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The ongoing battle between hyper-converged vendors

Businesses used to rely on partnerships between companies to get the different top products but now hyper-converged vendors have expanded to offer more products of their own.

Sometimes the technology industry reminds me of the book "Lord of The Flies." In William Golding's book and in the IT world, bonds are formed by necessity, and sometimes those relationships can make sharp turns. Through the late 1990's and early 2000's, businesses began to discover, and quickly become dependent on, technology. Every business began to consume technology at a staggering rate, and even the smallest of shops were creating their own internal data centers to house IT resources. Some big companies tried to do it all, thinking they had the pedigree and experience to stand alone in the new data center. At the same time, many smaller companies began to form partnerships to create integrated offerings.

In the beginning of the battle of hyper-converged vendors, everybody wanted to partner with Cisco for networking, EMC or NetApp for storage, and companies like Hewlett-Packard or Dell for X86 servers. While these were not the only players, they were the ones I saw the most cooperative efforts between as everyone rushed to present full data center offerings to their customers.

Like IBM, HP sold compute and storage. However, HP was willing to work with EMC or NetApp if it meant selling more servers. IBM, on the other hand, chose to stand alone and take a more closed stance of promoting a fully IBM offering for compute and storage. As EMC and NetApp took a lead in storage, this strategy hurt IBM in compute sales. In contrast, HP servers became a common sight in data centers of all sizes. The approach of companies partnering was winning, but cracks soon began to appear in those alliances.

Cisco was the belle of the ball as everyone wanted to work with it in the data center. That is, until it launched its Unified Computing Systems (UCS) line of x86 servers. UCS was a highly innovative and disruptive new technology, and it was just as disruptive to the IT landscape and the balance of power on the technology island.

HP made some large moves in the storage space, upsetting its delicate ties with vendors like EMC and NetApp. In a storage acquisition bidding war with HP, Dell revealed its plan to walk away from its OEM partnership with EMC. Few people saw that coming, and the resulting repercussions were swift. As the Dell/EMC relationship appeared to dissolve overnight, Dell had to rush to form new allegiances or risk losing its place.

Let's not forget about the hypervisor. Like Cisco, VMware was the one everyone wanted to dance with at first. As competitors emerged, and VMware began to realize its partner's attention was no longer solely its, the hammer dropped. When Cisco thought it had the Nicira purchase complete, VMware did a cannonball into the IT pool with a last minute bid to steal it away. As Cisco had stunned the compute world with UCS, VMware stunned with Nicira and the resulting NSX network virtualization stack. The gloves were off.

Cisco quickly assembled a new network virtualization strategy. It may not have been its first choice, but it definitely had the resources and networking know-how to create its own offering. But why stop at network virtualization? With EMC owning a considerable chunk of VMware, Cisco went a step further and became a storage vendor. Cisco's purchase of Whiptail sent a clear signal that it is ready to take control of the conch shell.

To counter that, EMC and NetApp have entered the compute space with their versions of VMware's EVO:Rail offering. The market has gone from partnerships forming collaborative designs, to each vendor fighting for sole control of the island. Cisco, HP and Dell have each become one-stop-shops that offer networking, compute and storage offerings. When you consider VMware's EVO:Rail hyper-converged infrastructure, you can also count EMC and NetApp as members of the one-stop-shop club.

So, how will this play out? Will companies continue down the IBM path of forsaking partnerships to promote their own products, or will they pursue HP's older practice of partnering with competitors to drive the market? I think the battle lines are drawn, and hyper-converged technologies are going to serve as an enabler to promote a greater concentration of products to a single vendor's stack.

Will the vendors continue sharpening their spears and set the entire island ablaze, or will a new technology step in at the last minute to play the role of the Naval officer that saves the day? If I were a vendor in this market, I would sleep with one eye open.

This was last published in May 2015

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