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Gauging whether hyper-converged vendors' ages matter

Deciding between the new guy and the old standby has driven purchasing decisions for decades, but what do users think when it comes to hyper-converged infrastructure?

Buyers think long and hard -- or just ask more questions -- before committing to purchase a hyper-converged system from a young, lesser-known vendor, rather than turn to a company they've known for years.

That's according to several users describing how they've become comfortable with smaller, newer hyper-converged vendors, as well as those that were drawn to larger, long-standing companies.

"You see something the first time and it wows you, [but] then you have to call them back and dig deeper," said Raymond DeCrescente, CTO at Capital Region Orthopaedics in Albany, N.Y. "We did that three or four times."

DeCrescente said he needed several demonstrations of the failover and failback capabilities before he was comfortable with OmniCube, the hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) offering from SimpliVity Corp.

Capital Region's systems administrator also wanted to better understand SimpliVity's backup strategy versus the classic tape backup the company was using. "That was new, and he didn't fully have his arms around it, so he wanted to make sure it would do everything he wanted it to do," DeCrescente said.

The orthopedic group is required to keep adult records for seven years and up to age 21 for children. It used Data Protector from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) for tape backup, but wanted to get away from tape, because it was costly, labor-intensive and not required. DeCrescente was most worried about data recovery points and whether SimpliVity's OmniCube could completely eliminate the medical provider's use of EMC RecoverPoint and VMware Site Recovery Manager.

The appeal of HCI, and eventually SimpliVity, is that it comes with storage, servers and backup all together.

When a final decision was near, physicians at the orthopedic group helped evaluate the options, including Vblock from VCE -- which DeCrescente said was the most expensive -- and traditional hardware from VMware, Cisco and EMC. The deal was sealed, in part, because many large, traditional vendors want to sign a three- or five-year support agreement, but DeCrescente said SimpliVity agreed to a seven-year plan and rolled it into the purchase price.

With smaller hyper-converged infrastructure vendors come potentially higher risks and worries. There have been a lot of questions about SimpliVity and its financial numbers, said Kevin Permenter, senior research analyst for enterprise systems at IDC. SimpliVity was confronted with such questions at its recent SimpliVity Connect event in Boston.

Adding to the concern is how the fast-growing, heavily publicized hyper-converged market already has seen some casualties. In December, Austin, Texas-based Nimboxx Inc. folded up, showing the fragility of some of smaller HCI vendors that some enterprise buyers had feared.

Nevertheless, in 2016, the landscape of hyper-converged vendors will be cemented, with newer entrants taking the spotlight, according to SimpliVity CEO Doron Kempel. He acknowledged "tremendous respect for these very large vendors that have been offering value for decades now," but said most of them "have not delivered an in-house, new data platform in 15 years."

Buying from a newer, small vendor was not a concern for Woody Muth, CIO at mechanical systems contractor Worth & Company Inc. in Pipersville, Penn.

His interest in HCI started with Nutanix following a recommendation from another IT pro to check them out.

"It just caught my interest and seemed so revolutionary," he said. "I had the traditional setup in mind, buying [HPE] servers and NAS [network attached storage], and hooking things up that way, but I quickly abandoned that once I got wind of what this hyper-converged stuff was doing."

Data protection and the ease of operation attracted Muth to HCI, even though his biggest worry was about eliminating backup software, such as Veeam.

He dismissed EVO:RAIL after determining it didn't come close to what he saw from other vendors, and was on the verge of signing a deal with Nutanix when he got a demonstration of SimpliVity's front end and felt it was easier to use than anything else he had seen. He had felt "really comfortable with the company," Muth said.

To me, it was a big risk going with someone who is not a Dell or an [HPE]; it was an unknown and a vendor that I never had experience with.
Woody MuthCIO, Worth & Company

Additionally, Muth's most significant concern with Nutanix was that it ran on Super Micro Computer Inc. servers.

"To me, it was a big risk going with someone who is not a Dell or an [HPE]," he said. "It was an unknown and a vendor that I never had experience with."

Admittedly, SimpliVity also was a mostly unknown company to Muth, "but at least they were offering it on proven hardware," he said.

Not everyone feels as comfortable going with a less-proven provider. Dell, one of the world's largest IT hardware vendors, earlier this month announced its HCI offerings, known as the XC Series, which now include the newest Intel Xeon processors, E5-2600 v4 Broadwell. Dell also became a reseller for VCE's VxRail appliance and VxRack system.

CarePoint Health in New Jersey chose Dell, and was drawn to HCI because it offers a single pane of glass for management and a single point of contact for service and support, plus a "very appetizing price point," according to CIO Joel Taylor.

Other options that CarePoint's IT leaders evaluated included VCE, VMware and SimpliVity. They were drawn to Dell and partner Nutanix because it was the leader in the industry, built from the ground up, can scale higher than the others and has its own hypervisor in Acropolis.

CarePoint is running mixed workloads on Dell's XC Series platform -- everything from file servers and databases to Microsoft Exchange -- and plans to migrate legacy infrastructure at the local hospitals to Dell XC Series appliances.

CarePoint leaders felt more comfortable with Dell than some of the other vendors after meeting with several of them, Taylor said.

"This was new to us," Taylor said, so it was reassuring "knowing Dell would show up with the hardware and experts, and have a smooth handoff."

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at [email protected].

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