E-Handbook: AMD's Ryzen, Epyc power surge in desktops, laptops, data centers Article 3 of 4

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HPE HCI platform takes AMD road to Rome

HPE HCI product upgrades incorporate high-performance AMD Epyc Rome microprocessors to help companies provide dense, scalable virtual desktop infrastructure for work-at-home staff.

A timely upgrade from Hewlett Packard Enterprise aims to equip customers whose employees are forced to work from home.

HPE enhanced HPE SimpliVity 325 hyper-converged infrastructure systems to support more virtual desktops. HPE Nimble Storage dHCI converged infrastructure software also is available now as a consumption license through HPE GreenLake cloud services. Both HPE HCI product upgrades revolve around HPE ProLiant servers that incorporate second-generation AMD Epyc Rome microprocessors.

The SimpliVity 325 system runs on HPE ProLiant DL325 Gen10 servers optimized for all-flash media. HPE claims the turbocharged Epyc ProLiant server potentially doubles the number of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) users per server.

"We've had a huge uptake for VDI from companies providing essential services," said Patrick Osborne, an HPE GM and vice president of HCI products.

The Rome generation of Epyc underscores AMD's stepped-up effort to battle Intel in the enterprise data center server market. HPE server rival Dell Technologies also sells a branded line of Epyc-based PowerEdge servers.

The Epyc Rome system on a chip scales to 64 cores with 128 threads per socket to address high-density virtualization and cloud computing. AMD encrypts the memory engine and virtualization engine on the chip to reduce the attack surface.

"HPE is introducing this [SimpliVity] model because it contains the AMD Epyc processor, which has been shown to outperform other microprocessors on a cost-per-capability basis," said Steve McDowell, a senior analyst for storage at Moor Insights & Strategy.

VDI and HCI: The past is prologue

Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) refers to an integrated system in which compute capacity, software-defined networking and storage are packaged with a hypervisor layer in a single appliance. Nutanix pioneered the product category and is No. 2 in the market behind Dell's VMware vSAN, which is software that runs on any general-purpose server. Cisco ranks third and HPE SimpliVity is fourth, according to IT research firm IDC.

HPE acquired early Nutanix rival SimpliVity in 2017 in a deal valued at $650 billion. The SimpliVity product languished initially as HPE mapped out engineering for an HCI market that had started to shift from mainly backup and VDI to more high-value HCI use cases. The onset of COVID-19 has spurred renewed interest in VDI and virtual machines.

"The amount of IT money being spent on VDI right now is staggering. We are seeing companies spending tremendous sums upgrading and deploying VDI. The bigger question is whether this is a one-time uptick or a long-term transition," McDowell said.

HPE customer Pitt Ohio is an original SimpliVity customer. The transportation and logistics firm has 10 SimpliVity 380 all-flash nodes in its main data center and six in a secondary location for backup and replication. Aside from a couple islands of legacy storage, the Pittsburgh-based trucking company runs all other applications and database on its HPE HCI cluster. The company refreshed its SimpliVity nodes about a year ago.

HPE had a "few hiccups" after taking over the SimpliVity line, but the vendor has done a solid job since to broaden the HCI platform's capabilities, said David Wunderley, Pitt Ohio's director of IT. He said Pitt Ohio considered Nutanix and EMC Vspex Blue, the forerunner to Dell EMC VxRail, when migrating off of legacy storage.

"The SimpliVity is our baby. We consolidated our date center from three rows down to one row, and it chews through everything we throw at it, whether it's our SQL Server, Exchange, our BI environments ... whatever. It's done really well for us," Wunderley said.

VDI on the fly

HPE Nimble dHCI lets enterprises license VDI capacity as an on-demand service via GreenLake. The HPE Nimble Storage dHCI product combines Nimble Storage hybrid arrays and ProLiant servers tied together with Aruba switching. Although HPE refers to it as disaggregated HCI, the product is more a converged system that allows compute and storage capacity to scale independently.

Nimble dHCI is different than HPE Synergy composable infrastructure, an API-driven option that allows data centers to lease server and storage hardware by the rack on a pay-per-use model.

The HPE SimpliVity 325 can be ordered now, with shipments expected to start this month. Planned enhancements to Nimble dHCI will add support for more ProLiant server models and increase the number of supported servers per system to 32, up from 20.

Epyc ecosystem expands

HPE is far from alone among server and HCI vendors embracing Epyc processors. Dell, Lenovo and Supermicro support Epyc in their servers, and HCI software vendors VMware and Nutanix also support AMD's new processors.

Nutanix HCI is another option for HPE server customers. The Nutanix DX series of HCI appliances use ProLiant servers, and HPE makes Nutanix technology available through GreenLake.

Phil Schamberger, VP of infrastructure solutions at Atlanta-based ProActive Solutions, resells HPE servers, as well as Nutanix HCI software on HPE. He said server vendor support for Epyc gives customers a second option and can push Intel to make improvements.

"I don't really know yet if Epyc is a huge impact as far as market share, but AMD typically has competitive products at a lower cost," Schamberger said. "I feel like it puts Intel on notice. I think customers want that choice, not to mention supply chains can be a disaster now" because of the pandemic.

Dave Raffo contributed to this story.

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