When Derek DePasture joined BluePearl Veterinary Partners as a senior network engineer in October 2014, the company had about 27 locations and 1,300 employees around the country. Within 12 months, those numbers had grown to 56 locations and almost 3,500 employees.
The fast-growing chain of emergency and specialty veterinary hospitals had a hub-and-spoke model for its IT infrastructure—all of it being run by about a dozen IT professionals, according to DePasture.
“As we’ve grown, we’ve kept a very lean [IT] staff,” he told eWEEK.
Several years ago, company officials decided to shift from the hub-and-spoke model to a centralized data center and went looking for the technology they’d need to make the move.
The old infrastructure was based on Dell’s PowerEdge VRTX converged offering, with integrated compute, storage, networking and management software configured to serve branch and remote offices. VRTX is a good product, but it couldn’t scale the way BluePearl needed, DePasture said.
Among the products IT officials investigated was Cisco Systems’ Unified Compute System (UCS) Mini converged infrastructure system. However, at about the same time, Cisco announced HyperFlex, the networking vendor’s addition to the quickly expanding hyperconverged infrastructure market that was announced in March in conjunction with software partner SpringPath.
HyperFlex comprises Cisco’s UCS servers and software-defined storage (SDS) technology created with SpringPath, a startup that Cisco has invested in. It also leverages Cisco’s Nexus switches to help create an integrated networking fabric and UCS Manager software.
For DePasture and his colleagues at BluePearl, HyperFlex addresses the company’s technical and financial needs. It’s a product that is easy to deploy and manage. It can scale as the business demands grow. At the same time, the company won’t have to increase its IT department or bring on specialists in such areas as storage-area networks (SANs) or VMware.
“It’s going to allow us to maintain the level of our IT staff,” he said, noting that management of the infrastructure is done through a single pane of glass. “The scalability is easy and set up is very easy—and as a systems administrator, that’s very important. I don’t want to spend four hours in the data center setting up servers. … We can scale as needed.”
From Converged to Hyperconverged
The hyperconverged infrastructure space grew out of the push by OEMs that started five or more years ago to offer converged systems that pre-integrated systems with computing hardware, disk storage, networking gear and systems management software. The goal has been to give organizations data center systems that are easy to deploy, manage and scale, are cost effective and are virtualized.
Hyperconverged infrastructure began hitting the scene in 2014, with a key difference being that they combine storage and compute functionality into a single, highly virtualized server-based solution. Top-tier systems makers over the past couple of years have been building out their hyperconverged portfolios, often in partnership with the growing number of vendors—such as VMware as well as newer players like Nutanix and SimpliVity—that sell software for hyperconverged environments. Smaller appliance makers like Pivot3 also are making a push into the space.
The hyperconverged segment is now the fastest growing segment in the larger converged infrastructure market, according to IDC analysts. In the first quarter, while the overall converged infrastructure space grew 11 percent year-over-year to $2.5 billion, the hyperconverged segment jumped 148 percent, to $371.9 million.
In 2015, hyperconverged infrastructure was a $981.91 million market, according to IDC Research Director Eric Sheppard. By 2019, it is expected to increase to more than $4.7 billion. Gartner analysts expect the space to reach $2 billion this year, and almost $5 billion by 2019.
It comes at a time when organizations are seeing the complexity and cost of their data centers increase, driven by such trends as mobility, data analytics, the proliferation of mobile devices, the growing adoption of virtualization and the cloud.
They’re looking for ways to reduce their capital and operation costs, to bring more scalability and flexibility to their infrastructures and to make it easier to deploy and manage their environments. At the same time, these businesses also want to transform their IT departments, moving away from groups of IT specialists to staffing their data centers with generalists.
“The value of hyperconvergence to the customer is simplicity,” Radhika Krishnan, executive director and general manager of Lenovo’s Converged/Hyperconverged and Networking business unit, told eWEEK.
Hyperconverged infrastructures also give businesses the benefits of a cloud environment without having to go to a public cloud, allowing the strong management and security working within their own environments, according to Todd Brannon, director of product marketing for UCS at Cisco.
Hyperconverged Systems Show Promise in Reducing Data Center Complexity
“What’s really attracting them to this [hyperconvergence] model is the cloud-type consumption model,” Brannon told eWEEK. “It’s a cloud model, but on-premises.”
Hyperconverged systems are tightly integrated offerings that include networking, virtualization and a single management plane along with the single solution for compute and storage. They remove many of the silos typically found in data centers.
The hyperconverged space was initially embraced by midmarket customers, and while enterprises increasingly are adopting the infrastructure, the majority of the business right now remains in the midmarket, IDC’s Sheppard said.
Gina Longoria, an analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, told eWEEK that hyperconverged infrastructures bring greater efficiencies, ease of use and cost savings to midmarket businesses that are looking for ways to keep up with changing data center demands without having to add IT staff or a lot of new equipment.
“It’s the quickest path on the market to get up and running on a new workload,” Longoria said. “It really makes it simple for people.”
However, vendors say they are seeing strong enterprise adoption.
Officials with Simplivity point to a recent report the company released that showed that when compared with Amazon Web Services (AWS), its HyperConverged Infrastructure software delivers 22 percent to 49 percent in cost savings.
SimpliVity officials have announced a multi-million dollar deal to replace legacy IT equipment for a financial services firm in the global Fortune 50. In addition, Howard Ting, chief marketing officer at Nutanix, said his company has more than 3,100 customers, including a number of the Global 2000 companies.
“We feel that we’re just scratching the surface of the opportunity,” Ting told eWEEK. “Today, [hyperconverged infrastructure] is in the top three to five things IT organizations are talking about and budgeting for. It’s become mainstream very, very quickly.”
A recent study by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and IT technology analyst firm the Evaluator Group reflected the growing enterprise interest. According to the study, 47 percent of enterprises surveyed—businesses with more than 1,000 employees—were using or evaluating hyperconverged offerings for infrastructure consolidation efforts and 42 percent are doing so for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) efforts.
Common uses of hyperconverged infrastructures include VDI, server virtualization and consolidation, data protection, test and development and to serve large remote and branch offices, according to vendors and analysts. However, many expect the number of use cases to grow as adoption of these systems increase.
A Lot of Options to Choose From
Customers have plenty of options when looking for hyperconverged infrastructure offerings. Dell has partnered with Nutanix in the development of its XC Series appliances and in April Dell officials not only announced the company was building out its XC Series with new solutions, but also introduced a reference architecture that integrates technologies from VMware. Dell also said it was reselling hyperconverged systems from VCE, EMC’s converged platform business. The company already sells systems that include VMware’s VSAN software.
The moves not only expanded Dell’s portfolio, but also gave the industry a glimpse of what it may be able to do once it completes its $67 billion acquisition of EMC and its federated businesses, including VMware and VCE. EMC sells VxRail and VxRack hyperconverged systems that use VMware’s vSAN and its own ScaleIO storage software.
Lenovo, armed with IBM’s x86 server business, also is partnering with Nutanix as well as Juniper Networks to build out a hyperconverged infrastructure business. The company’s Converged HX Series integrates Nutanix’s software onto its servers to bring compute and storage resources into a single shared, virtual infrastructure that officials said can be used by every size of business from enterprises to SMBs.
Cisco’s HyperFlex HX-Series uses the company’s own UCS systems and Nexus switches along with the software-defined storage (SDS) platform developed in conjunction with SpringPath.
Hitachi Data Systems this month rolled out its first hyperconverged product, the Unified Compute Platform (UCP) HC V240, which includes Hitachi servers and storage software. The package also is certified for VMware’s VSAN Ready Node platform and runs the virtualization vendor’s HyperConverged Software stack.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) is looking to leverage their own technologies in developing their hyperconverged offerings. HPE offers its ConvergedSystem 250-HC StoreVirtual appliances that use its ProLiant Apollo Gen9 servers. In March, it announced the HC 380, which runs its StoreVirtual VSA storage software on its ProLiant 380 systems. The HC 380 is primarily aimed at the midmarket and enterprise branch offices.
However, with hyperconverged solutions, “software is the critical element,” Moor Insights’ Longoria said. “You need some type of software layer on top of it to make it come together.”
Hyperconverged Systems Show Promise in Reducing Data Center Complexity
Nutanix’s Ting said it’s the software that pools the nodes of a cluster, brings resilience and intelligence to the solutions and that drives the SDS capabilities critical for hyperconverged infrastructures.
“All that magic … is in the software stack,” he said.
Nutanix in recent weeks has been pushing to broaden its reach in the industry. In May, the company unveiled its Xpress management software, which is designed to bring the capabilities of its Enterprise Cloud software to a price point for SMBs. A month later, Nutanix officials introduced a new offering that they said will transform the company from one that sells software into the hyperconverged space to one that provides a platform for the entire data center.
Software is important, Lenovo’s Krishnan said, but the hardware vendor also plays a key role in developing the platform that the hardware runs on and offering services and support for those products. That is why partnerships like the one between Lenovo and Nutanix is important.
“This is complex technology,” she said. “This is not something you can do in just six months. … You don’t want to buy a white box and just put Nutanix on top of it.”
Longoria said that despite the fast growth in the market, hyperconverged infrastructure vendors face challenges. One will be differentiating their products from those of their competitors. The hardware is similar and with Nutanix and VMware working with multiple OEMs, many are carrying the same software.
System vendors will be able to sell into their own customer base, but “for a new customer OEM acquisition, it becomes very hard to determine which software stack and which hardware partner you want to go with,” she said. “To me, there’s not a lot of good answers yet. Right now, I see everything being a sort of me-too offering.”
Road to Composable Infrastructure?
Going forward, there also are questions about whether hyperconverged systems are a destination or a step along the path to composable infrastructure, where data center resources—compute, storage and network fabric—are pooled and treated like services. Organizations no longer have to configure hardware to run particular applications. Instead, it’s the applications—using policies and APIs—that automatically and dynamically provision and deploy the infrastructure resources they need.
Some vendors already are moving into the composable space. For example, Cisco offers the UCS M-Series modular servers and UCS C3260 rack server, both of which company officials said are based on a disaggregated system architecture handled by the company’s UCS Manager software.
For its part, HPE in December 2015 unveiled its Synergy platform, an architecture that ensures the exact amount of data center resources can be rapidly pulled together from a single resource pool to support an application and then returned to the pool when they’re no longer needed. Synergy is being used by about 100 pre-release customers now, but will become generally available later this year, according to Paul Miller, vice president of marketing at HPE.
For smaller companies and midmarket customers, hyperconverged infrastructures will address most of their needs. “For enterprises, it’s a stepping stone to composable,” Miller said.
Both IDC’s Sheppard and Moor Insights’ Longoria see a similar pattern, with enterprises making the move to composable infrastructure ahead of their smaller counterparts.
“Hyperconverged has interesting capabilities right now, where composable infrastructure is not really mainstream right now,” Longoria said. “But I think maybe OEMs see [hyperconverged] as a step to composable infrastructure. … There will be an interesting market transition point in the next two to four years.”
BluePearl Makes the Move
For now at least, BluePearl Veterinary Partners is happy with the hyperconverged infrastructure technology supplied by Cisco and its HyperFlex offering. According to DePasture, the company’s senior network engineer, the company has deployed three HyperFlex systems—including the first one to roll off the Cisco production line—and is awaiting a fourth to be plugged into the environment.
Company officials wanted an infrastructure that would enable BluePearl to run mission-critical applications and move patient information—such as diagnostic imaging—to any of their locations and that could scale. The result has been more effective and standardized veterinary care and an infrastructure that can support 100 percent annual growth at the company. BluePearl also has been able to reduce deployment and operational costs.
The move from VRTX to HyperFlex was a good decision, DePasture said.
“HyperFlex was comparable [in cost], but with everything that comes with it, we decided to make the change,” he said.