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The initial benefit of hyper-converged infrastructure was its elimination of the dedicated storage network. After this realization, it became clear that consolidating and simplifying management of the entire infrastructure was even more valuable than eliminating the storage area network.
Admins also noticed that HCI lacked data services such as backup, replication and archiving with the same simple, virtual machine-centric management model in the data center. This meant organizations started to look for an HCI appliance offering that integrated infrastructure for these capabilities.
In the HCI market, there are some companies that offer software-defined infrastructure in hardware appliances with their own specific features.
Nutanix initially packaged its software-defined tools into hardware with its own branding, with 2U rack enclosures that could hold one, two or four individual HCI server nodes.
Over time, it has shifted to a software company, and the Nutanix-branded appliances are just one deployment option. For hypervisor offerings, admins can use a Nutanix HCI appliance with VMware's vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Nutanix's own Acropolis hypervisor (AHV), which is derived from the open source kernel-based virtual machine hypervisor.
The Prism management interface is key to Nutanix's offerings, which is the single pane of glass for AHV deployments, and provides global network visualization, data analytics and centralized VM management. However, Nutanix's vision does not end with an HCI setup; admins need a full cloud architecture with applications and services that support digital business.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise
What differentiates the HPE SimpliVity product within the HCI market is its data efficiency capabilities that are built into the storage platform, such as always-on deduplication and compression across the entire software package and HCI appliance. VM snapshots, clones and replication mean admins can preserve data efficiency with less network bandwidth and lower costs.
HPE offers SimpliVity in its ProLiant DL380 2U servers, or in the Apollo r2600, which is four servers in 2U chassis. These servers are the SimpliVity 380 and 2600, respectively.
In 2018, HPE integrated the Composable Fabric with the SimpliVity offering. Composable Fabric is HPE's product that came from its Plexxi acquisition and gives admins tools for software-based intent-based networking. Most HCI connects storage with the network; few vendors include tools for the management of that network.
Pivot3 started as a scale-out storage vendor for surveillance video. Its Acuity product is now a full-fledged HCI option.
A main Acuity feature is the storage quality of service (QoS) policies that came from the NexGen storage acquisition. QoS is essential for admins that have a mix of workloads that share storage resources and want to ensure fair storage performance distribution. Since the NexGen acquisition, Pivot3 targets more enterprise data center deployments in addition to its cemented position in video surveillance use cases.
High-performance VMs, integrated management and independent certifications have made Pivot3 an attractive option to admins. The company's HCI appliance comes as 1U or 2U servers, hybrid or all-flash configurations.
An expanding market
There are some other vendors that offer HCI as a hardware appliance. Scale Computing started with a focus on small businesses and moved into remote office/branch office deployment with its HC3 virtualization and edge products, where its no-touch management approach is valuable to admins.
Cisco's HyperFlex is based on its acquisition of Springpath and is making slow gains in the market. Its main features include edge deployment support, non-volatile memory express flash, data management and independent scaling.
Of course, VMware is the current market leader, but it does not have its own hardware. The company's vSphere with vSAN is a software-only HCI product that is deployed onto hardware vendor partner's servers. Dell EMC VxRail is an example of a hardware appliance that contains VMware's software-only HCI. This model can make it harder for admins to get the easy installation and consolidation they want for HCI deployments.