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HPE unveils Nimble dHCI, InfoSight on SimpliVity HCI

Is disaggregated HCI a thing? Hewlett Packard Enterprise says yes, with its new Nimble Storage-ProLiant server combo that looks more like converged infrastructure than hyper-converged.

LAS VEGAS -- Hewlett Packard Enterprise is extending Nimble Storage technology into hyper-convergence.

HPE plans to bring Nimble's InfoSight predictive analytics to its SimpliVity hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) platform in August and to launch a not-quite-HCI Nimble Storage product later this year. HPE introduced Nimble Storage dHCI today at HPE Discover, along with new SimpliVity HCI hardware models for remote sites and bulk storage.

The moves come two months after HPE went outside of its product family to strike a partnership with HCI vendor Nutanix. HPE will sell Nutanix as part of its GreenLake storage-as-a-service program, and Nutanix will sell its software on HPE ProLiant servers. But HPE executives said SimpliVity remains the vendor's No. 1 HCI platform.

Despite its name, Nimble Storage dHCI is more converged infrastructure than HCI. The dHCI stands for disaggregated hyper-converged infrastructure, although HCI is an aggregated architecture that combines storage, compute and virtualization in the same chassis and software stack. Nimble dHCI consists of HPE ProLiant servers packaged with Nimble Storage arrays, with automation software to help with deployment.

A converged infrastructure packages servers and storage separately, as in a traditional infrastructure, but does not combine them into a single chassis and integrated stack, as HCI does.

Nimble dHCI lacks the ability to provision storage through the hypervisor and a software-defined storage layer such as VMware vSAN and the Nutanix HCI software stack.

The Nimble dHCi architecture is similar to products such as NetApp HCI and Datrium DVX, which bill themselves as HCI 2.0, because they allow compute and storage to scale independently. But its core architecture is more similar to Dell EMC VxBlock or NetApp FlexPod, which combine Cisco servers with storage arrays, than it is HCI appliances.

"All converged systems are disaggregated," said Eric Slack, senior analyst at the Evaluator Group, based in Boulder, Colo. "I like this as a converged system. It's just not HCI. It's VMware running on servers connected to Nimble storage systems. If they ran vSAN on these servers, it would be hyper-converged. But they don't have that software-pooled storage. You have to draw the line somewhere."

HPE is hedging on whether it considers Nimble converged or hyper-converged. HPE marketing materials on Nimble dHCI refer to it as both at times. Sandeep Singh, vice president of storage marketing at HPE, described Nimble dHCI as combining "the simplicity of hyper-converged experience with the flexibility of converged."

He said SimpliVity HCI is better for customers who know how their storage and compute will scale ahead of time, while Nimble dHCI would help those who are not sure if their future needs will require more compute or storage.

Singh said the new automation software will enable Nimble Storage customers to turn their arrays into dHCI systems by adding ProLiant servers.

Steve McDowell, senior analyst for data center technologies at Moor Insights & Strategy, also said he doesn't consider Nimble dHCI true HCI, but said it can bring value to the same type of customers who want HCI. He said Nimble dHCI provides "HCI-like functionality without SimpliVity hardware. You can scale compute and storage independently -- something that traditional HCI was missing."

Why not just use converged infrastructure? Perhaps because the market has shifted to HCI systems. According to IDC, hyper-converged revenue surpassed converged infrastructure revenue in 2018 and has continued to increase year over year every quarter, while converged infrastructure revenue has declined in recent quarters.

For the fourth quarter of 2018, IDC put HPE at 5.4% of the HCI market. It stood a distant third behind Dell and Nutanix in branded appliances and behind Dell-owned VMware and Nutanix in HCI software.

SimpliVity gets InfoSight, capacity nodes

HPE acquired early HCI vendor SimpliVity for $650 million in 2017. Now, it is trying to give SimpliVity a boost with InfoSight software and new hardware models for remote sites and bulk storage.

InfoSight was a major driver of HPE's $1.2 billion Nimble acquisition in 2017. HPE has ported Nimble's InfoSight predictive analytics management tool onto several of its hardware platforms, including 3PAR storage and the ProLiant servers on which SimpliVity runs.

"It's now tracking at a full system level," Singh said of InfoSight on SimpliVity. "Not just the server, but it attaches to the VM [virtual machine] layer and down through the networking, server and storage layers. If you have a VM farm of thousands, we can tell you several hundred of those are sitting idle, yet consuming valuable capacity, and you should move them."

I like this as a converged system. It's just not HCI. It's VMware running on servers connected to Nimble storage systems.
Eric SlackSenior analyst, Evaluator Group

InfoSight for SimpliVity initially works with VMware hypervisors. Singh said HPE plans to support Microsoft Hyper-V in a future release.

Tony Harvey, research director at Gartner, said extending InfoSight to the SimpliVity HCI platform is a big move. "It's one of the things HPE needs to do to say, 'We support SimpliVity,'" after the Nutanix deal, he said.

Krista Macomber, senior analyst at Storage Switzerland, said InfoSight will add value to SimpliVity.

"I can't stress enough how important it is to simplify management operations as much as possible as HCI environments scale and as they host a growing percentage of the enterprise's workloads," she said. "These predictive and intelligent platforms also make it much easier to optimize for performance and resource utilization and to plan for things like capacity expansions."

She pointed out that smaller HCI vendors such as Scale Computing and HiveIO have added predictive analytics.

"I think this is going to be an area that really moves the needle in terms of vendor differentiation," Macomber said.

SimpliVity for the edge, backup

The new HPE SimpliVity 325 is for remote offices or other deployments where space is tight. The 325 is a 1U box, with an AMD EPYC CPU processor and flash storage.

The HPE SimpliVity 380 is a storage-optimized node that allows customers to add capacity without adding compute. The 2U node uses solid-state drives and hard disk drives, with a target use of backup and archived data. The SimpliVity 380 includes four SSDs to boost SimpliVity's data reduction technology and eight HDDs for storage. It supports 25 TB of usable capacity.

Early HCI systems lacked the ability to scale compute and storage independently, but Dell EMC, Nutanix and others now offer compute-centric and storage-centric nodes for HCI clusters. Dell EMC VxRail S Series are storage-dense appliances, and the Dell EMC VxRail P Series are high-performance compute nodes, while Nutanix sells a storage node.

HPE is also now enabling automatic configuration of its Aruba switches with new SimpliVity HCI nodes.

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