Hyper-converged technology expanded in 2015

VMware OEM partners that signed on to sell EVO:RAIL appliances, pioneers and large vendors new to the hyper-convergence market jockeyed for storage customers in 2015.

Hyper-converged technology and marketing strategies matured in 2015, with early players expanding their products and large vendors jumping into the game.

The appeal of hyper-convergence is the delivery of integrated IT infrastructure on a single hardware appliance that includes compute resources, networking gear, server virtualization and storage. It was a busy year for hyper-convergence news in 2015, and 2016 will likely be the same, with more options for customers to consider.

VMware EVO:RAIL struggles to find footing

Virtualization giant VMware in 2015 modified EVO:RAIL configuration and licensing requirements in a bid to get more customers to adopt its hyper-converged technology.

VMware provided more scalable configuration options to its hardware partners, including 32-node clusters that support up to 1,600 generic virtual machines (VMs) and 2,400 virtual desktops. That's a jump from 800 VMs and 2,000 virtual desktops, previously.

In addition to making EVO:RAIL more scalable, VMware now allows customers to purchase vSphere licenses bundled on EVO:RAIL appliances. EVO:RAIL consists of VMware software, including its Virtual SAN (VSAN) hyper-converged product, running on partners' hardware.

While storage vendors are selling appliances based on EVO:RAIL, customers have taken a slow road to adoption, said Colm Keegan, a senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., in Milford, Mass.

"My sources tell me there is little demand for EVO:RAIL," Keegan said. "That's typical of any new technology. There's probably not a whole lot of interest by partners to sell EVO:RAIL, because it can be difficult to differentiate when [other vendors] have the same thing."

Early EVO:RAIL partner Hewlett Packard Enterprise in June stopped selling its CS-200 HC EVO:RAIL product, just nine months after bringing it to market. HPE decided to concentrate on its own ConvergedSystem 250-HC StoreVirtual platform.

EVO:RAIL technology competes with hyper-converged startups, including Maxta, Nutanix, Nimboxx Inc., Scale Computing and SimpliVity Corp.

It can't help EVO:RAIL sales that it still uses an older version of VSAN. VMware upgraded VSAN in 2015 for the version that runs inside the vSphere hypervisor, but the upgrade does not apply to EVO:RAIL systems.

VSAN 6.1 includes support for stretched clusters between sites for synchronous replication and a two-node cluster option for remote and branch offices. Previous versions required at least three nodes.

Storage vendors give shape to hyper-converged market

Larger vendors also moved deeper into hyper-convergence in 2015, usually through partnerships. Amid news of their proposed $67 billion merger, Dell and EMC each revealed new hyper-converged storage hardware. Dell brought out the high-density XC6320 hyper-converged appliance, including the all-flash XC6320. The XC Series includes Dell x86 servers and Nutanix Distributed File System hyper-converged software under an OEM deal between the two vendors. EMC in 2015 started shipping its Vspex Blue EVO:RAIL appliances.

Hitachi Data Systems Corp. rolled out its first hyper-convergence products: UCP 1000 for VMware EVO:RAIL, and the Hitachi Hyper Scale-Out Platform for Hadoop and other big data analytics.

Nutanix also struck a deal with Lenovo to develop hyper-converged products that bundle Nutanix software on Lenovo servers. Lenovo also forged meet-in-the-channel partnerships with SimpliVity, StorMagic and Pivot3 to package hyper-converged software on its servers.

The hyper-converged pioneers also expanded their technology in 2015. Nutanix took aim at VMware by introducing the Acropolis hypervisor, based on Linux Kernel-based Virtual Machine, and App Mobility Fabric that lets customers convert from VMware ESXi -- and Microsoft Hyper-V -- to Acropolis.

Nutanix rival SimpliVity made a down-market move with its SimpliVity OmniCube CN-1200 2U box for remote branch office storage.

Meanwhile, Scale Computing beefed up its HyperCore software with automated VM provisioning and multisite disaster recovery across node clusters.

Also joining the hyper-convergence fray this year were Atlantis Computing Inc. and DataDirect Networks (DDN). Atlantis Computing's HyperScale platform consists of Atlantis UCX virtualization software running on x86-based servers from Cisco, HPE, Lenovo and Supermicro. DDN launched the SFA14Ke hyper-converged appliance for high-performance computing storage.

Keegan said the signs point to greater traction for hyper-converged technology in 2016.

"From an operational perspective, most businesses realize they need to find a way to do things differently," he said. "Traditional IT doesn't help them innovate. They see hyper-converged infrastructure as a way to offload the day-to-day stuff."

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