Hyper-converged systems look to preempt VMware's plans

The small vendors that have lead the hyper-converged infrastructure market look to stay in front of VMware and Cisco with updates ahead of VMworld 2015.

When virtualization king VMware unveiled its hyper-converged offering last year, SimpliVity was admittedly concerned.

But the small technology provider's early worries around competing with VMware's EVO:RAIL haven't had any negative impact. In fact, VMware's entry into the market only validated hyper-converged systems and proved to users "that it's real," said Rich Kucharski, SimpliVity's vice president of solutions architecture.

It is fair to say EVO:RAIL is not going gangbusters
Colm Keegananalyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

VMware may update EVO:RAIL during VMworld next week, so SimpliVity is out in front of it with its OmniStack 3.0 Data Virtualization Platform updates. It does de-duplication and compression "once and forever in real time." SimpliVity said that helps fuel a 30% increase in performance – a believable claim according to Colm Keegan, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc. in Milford, Mass.

Keegan expects a hyper-converged system update from VMware as it looks to boost its fortunes in this market.

"It is fair to say EVO:RAIL is not going gangbusters," Keegan said.

VMware could differentiate its offerings by integrating it with vCloud and providing a turnkey platform for hybrid cloud with reduced TCO benefits, he said.

"If they get creative from a bundling perspective, it is possible" to energize the company's hyper-converged systems sales, he said.

Small hyper-converged providers lead the way

Nutanix, the hyper-converged market leader, launched a new price structure this week dubbed FlexPrice, which offers hardware and software through a subscription. The company has not publicized its subscription pricing.

Nutanix also upgraded its Xtreme Computing Platform earlier this summer with the introduction of Acropolis, a native hypervisor by the same name based on the open source Linux KVM hypervisor. It's designed to work with Nutanix, which also supports VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V.

This week, SimpliVity also said it has added Lenovo to its list of x86 partners, which already include Cisco and Dell.

"We hope to eventually run on any platform out there," Kucharski said.

SimpliVity's new data virtualization platform includes performance improvements for enterprise workloads, plus disaster recovery (DR) management and the ability to manage multiple data centers from one location, Kucharski said.

SimpliVity also launched a system for remote office-back office environments – the entry-level OmniCube CN-1200. Last year, Cisco launched the UCS Mini for small-scale environments. 

This "down market" move could boost sales from customers that may want to standardize their technology. It also opens the door to some new SMB customers, Keegan said.

SimpliVity skis past the competition

The latest release of Omnistack also adds single file restore capabilities, something that got the attention of Ron Braden, the IT director for the town of Vail, Colo.

"That's huge for us, just like it is for everybody," Braden said.

Last winter's FIS World Ski Championships in Colorado had the goal of being the most technologically advanced sporting event in history. Leading up to the event – which drew 200,000 spectators to Vail Valley – the town was in "hardware transition mode," Braden said.

It looked to upgrade an aging IT infrastructure that included many components near end of life. The town was "on the virtualization train" with about 40% of its servers virtualized, but still had many standalone servers, Braden said.

The town narrowed the selection of its new hardware to two choices and conducted a "bake-off" of sorts, running a SimpliVity OmniCube and Cisco unified computing system (UCS) with Nimble storage. In the lead up to the World Championships, Braden said his team evaluated its options to meet an event-specific service level agreement "beyond five nines."

"We didn't want to put all our eggs in one vendor basket because we've gotten burned by that before," he said.

He was drawn to the hyper-converged product because of its performance, redundancy, restore and DR abilities.

In the end, the town went with SimpliVity OmniCube but noted that the UCS setup is still in production for non-critical workloads.

While the largest sporting event the town ever hosted has passed, Vail hosts many other events such as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in August, the only U.S. stop on the World Cup skiing tour this December, the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships in March and the GoPro Mountain Games next June.

For these events, and others, the infrastructure is used to support recordings from 140 public safety cameras and will also be part of the country's first deployment of FirstNet – a wireless broadband network for public safety agencies - in a mountainous area for a sporting event.

Vail plans to continually add capacity to its hyper-converged environment.

What does hyper-converged infrastructure cost?

Initial deployment of hyper-converged infrastructure costs an enterprise anywhere from $50,000 to more than $100,000, Keegan said.

Braden called SimpliVity "middle of the road" on price, noting it was more expensive than a Cisco UCS chassis. But trying to replicate the full capabilities of hyper-converged systems would likely increase the cost of UCS and he expects the town to see a return on its investment in two to three years.

When pricing out options, Keegan said IT buyers should ask vendors for references as similar to their vertical as possible and take into consideration some of the non-financial benefits, such as easier management and reduced risk through increased automation.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or Email him at [email protected].

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