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LAS VEGAS -- Hewlett Packard Enterprise's partnership with Nutanix in April raised questions about HPE's commitment to its own SimpliVity hyper-converged infrastructure product line. Now, HPE is trying to assure SimpliVity HCI customers that it remains committed to that platform.
HPE made a few product enhancements at its HPE Discover user show this week and packed its agenda with SimpliVity hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) sessions. HPE SimpliVity featured prominently in storage discussions at the show, while Nutanix received scant mention.
HPE agreed to sell Nutanix as part of its GreenLake IT-as-a-service portfolio, and Nutanix will sell its software packaged on HPE ProLiant servers. The partnership took many by surprise because HPE had rebuffed previous attempts by Nutanix to package its software on HPE hardware through channel partners in bundles that would compete with SimpliVity.
HPE acquired SimpliVity for $650 million in 2017 to take on Nutanix, Dell VMware and others in the growing HCI market.
Paul Miller, vice president of marketing for HPE's software-defined and cloud group, said the Nutanix deal "doesn't mean we've changed our strategy for hyper-converged. Our strategy is SimpliVity, SimpliVity, SimpliVity."
Miller said partnering with Nutanix allows HPE to sell more ProLiant servers and give customers who use Linux an HCI option. Nutanix has its own free AHV hypervisor for shops that don't want to use VMware, which runs on nearly every HPE SimpliVity system.
"Nutanix has a strong customer base that overlaps a lot with us. Our customers were asking us to bring it to them as a service," Miller said. "We're going to give it to them the way they ask for it. We want to enable the best platform on the market to them, and that platform is ProLiant. You compete on the software services. It all runs on the same hardware."
HPE SimpliVity has only 5.4% of the HCI market, according to IDC, ranking a distant third behind Dell VMware and Nutanix. So chasing customers who want Nutanix can increase HPE's reach, but at the expense of its own technology.
While HPE customers have asked for Nutanix, others have already chosen SimpliVity over Nutanix.
Greg Johnson, manager of IS server systems at Prisma Health in South Carolina, said he uses SimpliVity HCI at five remote sites and is considering combining it with Veeam software to back up data to the cloud. He said he chose SimpliVity soon after HPE acquired it in 2017. "I've used HP [for servers] since it was Compaq," he said.
Johnson said he picked HPE SimpliVity over Nutanix and Dell EMC VxRail, dismissing Nutanix because "we didn't like the price."
Johnson said his security director wants to look at Nutanix to run Splunk, and he's open to that. "As long as it's on HPE hardware, I don't have a problem with it -- but my preference is SimpliVity," he said.
Cassandra Anderson, systems administrator for the Janesville, Wis., school district, picked SimpliVity over Nutanix in 2017. She said she dismissed Nutanix because the vendor offers many of its services through AHV and her school wants to stick with VMware's hypervisors.
"We're a VMware house; that's what I know," she said.
Data reduction could save HPE SimpliVity
HPE will look to play up SimpliVity's strength -- its data protection and reduction capabilities -- to compete. It uses a GPU card to deduplicate and compress data without a performance hit.
HPE recently added a SimpliVity 380 software-optimized node based on ProLiant Gen10 servers that removes the need for the GPU card. Moving data reduction to software saves a PCI slot but requires two extra CPU cores.
HPE further enhanced SimpliVity this week by extending InfoSight predictive analytics to the SimpliVity stack, and adding a SimpliVity 325 model for remote offices and a SimpliVity 380 bulk storage node for backup and archiving.
SimpliVity users are already using the platform for data protection.
Joshua Goodall, an automation engineer at USS-POSCO, said built-in data protection was a major factor that led the steel fabricator, based in Pittsburg, Calif., to choose SimpliVity HCI.
He calculated the total cost of ownership of SimpliVity HCI at around $180,000 compared with $260,000 for Dell EMC VxRail. A big part of that cost reduction came from having backup and disaster recovery capabilities in the box, as well as its data reductions to save storage capacity.
"We can back up with SimpliVity with no impact on performance," Goodall said. "We tell our people, 'Don't do snapshots any more, just do SimpliVity backups.' They're nearly instantaneous and have zero overhead."
Anderson said the Janesville school district shrinks more than 1 petabyte (PB) of logical data to less than 30 TB on its SimpliVity. Dave McNair, a senior systems engineer at outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), based in Kent, Wash., said REI replaced its entire backup infrastructure when it installed SimpliVity. "We're trying to future-proof as much as we can," he said.
McNair said SimpliVity gives REI almost instant restores of virtual machines and files.
Dave McNair Senior systems engineer, REI
McNair said REI picked SimpliVity over Nutanix and VMware vSAN a few months after HPE acquired the HCI vendor. REI installed two-node clusters in 155 retail stores, as well as its data center. The smaller clusters appealed to REI.
McNair said he liked the Nutanix technology, but its three-node minimum clusters at the time were not ideal for remote sites. "We needed a small footprint, and the others required three-plus nodes," McNair said of SimpliVity competitors.
McNair said HPE's SimpliVity updates this week gives him confidence in its commitment to the platform.
"Seeing what they're doing here, I have no concerns" about SimpliVity's future, he said.
Other HPE HCI options
Still, it's hard to overlook the potential damage to SimpliVity that the HPE-Nutanix deal can do. Nutanix is a key piece of GreenLake, for which HPE executives have high hopes. SimpliVity is also available through GreenLake, but HPE positions it as its SMB play on GreenLake, while Nutanix is the enterprise HCI choice. Nutanix, trying to break a six-month sales slump, can use GreenLake as an opportunity to convince HPE of its value and possibly expand the partnership.
HPE can also use Nutanix AHV as insurance if Dell pulls back support of VMware on its rival HPE's hardware.
So the next year or so can be a make-or-break time for SimpliVity to prove it can compete with the top HCI products.
Enter Nimble dHCI
Nutanix isn't the only product that HPE sells on ProLiant that competes with SimpliVity. HPE is pushing its new Nimble Storage dHCI product as hyper-convergence for mission-critical applications, and a way to turn customers' ProLiant servers into HCI. While Nimble dHCI consists of discrete Nimble arrays and ProLiant servers instead of a combined package, HPE executives said it brings the simple setup and manageability of HCI. And because Nimble dHCI is Ethernet-only, there are no Fibre Channel LUNs needed to provision storage, which is also a selling point of HCI.
Bryan White, a senior systems architect at Match.com, said the online dating service was a Nimble dHCI beta tester. He said Match is considering using Nimble dHCI for a rack-scale HCI implementation in its Dallas data center.
"We're looking at doing this in a service provider model where every rack has an array, and you can configure each rack individually," White said during an HPE Discover session called "Extending hyperconvergence to business critical apps."
"With one click, you basically build a giant HCI. You have a rack-scale HCI."