For some, expanded hyper-converged server choices miss the mark

Growing server choices in hyper-converged appliances give enterprise IT pros all sorts of options, but many are more focused on the software.

To some, the choice of meat in their sandwich can make or break lunchtime. For others -- whether it is turkey, roast beef, ham or salami -- it's all the same.

It's a similar situation for many IT teams with the servers used for hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) hardware these days -- except if you prefer Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).

Leading hyper-converged vendors continue to certify their software on an increasingly wide variety of hardware platforms. The newest addition to the mix is Huawei Technologies' FusionServer, which last week became a new option for SimpliVity Corp., of Westborough, Mass., alongside hardware from Cisco, Dell and Lenovo.

But the bulk of enterprise IT shops are less interested in growing hardware compatibility than the software itself.

Part of hyper-converged appliances' appeal has been as turnkey, Lego-like blocks. Another big factor for enterprise IT buyers is, of course, price. Many also prioritize how HCI fits into their overall hardware standardization strategy -- they have standardized on one or two platforms, so they are less resistant to adoption if the HCI can run on their selected platform.

"To them, implementing software on hardware is no big deal," said Eric Slack, senior analyst at Evaluator Group Inc., an analyst firm in Boulder, Colo. "They are fine with buying software and putting it on any compatible hardware from a hardware list."

HCI software does little to change customers' underlying hardware strategy from major server makers, said Lief Morin, CEO at Key Information Systems Inc., a reseller in Agoura Hills, Calif., that works with healthcare, finance, manufacturing and retail companies.

"I still have to buy hardware, so the question is valid: What kind of hardware do I have to buy?" he said.

Ask and ye shall receive

Already, SimpliVity's sales with Huawei servers totaled $5 million in the third quarter of 2016 for more than 100 all-flash systems running ERP applications, Microsoft Exchange, Oracle databases, custom-made applications, virtual desktop infrastructure and DevOps workloads, said CEO Doron Kempel.

I still have to buy hardware, so the question is valid: What kind of hardware do I have to buy?
Lief MorinCEO at Key Information Systems

Nutanix, meanwhile, has added Open Compute Project (OCP) servers from Hyve Solutions Corp. to its list of certified servers. Customers that requested this include an enterprise and a service provider that have standardized on OCP-compliant servers, said Greg Smith, senior director of product and technical marketing at Nutanix.

Part of the expansion of HCI software partnerships is to evaluate the key strategic partnerships for each vendor and what technology to develop internally.

Nutanix, for example, has certified its software on Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) servers based on customer demand, even though Cisco is no longer a partner.

At the same time, Nutanix must solidify its relationship with Lenovo and support other appropriate server platforms for customers before moving on to new partners, CEO Dheeraj Pandey said during the company's recent first-quarter earnings call.

"We should not be suffering from attention deficit disorder and simply signing contracts just to sign contracts," he said. "Right now, we have to get a lot of what we have in our hands right, including Cisco UCS."

SimpliVity, on the other hand, will not certify its software on a server without a partnership with that vendor because many value-added resellers and customers would balk at the risk, Kempel said.

Still missing: Support for HPE

Amid the greater choices for HCI, the largest server maker, HPE, is still left out -- the top two vendors in the HCI market, Nutanix and SimpliVity, aren't certified on HPE servers.

HPE has its own line of HCI, to which it just recently added capabilities associated with composable infrastructure.

Customers want HPE servers, but SimpliVity hasn't been a priority for HPE, and the company wants any validation to be a collaborative effort, Kempel said. SimpliVity is not losing business due to the lack of HPE support. One Global 50 financial services customer asked for HPE servers, but when it wasn't available, the company went with Cisco, he said.

When asked recently whether Nutanix software will be certified on HPE servers, Nutanix's Smith said only: "There's nothing to announce today."

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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