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Cisco hyper-converged update spruces HyperFlex, raises HCI stakes

As Cisco looks to soon be without SimpliVity as a hyper-converged infrastructure partner, it beefs up its HyperFlex product with coengineered software with Springpath.

The latest Cisco hyper-converged infrastructure offering beefs up on features that enterprises want, as the company hopes to forge another path into enterprise data centers.

The updated HyperFlex 2.5 system includes a coengineered data fabric and file system with software partner Springpath Inc. that focuses on improved performance for top-tier enterprise workloads. Other enterprise-oriented improvements include the option of up to a 40 Gigabit Ethernet interconnect, an all-flash storage option, native replication, encryption at rest and integration with CloudCenter.

Last year, when Cisco's HyperFlex and Springpath offerings were just a few months old, they had some "functional deficits" and were short on enterprise features, but had sound architecture, said Richard Fichera, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. The latest updates focus on improvements that are important to enterprises, such as native replication services to an external target.

HyperFlex 2.5 is still missing erasure coding -- already offered by VMware vSAN and Nutanix -- which is useful mainly for workloads with large data sizes that carry a cost penalty to internally replicate data. Likewise, integration with CloudCenter may be useful at some point, even if users may not need it today.

"There's definitely a trend of people wanting to manage and migrate their data from [on] premise[s] to cloud with a common management plane," he said.

HyperFlex 2.5 is built on Cisco's Dynamic Data Fabric, which combines software designed from the ground up for hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) and a file system built from scratch for HCI that distributes data across clusters and moves it between nodes, with segmentation between traffic.

"You would never [have] been able to do a fully distributed file system across the cluster ... if you couldn't carve the network into four-lane pathways," said Kaustubh Das, vice president for HyperFlex product management at Cisco.

Cisco's move to beef up its HCI product comes as Hewlett Packard Enterprise reveals its plan to soon sell SimpliVity OmniCube hyper-converged infrastructure appliances on HPE hardware, starting with DL380 servers. HPE closed its $650 million SimpliVity acquisition in late February.

For enterprises considering HCI, 7% are planning to purchase Cisco HyperFlex, according to the 2016 second-half storage market landscape survey from TechTarget Research.

There's definitely a trend of people wanting to manage and migrate their data from [on] premise[s] to cloud with a common management plane.
Richard Ficheravice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research

The latest HyperFlex updates were run through the paces in an Enterprise Strategy Group lab, commissioned by Cisco, to evaluate several four-node clusters with equivalent specifications and configurations: Cisco Unified Computing System blades running an unnamed software HCI stack, an unidentified proprietary HCI system and Cisco HyperFlex. ESG wouldn't name the other products due to licensing agreements, but they included the biggest competitors in the space, said Tony Palmer, one of the two ESG analysts who conducted the test.

All three products were evaluated based on tier-one workloads. The test used a five-millisecond latency bar running an online transaction processing workload that allowed 140 virtual machines on the four-node cluster, which was anywhere from two times to seven times more VMs than the others in the test. HyperFlex did not achieve 100% random read performance similar to the other clusters, but that's not a common real-world workload, Palmer said.

A future key improvement for Cisco's hyper-converged strategy would be to expand HyperFlex beyond the VMware ESXi hypervisor, Palmer suggested.

"It will be a more complete solution, where they are able to support other environments," he said.

HCI vendors should openly disclose performance metrics like this, although all the platforms tested should be identified, Fichera said.

"[Cisco's] claims are impressive, that they are getting a lot more oomph out of a single node than some of the competition," he said. "That was a good move, because in their industry, vendors have been very hesitant to put out numbers."

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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