SimpliVity Acquisition Paves a Path Back to Serverdom

Author(s): John Sloan

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The story of hyperconvergence, a truly disruptive trend in tech infrastructure, began with storage but will end with servers. The announced acquisition of hyperconvergence vendor SimpliVity by Hewlett Packard Enterprise is a big part of that story.

Hyperconvergence puts together processing, storage, and networking in a single virtualized appliance that can be clustered for resiliency and scale out capacity. Processing? Storage? In one box? Isn’t that what in IT we used to call a compute server?

Well, yes. Yes it is. In the future, two of the champions of hyperconvergence are going to be traditional server vendors putting hyperconvergence smarts into their server products.

HPE’s bread and butter in enterprise IT has always been servers. Storage and networking gear came later (see below). Now for US $650M in cash, HPE is acquiring a leading (second only to Nutanix) hyperconvergence vendor. HPE’s perennial adversary in servers, Dell, now owns a majority interest in VMware (from its EMC acquisition) and continues to resell Nutanix hyperconverged appliances. VMware’s vSAN is a key component of hyperconvergence on commodity server hardware.

Remember the Grid?

Back in the early years of this century, when networked servers based on x86 hardware were really taking off, we first heard of the concept of the grid. The idea was that in the future, enterprises would move more and more of their compute requirements to grids of industry standard servers and less to big mainframe and “mini” mainframe computers. I distinctly recall a very interesting briefing on the promise of the grid and server blocks back then.

That briefing was given by none other than Hewlett Packard.

But there proved to be limitations with the grid concept. As data grew, there wasn’t enough storage capacity within individual servers to fit it all. Also, it was difficult to migrate data and applications from one server block to another. On the other hand processing power was growing exponentially so a single server would have far more processing power than required by a single application or service.

Instead of the grid, the trend became separating processing and storage; consolidating storage in networked storage arrays, while clustering the servers (processing) and partitioning their processing power with a virtualization hypervisor. Enterprise storage became foundational for this architecture, benefiting companies like EMC, NetApp, and IBM (as well as HP and Dell once they built or acquired their way into the storage market).

The End of Storage

This big storage era had a good run but is coming to an end. With growing capacity (on solid state and spinning disk) more storage can fit in an individual server than ever before. Software-defined storage and various “share nothing” schemes mean that a workload doesn’t need a consolidated storage array to easily migrate from one physical host server to another. In the meantime, we see that the grid of commodity servers did happen. It happened not in the enterprise but in the cloud, at Amazon and other “cloud scale” entities like Facebook.

Yet enterprise IT has been conditioned over the past decade or more to see enterprise storage as a special animal requiring advanced features for redundancy and performance. After all, data is the lifeblood of the enterprise and where the data lives needs to be rock solid. This legacy is why the leaders in hyperconvergence – companies like Nutanix, SimpliVity, Pivot3, and others – all started as storage companies with unique takes on clustered storage servers. They have the cred to say, don’t worry about the risk of this hyperconvergence thing because we have enterprise class storage tech under it all.

While storage cred is an important touch point, vendors like Nutanix and SimpliVity do not want to be seen as just storage or be weighed down by it. They want to be an all-encompassing data center platform, replacing separate servers and storage and their attendant management overhead. In a one-on-one briefing last September with SimpliVity, the first thing the representative said was “tell me you are not going to evaluate us just on storage features.”

It will be interesting to see how a company like HPE, which diversified to storage and network gear, rides this hyperconverged wave. The server business will have a new birth, but what of storage?

Info-Tech clients can learn more about hyperconvergence and what they need to do about it below. Also, look for our Hyperconvergence Vendor Landscape due out this spring.

Evaluate Hyperconverged Infrastructure for Your Infrastructure Roadmap

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