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Scale Computing has moved against the grain from the start. While most hyper-converged infrastructure vendors support VMware vSphere, Scale Computing HC3 uses a variant of Linux Kernel-based Virtual Machine hypervisor. The open source virtualization appeals to organizations seeking to avoid VMware licensing or those with limited storage IT resources.
Also, Scale allows customers to start with a single node and add nodes as needed, compared to the three-node minimum purchase imposed by most HCI vendors. That approach is aimed at organizations that have growing storage needs but limited IT budgets.
Dell VMware and Nutanix remain the powerhouses in HCI, but Scale Computing CEO Jeff Ready said he is content to chase deals in the small business and midmarket. Ready said converged and hyper-converged infrastructure are merely means to an end. What customers crave, he said, is a software-defined approach that simplifies installation and management on commodity servers.
"I imagine many of our customers don't even think about the question of buying converged or hyper-converged. What they want is a high degree of automation and orchestration," Ready said.
In this Q&A, Ready discusses Scale's evolution into the enterprise and recent partnerships with Google, Lenovo and APC by Schneider.
Scale Computing has carved a niche in HCI despite not supporting VMware, but it cuts you off from a large segment of the market. How sustainable is that approach over the long haul?
Jeff Ready: Our No. 1 competitor for us is, and always has been, VMware. I guess now I should say it's Dell. VMware comes in a number of different forms. It can be traditional virtualization of servers and storage. It can be hyper-convergence through VMware vSAN or via the partnerships it has with Nutanix, et cetera. VMware is always in the conversation, whether people want hyper-convergence or not. I would say 95% of our new customers are people who are switching from VMware, and are often our best source of leads for other people seeking an alternative to VMware.
Besides Nutanix and VMware, which other HCI competitors do you square off most?
Ready: On a deal-by-deal basis, we compete with Nutanix, and we win our fair share of those deals. We do particularly well at the edge. Sometimes Cisco HyperFlex, although much less often. Since SimpliVity was bought by HPE, we've seen almost none of it. I can count on one hand the number of times they were in a deal with us.
How has Scale Computing HC3 evolved its hyper-converged technology and focus?
Ready: Our roots are in the SMB and the midmarket, and certainly a huge part of our customer base is there. Where we've seen a lot of acceleration is [solving] the same set of customer problems that extend into enterprises ... deploying infrastructure in locations that don't have traditional data center resources, or they have a very limited version therein. This can be an organization like Detroit Symphony Orchestra or larger companies with remote offices, like a local McDonald's, for example.
What enables Scale to expand HC3 use cases?
Ready: What's made Scale Computing HC3 unique from the very beginning is the concept of self-healing and orchestration. We evolved and really hit our stride in the hyper-converged market, but my feeling is that [product category] is going to fade. I would argue that hyper-convergence technology is now table stakes, not because people want to buy hyper-converged infrastructure, but because of the consolidation it brings.
What customers want from Scale is a high degree of automation simplicity. We originally helped organizations whose IT was a one-man show. We provided an extra set of hands. The system detects its own errors and takes the steps an IT person would to fix them. As the market has evolved to more distributed edge environments, many of those companies don't even have IT departments anymore, so we're getting pulled into more of those edge-type deployments.
Where is Scale Computing HCI software gaining the most traction?
Ready: A big market for us in 2019 is retail. When I visit a retail environment, the thing I notice often is that they are perhaps a generation behind in their IT infrastructure. So many retailers I see have not even done virtualization in their stores -- they may have virtualized the data centers, but the stores are a mishmash of different point products and servers that have been deployed over a decade. Now, they want to consolidate all of that together.
What is your plan to deliver Scale Computing HC3 in the cloud?
Ready: Cloud Unity is our partnership with Google. We did joint development to bring this product to market. What it does is create a virtual instance of Scale in the Google Cloud Platform. That virtual instance is identical in the way it works and interoperates with what you are running on premises. To put it very simply: If I have three Scale nodes running a cluster on premises, the Google Cloud could appear as a fourth node. It takes away any complexity around creating a hybrid cloud environment. Instead of moving an application from on prem to the cloud, it all looks like one big system.
You recently added Lenovo and APC by Schneider Electric as HC3 integration partners. Is this an approach to cover both the core data center and HCI at the edge?
Ready: Lenovo is now taking Scale products through its global channels. Same with Schneider Electric. Both resellers will market the Scale Computing HC3 as 'data center in a box.' The Lenovo one is easy to understand: a well-known systems vendor that sells servers and Scale appliances as a type of system. What Lenovo brings to the table is access to its global brands and resellers, and it gives us an instantaneous global footprint.
The interesting thing about the Schneider Electric partnership is that it's notably different. Schneider also sells through the channel, but many of its partners are what I would call nontraditional IT shops, meaning [companies] that build physical data centers.
The Micro Data Center in a Box is joint product we built with Schneider. It isn't designed to go in a modern traditional data center. It's a system designed to go into an office as a turnkey solution. Schneider Electric makes a lot of money building data centers. What gets eroded in the move to cloud and edge is the [support and centralized maintenance] of the traditional data center, so Schneider Electric wants to be in front of that trend.