HCI: A Cure For IT Complexity?

All-in-one computing, or IT in a box, is experiencing huge growth under the label, but while it has quickly moved from hype to mainstream, it still has a long way to go before the software-centric architecture – that integrates compute, storage and virtualization resources in a single system, typically x86 hardware – becomes the preferred way to build your IT infrastructure.

HCI first showed up on the Gartner Hype Cycle in 2015, paired with Integrated Systems and taking its initial step of its Hype journey, Innovation Trigger, with the expectation of reaching the Plateau of Productivity in 5-10 years. Just a year later, in Gartner 2016 Hype Cycle For Storage Technologies, HCI was poised atop the very Peak of Inflated Expectations, with an estimated mainstream adoption of less than two years.

On Tuesday Gartner released its inaugural Magic Quadrant for Hyperconverged Infrastructure, which placed , along with Dell EMC, VMware and HPE in its Leaders category. Honorable mentions went to: Cisco, and Pivot3 (Challengers); and Microsoft (Visionaries); and Scale Computing, and (Niche Players). The research giant predicts that by 2020, 20% of business-critical applications currently deployed on three-tier IT infrastructure will transition to hyperconverged infrastructure.

According to the latest numbers from IDC, converged systems market revenue increased 10.8% year over year to $2.99 billion during the third quarter of 2017 (3Q17), but hyperconverged systems sales grew 68.0% YoY to $1 billion (33.5% for the total market). Dell was the HCI leader – $306.8 million in revenue and a 30.6% share – followed by Nutanix in second place, with $207.4 million in revenue and a share of 20.7%. IDC’s list of key players included , Cisco, , , HPE, , , Nimboxx, Pivot3, Scale Computing, NetApp, DataCore and Vmware.

Another company with HCI aspirations is Microsoft, which entered the HCI space in late 2016 when it made its datacenter OS, Windows Server 2016, generally available. “Hyperconverged infrastructure is a key part of our Windows Server 2016 software-defined strategy spanning software-defined compute, storage, network and assurance,” noted Siddhartha Roy, principal group program manager for high availability and storage in Windows Server.

“The converged systems market expanded on multiple fronts, most notably within hyperconverged solutions,” said IDC’s Eric Sheppard, research director, Enterprise Storage & Converged Systems. “While hyperconvergence is not the sole source of market growth, it has undeniably driven an expansion of this market into new environments at a very rapid pace.”

451 Research predicts the HCI market will expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 41% through 2020 to just under $6 billion, while Technology Business Research estimated that the market would reach $7.2 billion by 2020, Stratistics MRC forecast $17 billion by 2023 growing at a CAGR of 42.0% from 2016 to 2023, and the most optimistic projections come from Transparency Market Research, which puts the global HCI market at $31 billion by 2025. The overall server, storage and networking segments are growing at a much slower pace, but on a much bigger share of the total IT market:

-vendor revenue in the worldwide server market increased 19.9% YoY to $17.0 billion in 3Q17;

-enterprise storage systems factory revenue was up 14.0% YoY and reached $11.8 billion in 3Q17; and,

-Ethernet switch market (Layer 2/3) recorded $6.75 billion in revenue in the third quarter, an increase of 7.4% YoY, while, the worldwide total enterprise and service provider (SP) router market recorded $3.91 billion in revenue, up 9.4% on a year-over-year basis.

In a seemingly counter-intuitive move, HCI leader Dell EMC just decided to silo its CI/HCI business into its various component groups. Just over a week ago it was reported that the company’s core server and storage business units will absorb its Converged Platforms and Solution Division (CPSD), formerly located within the Infrastructure Solutions Group (ISG).

CPSD as we know it today as an independent organization is no longer,” said Matt Baker, Dell EMC SVP of strategy and planning. The goal, he said, is to move the company’s hyperconverged and converged solutions “closer to our core product groups” with the intent of streamlining systems development and delivery.

Logic be damned, at least according to two analysts commenting on the move. “The reorg makes good business sense,” said Chirag Dekate, research director, HPC, machine learning, emerging compute technologies, Gartner. “It will help Dell rationalize product portfolios and cross-pollinate technologies from HPC across a broader set of market segments. With digital business initiatives gathering steam across enterprises, HPC-inspired ideas can prove to be a real differentiator in the new infrastructure stack.”

This reorg is all about speed of decision making and efficiency,” said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst, Moor Insights & Strategy. “I’m looking at how it was architected, and on paper it definitely does that. There’s less people in the decision making process, which is good for a company of their size.”

In January the company announced an HCI portfolio optimized for its PowerEdge x86 servers. The new servers tune the appliances at a deep level for HCI-specific performance; they are pre-optimized for HCI, which results in whole solutions that are more “purposeful, predictable and polished” than before, Dell EMC claims.

HCI is growing so fast because IT is hard, and it is becoming so foundational, so fundamental to every aspect of business that organizations don’t have enough resources to keep up with the pace of change, according to Dell EMC’s Trey Layton, who was SVP, CTO, CPSD, at the time of his conversation with IT Trends & Analysis. He sees greater investments in CI and HCI in lieu of acquisitions of component technology, but also believes that the components like storage will rebound, providing capabilities such as data services in storage arrays that don’t need to be reinvented for hyperconvergence..

Storage guru George Crump, Storage Switzerland, cautions that one of the challenges of HCI is application performance. ‘IT usually counts on quality of Service (QoS) features to meet these expectations (specific response times from specific applications), but meaningful QoS is something that HCI has a hard time delivering.’

He said some HCI vendors promise QoS but what they are really providing is a prioritization. ‘There is nothing within the HCI software that reserves IOPS performance for a specific application.’

Crump advises looking to the past – separation of the storage and compute tiers, each getting its own dedicated processing power – to address HCI performance challenge. HCI claims dedicated tiers are too complicated but simplifying the the components within it may be the answer. ‘In the two-tier architecture case, that means simplifying the storage systems within it.’

Layton said Dell EMC has a very interesting perspective on the market given its share of servers globally.”HCI is a growing but still small… our aspirations are to continue to accelerate that growth around the global footprint of server that we maintain.”

Top 10 Advantages of HCI

Here are ten ways hyperconvergence solves the challenges inherent in virtualized data centers (according to hyperconverged.org):

1-Software Focus: the software-based nature of hyperconvergence provides the flexibility required to meet current and future business needs without having to rip and replace infrastructure components. 2-2-Use of Commodity x86 Hardware: commodity hardware equals lower cost.

3-Centralized Systems and Management: with all components — compute, storage, backup to disk, cloud gateway functionality, and so on — combined in a single shared resource pool with hypervisor technology, IT can manage aggregated resources across individual nodes as a single federated system.

4-Enhanced Agility: hyperconverged infrastructure enables IT to achieve positive outcomes much faster.

5-Scalability and Efficiency: hyperconvergence is a scalable building-block approach that allows IT to expand by adding units, just like in a LEGO set.

6-Low Cost: hyperconverged systems have a low cost of entry compared with their integrated system counterparts and legacy infra- structure.

7-Easy Automation: when all resources are truly combined and when centralized management tools are in place, administrative functionality includes scheduling opportunities as well as scripting options.

8-Focus on VMs: hyperconverged infrastructure options use virtual machines (VMs) as the most basic constructs of the environment, so all other resources — storage, backup, replication, load balancing, and so on — support individual VMs.

9-Shared Resources: hyperconvergence enables organizations to deploy many kinds of applications in a single shared resource pool without worrying about the dreaded IO blender effect, which wrecks VM performance.

10-Data Protection: hyperconvergence offers comprehensive backup and recovery, and affordable disaster recovery, efficient protection without data rehydration and re-deduplication — and the inefficient use of resources that result, and a single centralized console that enables IT to respond quickly.

11-Single-Vendor Benefits: in a hyperconverged system, there is only a single manufacturer and only one upgrade to be done. Reduced complexity in these processes translates directly to saved time and lower operational costs.

DISCLAIMER: Many of the companies referenced in this article are represented in my investment portfolio.


Author: Steve Wexler

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