, Maxta, Microsoft SOFS (partners with various hardware providers), NetApp (partners with Cisco), Newisys, Nutanix (also partnering with Dell), OpenStack, Oracle, Pivot3, Scale, Pluribus, Seagate (appliances via Xyratex acquisition), Simplivity (also partnering with Cisco), Supermicro, Tintri, VMware EVO:Rail and Wowza among others.

What Does This All Mean?

Everything is not the same. What works or fits best for one scenario may not be applicable for a different environment, application or market segment. There is more to scaling up and down, as well as out and up than just hardware and software. Service, support and vendor organizational focus also need to be considered.

Some hyper providers may get hyped up around discussions that move beyond their hyper-converged comfort zones, while others may see opportunities to extend their offerings into larger, more diverse environments. This also means that some hyper-converged vendors focus on being the hyper king of the small-pond, or an emerging big player might focus on the larger lake, sea or ocean of converged data and applications.

Instead of sizing a market based on what specific products can do, look at the different markets, their needs, requirements and current spending to see where the opportunity is. The upside is that you may find a broader or larger target available market (TAM) as well as new opportunities to position and sell solutions into. On the other hand, for solutions that are limited by hardware, software, archrecture or a robust revenue prevention department, those will need to converge their available markets into a hyper-converged subset of the larger opportunity available to other players.

Tips and Recommendations

Some things to look for with CI, HCI and CIB solutions:

  • Single points of failure beyond hardware, also look at file systems and management tools
  • Will the solution work for you, or will you go to work taking care of the solution?
  • Can you deploy the solution software on your hardware or virtual machine or cloud?
  • Are you locked into the solution providers hardware choices?
  • Watch for complexity as some solutions scale-up, and overhead when some scale-down.
  • Flash solid state device (SSD) storage is in your future; look for solutions that support NVme.
  • Don’t forget to consider your data protection needs from security (logical and physical) to backup/restore, BC, BR and DR both on-site and off.

Greg Schulz is founder and senior analyst of independent IT advisory consultancy firm Server StorageIO and UnlimitedIO LLC (e.g. StorageIO). He has worked in IT at an electrical utility, financial services and transportation firms in roles ranging from business applications development to systems management, architecture, strategy and capacity planning. Mr. Schulz is author of the Intel Recommended Reading List books Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking and The Green and Virtual Data Center via CRC Press and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier). Greg is a Microsoft MVP and six-time VMware vExpert. Learn more at www.storageio.com.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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