Hyper-convergence: Whither the alternative stack, VM lads?

Everyone wants the happy people on their side

Comment A few weeks ago I attended Storage Field Day 7 (SFD7). Most of the conversations we had during the event were about hyper-convergence.

We had at least three meetings where hyper-convergence was centre-stage: Maxta, Springpath and VMware. The market is very active, to say the least, and still in an effervescently expanding phase.

VMware has something to say…

VMware is doing a great job with VSAN, both from a technical and marketing perspective. In fact, the product is still (far) behind its competitors in many technical aspects but the maturity process is very fast.

The first product version was totally unimpressive but, with the additions coming from Virsto and some adjustments it is now much more interesting. Data footprint reduction (aka dedupe/compression) as well as remote replication and other fancy features are still absent however … but in time they will come.

For the end user VSAN is like taking a leap of faith; you have to trust your vendor and know that today you are buying a “good enough” product that will become excellent in a year or two. Fortunately VMware has a good track record in similar situations.

The product is very easy to try; included in the basic ESXi distribution, it can be activated with a license key, and it is probably already better than your traditional three-to-five year old storage – which is probably the kind of comparison that many end users make when they evaluate VSAN. The proof of success comes from the astonishing numbers VMware has: more than 1200 customers so far.

Is EVO: RAIL a success as well?

VSAN is also one of the core components of EVO:RAIL, a real hyper-converged appliance, physically built by 8/9 different vendors and sold through their channels. I don’t know how successful this product is, especially when compared to VSAN alone but the prices I found in the field are incredibly high, especially when compared to other solutions from market leaders like Nutanix and Simplivity, or younger startups like Maxta.

In the SMB space, where price matters even more, KVM-based solutions like Scale computing win hands down.

I would like to know how many EVO:RAIL units have been sold in the last quarter, for example. As I said, I’m sure that this product is less successful than its single core components.

To me, when EVO:RAIL was launched, it seemed like they were chasing after the hyper-converged players. It was built in a hurry (like VSAN) and it will take time before it becomes really competitive. Even some EVO:RAIL partners don’t believe that much in this product: for example, Dell prefers to sell Nutanix software on its hardware while HP has its StoreVirtual-based hyper converged solution, which has been sold to hundreds of customers so far.

On the other side, Simplivity reports that an important part of its enterprise sales now come from Cisco hardware, which could also mean that some Cisco partners are choosing Simplivity, which makes a lot of sense.

I think that most of the EVO:RAIL producers jumped on EVO:RAIL bandwagon only because VMware is a big partner for them but there is no differentiation when it comes down to competing against other EVO:RAILs (from a marketing point of view, at least, and it doesn’t have better technical characteristics/price than non-EVO:RAIL competitors.

The latest news from insiders concerns the repricing of EVO:RAIL; as far as I know, the margin is too small for partners at the moment. Perhaps this is another reason why EVO:RAIL is pushed back when possible.

Last but not least, If I’m not wrong, end users can’t recycle their VMware licenses to run on EVO:RAIL … yet they can with other solutions.

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