Beyond virty boxen and hyperconvergence: Regard the mighty data centres of the future

Riding that software-defined wave

SANs and filers are facing decline because of the sudden rise of hyper-converged systems and enterprises seeking IT silo simplification.

This isn’t because of a wish to get rid of networked storage per se. Rather, it’s a manifestation of enterprises recoiling from the burdensome complexity of being IT system component integrators and operators.

Hyper-convergence is a reaction to years of IT resource silo sprawl and the two leading proponents of hyper-convergence are Nutanix and Simplivity, both of whom started out as combined hardware and software scale-out appliance suppliers. Their products became known as HCIAs, Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Appliances.

Are they really the future or a short-term-ish phase?

Let’s look at events. Both Nutanix and Simplivity* were founded in 2009, the same year Cisco and EMC started Acadia, which developed into VCE. Cisco’s UCS servers, the server component of VCE, were introduced in 2009.

Maxta and Gridstore, two more hyper-converged players, started up the same year. It was no coincidence; the same motivation applied to all five concerns. But why did they all start in 2009? Was there a common spark?

Interestingly, Diane Greene was forced out by EMC as president and CEO of virtualization giant VMware in 2008 on a falling stock price and falling revenue warnings. Such a challenge to the industry’s number one in virtualization and consolidator or tin may be pertinent to the HCIA foundlings... or it may not.

Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey says recessionary periods, such as that era around 2008 onwards, are a hotbed for innovation. Recessions tend to feature layoffs and departures, with lots of people leaving existing companies to start new things.

John Nicholson, a vExpert, reckons this was when he saw enterprises begin to seriously move Tier 1 and business critical applications to VMware. It was a time, he says, when META LUN's and other items of SAN hell still ruled supreme for BCAs. So need and opportunity came together

VCE, the Virtual Computing Environment, builds a converged infrastructure in which existing Cisco UCS servers, Nexus switches, EMC storage arrays and VMware hypervisors were pre-integrated and sold to customers as single Vblock systems. These were large, rack-scale systems that were easier and simpler to buy and operate together than if you bought their components separately.

Simplivity and Nutanix thought that such converged systems should be developed more from the ground up, be scale-out in architecture, and not use a shared storage array approach at all. They should aggregate the storage of each node into a virtual SAN, which became known variously as a Server SAN and a VSAN. The use of VMware was pretty much a given because that freed what they called their hyper-converged systems from lock-in to, and dependence on, any particular server operating system.

Other non-hyper-converged systems also featured Server SANs or virtual SANs, like the HP VSA based on its acquired LeftHand Networks technology.

Cisco and NetApp got together and devised FlexPods; converged system reference designs using NetApp ONTAP storage instead of EMC’s, which their respective channel partners built and supplied to customers. This proved so popular that VCE subsequently developed VSPEX, templates for converged systems which EMC and Cisco channel partners could build using components that met the specification.

But Cisco, EMC and NetApp did not develop their own hyper-converged systems, leaving that to the two pioneer startups.

Next page: HCIA startups

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