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How the hyperconverged infrastructure market stacks up

There are a number of solid options for shops looking to reap the advantages of a hyperconverged infrastructure product. Here’s how the current market leaders compare.

There’s no doubt that hyperconverged infrastructure products have become a compelling option for not just enterprise customers, but cloud providers as well.  Hyperconverged appliances offer a simple scale-out architecture that fits the needs of most shared virtualized environments.  The highly engineered appliance-based products remove the complexity of large storage arrays.  With VMware throwing all the moving parts of its vSphere and Virtual SAN ecosystem in with hardware partners, the market is starting to crystalize.  We’ll take a look at the different products available and what parts of the market the manufacturers are targeting.

EVO:RAIL

VMware entered the market earlier this year with six OEM partners (Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, Inspur, NetOne and SuperMicro) and announced an additional partner in HP during VMworld 2014 Europe. The base architecture of all seven starts with common characteristics, which include the following:

  • Four independent nodes in a 2U appliance (scalable up to four appliances)
  • Object-based storage provided by VMware’s VSAN
  • Scale up to 100 workloads per appliance
  • VMware’s EVO:RAIL management interface

VMware has gone to great pains to note the consistency of the interface across EVO:RAIL appliances.  The expectation is that the management software will have the same look and feel across hardware vendors.  One advantage to going with an EVO:RAIL OEM partner is the ability to use existing vendor relationships.  Having an existing vendor relationship can be extremely important for organizations that find it difficult to get new hardware vendors in-house or want to go with a known vendor relationship.  Outside of the vendor relationship advantages, there are vendor-specific features for at least some of the platforms.

EMC announced that its appliance would include a virtual version of its popular replication product, RecoverPoint (RPA).  EMC’s EVO:RAIL appliance could include a disaster recovery-in-a-box.  It will be interesting to see how EMC integrates management of the block-level replication of an RPA with the object-based VSAN storage system.  Outside of EMC, no other partner has announced a specific value-add features on-top of the base EVO:RAIL package.

If there’s room to consider additional hardware vendors, or you have a desire to use a non-VMware hypervisor, then there’s no shortage of other options on the market

Scale computing

Scale Computing’s HC3 platforms are an interesting alternative to the EVO:RAIL design.  There is no standard for measuring VM workloads, but the three different HC3 platforms scale up to 400 VMs.  Scale uses a customized version of KVM that’s hidden from the user.  Scale leverages a block-level storage architecture opposed to VSAN’s object-based approach.  Scale’s primary market for its HC3 product line is the small- and medium-sized business that has an eye fixed on simplicity.  While KVM may not have as many features as vSphere, Scale is banking on the simplicity of operation along with aggressive pricing compared to the competition.

As the name implies, Scale uses a scale-out architecture that allows you to add up to a total of four nodes as the infrastructure grows.

Nutanix

Nutanix is all over storage and storage features.  Not that the other vendors take storage lightly, but Nutanix has a feel and premium price that puts it in competition with VCE’s Vblock vs. some of the other products.  Nutanix built SAN features into virtual storage appliances that can run on top of any major hypervisor.  The decoupled SAN functionality means that Nutanix’s approach is compatible with vSphere, Hyper-V and KVM.  Without much effort, an administrator can roll out one of these three platforms within an hour of racking and stacking the equipment.

As mentioned, Nutanix is pretty serious about storage and storage features.  Some of these features are available in vSphere, while others are unique to Nutanix, which means that traditional features such as snapshot, clones and deduplication are available across all supported hypervisors. Nutanix is a web-scale solution that competes with the likes of Vblock and can scale to replace a large enterprise data center.

SimpliVity

SimpliVity is similar to Nutanix in that its storage platform takes center stage.  In addition to offering a hardware platform, SimpliVity teamed with Cisco to offer an integrated solution with Cisco’s C-Series Rack servers.  This provides an interesting alternative to EVO:RAIL for existing Cisco UCS customers looking to not stray from the UCS platform. The SAN software is key to the company’s future aspirations.  SimpliVity offers many of the storage features you’d expect to see in an enterprise storage array and, like the other hardware appliance vendors, decouples the SAN from the hypervisor.  The decoupling will allow SimpliVity to support more than VMware in the future.

From a cost perspective, you can expect SimpliVity to compete with Nutanix.

Nimboxx

Nimboxx is the last appliance provider we’ll examine.  Nimboxx's hypervisor is also a customized version of KVM and is hidden from the user.  Like the other appliance vendors, the storage is decoupled from the hypervisor.  However, Nimboxx isn’t looking to provide multiple hypervisor support.  The company is looking to provide a scale-out hyperconverged product to cloud providers.  Nimboxx’s approach is to provide a web-scale infrastructure without paying licensing and support costs for the hypervisor layer.  In addition to enterprises and cloud providers, Nimboxx has an application OEM offering.  Nimboxx’s application OEM offering targets application providers looking to deploy their VMs on pre-packaged hardware.

With the existing hardware vendors, VMware and its seven OEM partners, VMware-centric options abound. The number of options surrounding VMware is to be expected with VMware in a market leader position.  However, if you are looking to expand beyond or even leave the VMware ecosystem, there is no shortage of appliance options.  In addition, I fully expect HP and Cisco to each offer hyperconverged products based on their various data center products and partnerships in the near future. 

Next Steps

A guide to hyperconverged infrastructure systems

Choosing the right converged technologies

Is a hyperconverged infrastructure product right for your data center?

How hyper-converged environments change traditional IT spending

This was last published in November 2014

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Which hyperconverged infrastructure product are you using or considering?
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I am currently putting together a business case to move from a traditional network of various aged machines and putting in place EVO:RAIL. The biggest joy will be throwing out the hardware compatibility lists that we have often had to pour over when maintaining and upgrading. Right up front though over the course of the next few years, with the scalability built in, the expenses budget is looking good, both for buying and running.
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To clarify, Scale Computing can grow to 8 nodes currently expanding that to 16 (date TBA).
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No mention of Pivot3?
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In full disclosure, I work for Maxta and am surprised that Maxta is not mentioned. Maxta is the only vendor to let you choose your server vendor, choose your hypervisor, choose your drive types, and provides all enterprise class data services with VM-level management. The solutions are offered as MxSP software-defined storage and as hyper-converged pre-validated reference architectures running on Cisco, Dell, HP, Intel, Lenovo, SuperMicro, and others. We are happy to provide an overview of our solutions and for the opportunity to show why Maxta provides the most flexibility in choice for hyper-convergence. Oh and the scalability and savings are pretty awesome too.
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