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Cisco hyper-converged HyperFlex adds NVMe-enabled model

Cisco HyperFlex 3.5 software adds native DR and cloud-based Intersight Storage Analytics. The all-flash hyper-converged systems integrate Nvidia GPUs and Intel Optane NVMe SSDs.

Cisco is bumping up the performance of its HyperFlex hyper-converged infrastructure platform with nonvolatile memory...

express flash storage.

The networking specialist in July plans to broaden its hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) options with Cisco HyperFlex All NVMe. The new Cisco hyper-converged system is an NVMe-enabled 1U HX220c M5 Unified Computing System (UCS) server that's integrated with dual Intel Xeon Skylake processors, Nvidia GPUs and Intel Optane DC SSDs.

The HX C220 uses Intel Optane drives on the front end for caching. Four Intel 3D NAND NVMe SSDs of 8 TB each provide 32 TB of raw storage capacity per node. Optane SSDs are designed on Intel 3D XPoint memory technology.

HyperFlex 3.5 software extends Cisco Intersight compute and network analytics to storage. Version 3.5 supports virtual desktop infrastructure with Citrix Cloud services and hyper-convergence for SAP database applications.

"This is clearly a performance play for Cisco, with the addition of NVMe and support for Nvidia GPUs," said Eric Slack, a senior analyst at Evaluator Group, a storage and IT research firm in Boulder, Colo. "They're talking about SAP modernization. Cisco is going to try and sell hyper-converged to a lot of folks, but initially the targeting will be their UCS customer base. And that makes sense."

Cisco: Hyper-converged use cases are expanding        

More than 2,600 customers have installed HyperFlex, many of whom already are Cisco hyper-converged UCS users, said Eugene Kim, a Cisco HyperFlex product marketing manager. He said customers are "pushing the limits" of HyperFlex for production storage.

"The all-flash HyperFlex we introduced [in 2017] comprises about 60% of our HCI sales. We see a lot of customers running mission-critical applications, and some customers are running 100% on HyperFlex," Kim said.

Hyper-convergence relies on software-defined storage to eliminate the need for dedicated storage. An HCI system packages all the necessary computing resources -- CPUs, networking, storage and virtualization tools -- as a single integrated appliance. That's different from converged infrastructure, in which customers can buy different components by the rack and bundle them together with a software stack .

We see a lot of customers running mission-critical applications, and some customers are running 100% on HyperFlex.
Eugene KimHyperFlex product marketing manager, Cisco

Cisco hyper-converged products were late to market compared with other HCI vendors. Cisco introduced HyperFlex in 2016 in partnership with Springpath , bundling the startup's log-structured distributed file system with integrated Cisco networking. Cisco was an early investor in Springpath and eventually acquired it in 2017.

Cisco's HCI market share jumped from 2.5% in the fourth quarter of 2016 to 4.5% in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to IDC. HyperFlex sales generated more than $56 million -- a 200% increase year over year. Still, Cisco was in fourth place behind Dell, Nutanix and Hewlett Packard Enterprise in HCI hardware share, according to IDC.

As part of its partnership with Intel, Cisco added Intel Volume Management Device to HyperFlex 3.5. Intel VMD allows NVMe devices to be swapped out of the PCIe bus, avoiding a system shutdown.

Much of the heavy lifting for Cisco hyper-converged infrastructure was handled with the HyperFlex 3.0 release in January. It added Microsoft Hyper-V to support in addition to existing support for VMware hypervisors and the Cisco Container volume driver to launch persistent storage containers with Kubernetes.

Owning the compute, network and storage software gives Cisco hyper-converged systems an advantage over traditional hardware-software HCI bundles, said Vikas Ratna, UCS Product Manager at Cisco.

"We believe being able to optimize the stack up and down provides the best on-ramp for customers [to adopt HCI]. We don't have to overengineer, as we would if we just owned the software layer," Ratna said.

Customers can scale Cisco HyperFlex to 64 nodes per cluster. Ratna said Cisco plans to release a 2U HyperFlex that scales to 64 TB of raw storage per node when larger NVMe SSDs are generally available.

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