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Hyper-converged market shifts with IT trends

The hyper-converged infrastructure market has seen a good deal of movement lately. While some vendors strengthened their products, others went in the opposite direction.

Hyper-converged market leaders have remained constant in recent years, but technology offerings among those giants and other players are evolving.

Nutanix debuted with an early hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) product that combines storage, compute and virtualization into one package. VMware, the virtual machine pioneer, added vSAN HCI software as a natural extension. Dell turned its place as a leader in storage, servers and virtualization -- through its ownership stake of VMware -- into Dell EMC VxRail HCI appliances that run vSAN.

Other businesses in the hyper-converged market have seen varying degrees of success.

Some vendors have come and gone in 2021. For example, Pivot3 sold its assets to Quantum, which will continue to sell Pivot3 video surveillance products but not its core HCI. NetApp said it would drop its NetApp HCI product, which was a disaggregated HCI version that separated the storage and server pieces.

Other players have stepped up with slightly different takes on HCI that reflect IT trends. For example, the hyper-converged market addresses movements to containers, the edge and managed services.

HCI for containers

Spectrum Fusion HCI, due in the second half of 2021, is IBM's first x86-based HCI system. Rather than being aimed at VM-based workloads and managed through a hypervisor, Spectrum Fusion is an aggregated HCI geared toward developers and container storage.

Unlike most HCI systems, Spectrum Fusion HCI doesn't support VMware virtualization. It supports Red Hat Virtualization, and -- more importantly -- Red Hat's OpenShift Kubernetes platform. Spectrum Fusion HCI also integrates a containerized version of the IBM Spectrum Scale scale-out file system and IBM Spectrum Protect Plus backup software on an OEM partner's server appliances.

Rather than compete with the likes of VMware vSAN, Dell EMC VxRail and Nutanix, IBM is going after container-native storage alternatives such as Pure Storage's Portworx,, StorageOS and NetApp's Astra.

Traditional HCI vendors address containers as well, such as VMware's Tanzu for vSAN, Nutanix Karbon and the Cisco HyperFlex Application Platform.

The hyper-converged market addresses movements to containers, the edge and managed services.

A touch of disaggregation

HCI can't scale resources independently. Because the storage, compute and virtualization are in one chassis, admins must add it all even if they only need one of those elements.

Vendors that missed the first HCI wave tried to enter the market with disaggregated systems with independent server and storage scaling. These products included NetApp HCI and HPE Nimble Storage dHCI. But those systems failed to threaten the lock of VMware, Dell EMC and Nutanix in the hyper-converged market.

Traditional HCI vendors paid attention, though. VMware this year added its HCI Mesh feature to vSAN HCI software, which provides flexible scaling. Dell EMC VxRail, which uses vSAN as its software-defined storage layer, built on that with dynamic nodes.

VMware first addressed scaling through HCI Mesh in late 2020, which enabled users to share storage capacity across HCI clusters. Users can deploy unused capacity from different clusters rather than buy more HCI nodes with storage and compute. However, all vSAN clusters needed to have vSAN storage.

This year's vSAN 7 Update 2 extended HCI Mesh by enabling servers outside a vSAN cluster to use storage on a vSAN node and manage it all through one console. VMware also increased its maximum scale to 128 nodes per vSAN datastore from 64 in the previous HCI Mesh version.

VxRail, which uses vSAN for its storage software layer, turned HCI Mesh into its dynamic nodes that use VxRail's compute to take advantage of external SAN storage. The new dynamic node VxRail option enables Dell EMC PowerStore, PowerMax and Unity storage arrays to connect to VxRail clusters through vSAN.

HCI as a service

IT vendors are moving full speed ahead to offer all their technology as a service, and HCI is a big piece of those plans. VxRail is part of the hybrid and private cloud services that kicked off the Dell Apex as-a-service program this year. The Cisco Plus Hybrid Cloud for Virtualization launched this year includes Cisco's HyperFlex.

HPE added Nutanix Era to its GreenLake services program this year to go with its previous options of Nutanix Enterprise Cloud software and the AHV hypervisor. GreenLake also added Microsoft Azure Stack HCI to its portfolio this year and sells HPE's own SimpliVity HCI software as a service.

Lenovo TruScale for Hosted Desktops with Nutanix also hit the market in 2021, making Nutanix software available for desktop as a service.

HCI at the edge

HCI vendors in recent years adapted products to use outside the data center. These edge versions reduce the usual three-node minimum for data center HCI. They include tools that enable centralized management of hundreds or even thousands of remote devices.

StorMagic, which has specialized in HCI at the edge, made its SvSAN HCI software suitable for containers. StorMagic added a container storage interface (CSI) to enable its two-node systems to manage containers as well as VMs. The CSI driver enables SvSAN to provide persistent storage for Kubernetes.

Cisco is also moving in this direction with its own CSI driver for HyperFlex, and its Intersight management platform that manages edge systems. Other HCI vendors will likely take this step as well, as the hyper-converged market evolves to deal with containers and a move to edge deployments.

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