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State of the Industry: Converged and Hyperconverged Infrastructure Market

One of my roles at AHEAD as the leader of AHEAD’s converged and hyperconverged infrastructure practice is to help educate our clients and prospects on the marketplace as it evolves specific to these technologies.  As few as five years ago, the concept of converged infrastructure (CI) or “data center as a product” was relatively unknown in the distributed data center. The same thing could be said for hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) as recently as 18 months ago.  These technologies are often compared, almost interchangeably, and most likely compared to the traditional data center deployments of reference architecture or “do it yourself” – which is how many data centers or application silos have been built over time.

Last year, for the first time, Gartner published a Magic Quadrant for Converged Systems. This was a pivotal inflection point in the IT infrastructure game, because it provided major industry recognition. This first MQ was published and included many companies that comprised not only converged infrastructure systems, but also hyperconverged and reference architecture (not factory-manufactured systems.)

Gartner Magic Quadrant

2014 Recap and Analysis

VCE was the clear winner of the 2014 MQ analysis. VCE has taken market share over the last five years, turning the concept of CI systems from science project to mainstream, as validated by creation of a MQ specifically geared to converged systems.

NetApp also had high MQ ratings in 2014 based on the prevalent attach rate of NetApp storage systems to Cisco UCS and Nexus via the FlexPod reference architecture. I have had many clients ask me why a reference architecture would appear in the converged systems analysis, and my general explanation has been because it is a system made of converged components based on reference architecture and marketed in that fashion, even if not manufactured, deployed, supported, or provided with a code lifecycle management system by a single vendor.

Gartner’s biggest win in 2014 on the MQ for Converged Systems was having the foresight to include emerging HCI technology companies like Nutanix and Simplivity as visionaries. Gartner correctly surmised that use cases would emerge leading to the concept of HCI adoption and rapid industry pivoting towards HCI. The launch of both VMware’s (EMC) and VCE’s (now also EMC) own HCI appliances demonstrates the credible threat and real use cases for this type of technology.

From then to now:

At AHEAD, we help our clients analyze vendors, marketplace options, and use cases. We have also been leveraging our analysis of the marketplace as well as 3rd party analysis like the MQ for Converged Systems in our technical and executive briefings. We have evaluated many technologies, brought multiple systems into our lab, and have established go-to partners for CI and HCI that have the most market bearing that will best meet the needs of the client.  We’ve helped guide many clients to take advantage of converged and hyperconverged infrastructure, one example is in the video below.

As part of our ongoing test and evaluation process, we evaluate new players, updated systems and capabilities, as well as traditional / existing vendors to analyze their ability to adapt to the changing marketplace. We have been looking forward to the next version of the MQ for Converged Systems for the last few months. On August 11th, Gartner followed up with the second annual MQ analysis in this area, with a new name: “Magic Quadrant for Integrated Systems”.

2015 MQ for Integrated Systems

Gartner has provided a very detailed analysis of the marketplace, changes over the last year, and new definitions for how to understand the market offerings.  They have broken down categories to include:

  • Integrated Stack Systems: Systems that include the entire infrastructure and application (like Exadata)
  • Integrated Infrastructure Systems: Systems that are manufactured and marketed as a manufactured product like VCE Vblock, HP ConvergedSystem, or Hitachi UCP
  • Hyperconverged integrated Systems: Systems that offer tightly coupled hardware, software, and storage in a grid based appliance approach relying on smart software for software-defined node based storage as well as a simplified interface and management

Gartner further defines “reference architecture” with many caveats specific to definitions that include:

  • Possibility of delivering any of the above as a reference architecture
  • Combination of HCI providers using their software on other OEM Hardware
  • Loose reference architectures based on best practices across technology choices

Some of the vendors listed on the MQ are positioned based on their ability to manufacture, market, and deliver solutions that are integrated (CI / HCI).  Other vendors are positioned in the MQ based on their ability to partner well and execute strategies that lead to their technologies being co-opted, used, or otherwise partnered with other vendor technologies in a reference architecture approach.

2015 Analysis

Converged Infrastructure

VCE maintains its clear position as the leader in CI, however they are rated a little lower on ability to execute and little farther to the left on their visionary status. It is important to note that Gartner now brands VCE as “EMC (VCE)” on the MQ based on EMC’s acquisition of VCE and dissolution of the Cisco Joint Venture in late 2014.  VCE is actively working to bring new technologies to the marketplace to not only extend leadership in the CI space, but also to bring HCI systems (VxRack) as well as integrated SDDN systems (ACI w/ Vblock and NSX with VxBlock) to market. While partnered exclusively with Cisco during the VCE Joint Venture, VCE faced challenges bringing product to market (eg: HCI) due to limitations on use of non-Cisco technologies by the JV.  Expect to see more flexibility and an increase in VCE’s capability to bring new product to market under EMC’s leadership.

Hitachi has moved backwards from the visionary quadrant while increasing its ability to execute. The Hitachi UCP solution provides very strong software and management capabilities for its CI stack, however, the reference architecture relationship with Cisco for UCS (in lieu of selling Hitachi’s server platform) has likely led to a slowdown in adoption of pure HDS CI solutions with both Hitachi Storage and Servers.

HP has moved up in the MQ regarding ability to execute with the continued work efforts of bringing its converged systems to market and market penetration.  However,  execution of a strategy for a cohesive CI marketplace for HP seems challenged by different BU goals and lack of a CI BU or practice.   HP storage and ProLiant servers are strong, but HP networking with Procurve has an overall small percentage of the networking market, and it seems that more often than not, HP Converged System discussions are sacrificed to achieve server and storage sales while partnering with Cisco on networking or other technologies as meaningful for standalone HP product sales.

IBM / Lenovo have been split in the MQ, and it is difficult to understand the strategy with IBM and Lenovo. IBM is focusing more on integrated application solutions and partnering with Cisco UCS to bring VersaStack reference architecture (IBM Storage / Cisco Servers) to market.  Lenovo’s acquisition of IBM’s x-series business in 2014 included the Pureflex x86 CI product line, but we have not seen consistent or capable marketing / delivery of PureFlex systems, and Gartner has expressed significant cautions in this space.

Hyperconverged Infrastructure

The HCI marketplace is larger now than ever, and many manufacturers are entering this space. Others continue to partner across the ecosystem to bring product to market.  Many new HCI vendors crowd the lower left quadrant of the MQ, but as we saw in 2014, there are two clear HCI vendors who continue to rapidly improve their products, accelerate growth, and execute in the marketplace.

Nutanix has the clear nod from Gartner as the prevalent HCI solution in the marketplace.  Nutanix has made the jump from “Visionaries” to “Leaders” with the latest release.  Nutanix continues to bring rapid evolution of technology, frequent capability and system updates, and a very functional and high performing platform to market. Over the course of the last 12 months, Nutanix has continued to expand its marketplace presence through key partnerships with Dell, and by winning deals and taking footprint from traditional manufacturers in many enterprise 1000 organizations. Nutanix’s success is both a blessing and a curse, as many traditional data center manufacturers have recognized the competitive threat of HCI technology and are pivoting to provide similar solutions to the marketplace.

SimpliVity also made significant moves towards ability to execute between 2014 and 2015 as the company has continued to expand in the SMB / Mid-Market space.  SimpliVity will be interesting to watch, specifically as it competes with other HCI vendors and moves towards more enterprise scale solutions.

VMware EVO:Rail is not listed in the MQ.  Analysis of the MQ write-up indicates that Gartner considers the EVO:Rail appliances as brought to market under the analysis of each vendor.  Many vendors have created vSAN based EVO:Rail systems. Initial marketing with EVO:Rail as a way to commoditize a stable and predictable deployment of vSAN had issues with pricing, especially around the requirement to sell net-new vSphere ESX socket licenses, even for customers with existing licenses or VMware ELA’s. Late attempts to address the licensing issues may help, as will increases in availability and stability with newer versions of vSAN/vSphere. Whether or not VMware (and its ecosystem of HW manufacturers) will grow in relation to other hyperconverged vendors remains to be seen.

VCE is also bringing a new hyperconverged appliance to market. VCE’s appliance is the VxRack and will be based on a combination of commodity server infrastructure, EMC’s ScaleIO software, and Cisco networking with a manufactured appliance that plugs into and leverages VCE’s Vision software. VCE’s entry into the HCI marketplace will provide differentiation to the general HCI architecture approach. Generally, other HCI vendors provide the HCI servers, but rely on the customer to provide racks, power, networking switches, cables, etc. VCE will be leveraging what they have learned from the CI space by manufacturing their VxRack appliance with racks, POUs, cabling, and switches all integrated with management and shipped as a product. This will present challenges for VCE on straight up “quote” pricing comparisons to their competitors, but when looking at total TCO and benefits of shipping a completely configured system, VCE is making a bet that their solution will win. When VxRack becomes GA, my assumption is that Gartner will likely evaluate both of VCE’s CI and HCI marketplace entries together for MQ placement of VCE, not necessarily comparing VCE’s HCI appliance to other HCI vendors.

The Reference Architecture King?

Listed as a “new add” to the MQ this year is Cisco. In 2014, Cisco was listed twice, with a specific “NetApp/Cisco” bullet and also as a co-owner of VCE. This year, Cisco has moved to the highest position for ability to execute in the MQ. This is interesting as Cisco does not manufacture or market a CI or HCI product. Many thought that Cisco’s acquisition of Whiptail (aka Invicta) would put Cisco in a strong position to create a CI or HCI product, but product issues led Cisco to cease product development with the Invicta line. Instead, Cisco has made moves to stay with the CI marketplace by leveraging a continued partnership (not joint venture) with EMC for VCE Vblocks. More critically, Cisco has introduced reference-architecture market partnerships with IBM (VersaStack), Pure Storage (Pure Stack), Hitachi (HDS UCP w/ Cisco), as well as creating partnerships with SimpliVity and other HCI vendors. Cisco has made a strategy of working well with almost everyone in this space, and it will be interesting to see if the company’s strategy for partnering versus. innovating their own product to market pays off over the next year.

Conclusion

The CI/HCI world continues to evolve and do so quickly. This space did not exist as a tangible market five years ago, and now enterprise IT groups are evaluating CI/HCI solutions with almost every new application deployment, VDI deployment, or infrastructure refresh/growth investment. We house many of these technologies (including Vblock and Nutanix) in our lab, and we offer a comprehensive executive and technical briefing center around the technology at our corporate headquarters in Chicago.  This topic is one that is discussed in almost every briefing.  We’d like nothing better than to sit down with you and your team to begin the evaluation of CI/HCI and how these technologies could benefit or transform your data center infrastructure.  CI/HCI solutions set the stage for massive IT transformation through elimination of silos and creation of green-field environments for IaaS and PaaS platforms.  Learn more about our briefings below.

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