The Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Space Is Heating Up!

VMware recently announced there EVO:RAIL Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCIA) offering. Hyper-Converged Infrastructure is a combination of compute, network and storage resources into a single unit of deployment. The prefix “hyper” refers to the hypervisor in the virtualization layer. If you’ve heard of Nutanix hyper-converged infrastructure should ring a bell. EVO:RAIL is a coupling of VMware software and 3rd party hardware from vendors like Dell and SuperMicro to provide simplicity and scale. More details can be found here. I’m glad that VMware did not come out with their own hardware and software solution. The value is in the software so partnering with hardware vendors as VMware did makes more sense for everyone including the customer in my opinion.

This hyper-converged space is not exclusive to just Nutanix and VMware either. Gartner says that based on 2013 revenue rates, they estimate the overall market for “integrated systems” will exceed $6 billion in 2014. Companies listed by Gartner in the “integrated systems” quadrant include Nutnaix, Simplivity, HP, Dell, IBM, VCE and others. From my perspective “integrated systems” is not completely the same as “hyper-converged” so I’ll stick to the topic at hand.

What does VMware bring to the table with HCIA and EVO:RAIL that you don’t get with the competition? Since I have experience with Nutanix, I’ll use it as a reference. EVO:RAIL brings a much simpler out-of-box hyper-converge platform when compared to Nutanix. You also get EVO:RAIL delivered as a fully integrated HCIA offering via a single SKU. These two things give VMware somewhat of an advantage over a solution like Nutanix. I’m in “NO WAY” saying that this makes EVO:RAIL a better solution overall but if you’re a loyal and faithful VMware customer with no intention to change, this could bring tons of value. The EVO:RAIL engine can and does make the deployment process of vSphere and vSAN that much easier because VMware owns all the software components. Plus, VMware does not have to charge itself licensing fees to pre-package it’s software as such. Hey VMware, now that I’ve seen this EVO:RAILS deployment process I’m going to expect this for all your other products as well. This is a trend I think customers can get used too.

Is all lost for the competition? The short answer is NO!

Nutanix has positioned itself as a compute and storage provider with its software-driven Virtual Computing Platform. They now use the term web-scale converged infrastructure but I won’t mince words. Nutanix is not totally dependent on the vSphere hypervisor and also supports Microsoft Hyper-V and KVM. I find this to have been a great decision on their part. Nutanix adds value in other ways that bring value, in which EVO:RAIL does not, and there are many features still in the works. Nutanix has recently raised $140M Series E from Premier Public Market Investors that will help Nutanix accelerate its vision. The only complaint I currently have, from my experience with Nutanix, is with the installation process which can sometimes be tricky. Nutanix deals with installing their storage platform very well but the tricky part comes into play when automating the installation of the hypervisor nodes. And because they support multiple hypervisors it’s understandable that they have their job cut out for them.

For the most part, issues usually end up being something on the customer network side but the installation process has room for improvement. Especially after seeing what the EVO:RAIL engine does.

It’s still early for the hyper-converged infrastructure space. It will be interesting to see how things unfold as companies compete for dominance.