Looking Beyond the Hype at Hyperconvergence in Storage

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Not so long ago, convergence was the buzzword. That term tended to be applied mainly to areas such as Voice over IP (VoIP). But as more and more areas converged, the PR boys and girls were no longer satisfied with mere convergence, and so the hyperconvergence moniker was born.

“Hyperconverged systems combine full-featured storage, compute and networking technologies and functions into single solutions or appliances,” said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT. “Virtualization typically plays a major role, so end products can range from application- or middleware-optimized appliances to cloud-in-a-box offerings.”

The reason we are hearing so much about this area is that it is one of the hottest in the storage world. According to IDC, this market is expected to grow about 60 percent per year through 2019, reaching more than $3.9 billion in sales. King said this is being driven by the efficiency, performance, ease of deployment and management simplicity of hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) tools.

But what does this mean for the world of storage? Will the storage manager title fade from view, replaced by a hyperconvergence manager or an IT generalist?

“With hyperconvergence, storage is no longer being seen as a silo within the data center that requires a unique set of skills and expertise to manage,” said Scale Computing co-founder and chief evangelist Jason Collier. “One of the key concepts of hyperconvergence is to make infrastructure management, including storage, simpler so more complex storage systems look less and less attractive by comparison. Software-defined storage systems that are part of hyperconverged solutions are redefining storage as an integrated computing resource like CPU or RAM.”

Seth Knox, vice president of product marketing at Atlantis Computing, added that traditional data centers have become too monolithic and rigid to handle current growth rates and are unable to deliver the performance required by applications such as big data, analytics and mobility. That’s why IDC names HCI as the fastest growing segment of data center infrastructure.

“Hyperconverged integrated appliances simplify the data center by bringing together compute, networking, virtualization and scale-out storage in one easy-to-deploy form factor,” said Knox.

The disruption being caused by hyperconvergence is due to its ability to reduce costs as well as complexity, hence its initial penetration at the lower end of the market. This has caused many small and midsized organizations to abandon typical storage area network (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS) models in favor of a more streamlined and less expensive approach.

“As hyperconvergence penetrated virtual desktops and Remote Offices/Branch Offices (ROBO), many moved away from traditional storage arrays,” said Yoram Novick, founder and CEO of Maxta.

As this trend gathers momentum, he sees HCI moving further and further up the food chain. Does this mean that larger data centers are going to scrap their SAN and NAS gear and refresh their infrastructure using the latest tools? Not likely, said Travis Vigil, executive director, product management, Dell Storage.

“Most organizations around the world are invested both in skills and IT with their current traditional SAN approach, and it makes sense for them to scale-up or scale out with their SANs as they need,” he said. “Others are taking a newer hyperconverged approach, and most often, we see a combination of both approaches.”

What you are seeing, then, is the HCI space being dominated by smaller storage and IT players while the big guys play catch up. Their entry into the market, in turn, brings fresh impetus to as it is seen as a seal of approval.

“Large enterprise infrastructure vendors like EMC, HP and Cisco are finally waking up to this transition and are dramatically shifting their businesses with new offerings to catch up in an already maturing market,” said Prabu Rambadran, director of product marketing, Nutanix. “With the introduction of these large vendors, more companies will begin to evaluate hyperconverged offerings for their datacenter environments and the market opportunity will continue to grow.”

So how long before time-honored SAN and NAS storage goes the way of the floppy disk? There are opposing market forces at play here, one driving the decline of traditional enterprise shared storage arrays down, with the simultaneous upward trend in the adoption of hyperconvergence. Therefore, don’t expect any sudden shift.

“While the decline – and near demise – of NAS and SANs will take place over a period of five to ten years, software defined storage appearing in the form of hyperconverged infrastructure will grow at a much more rapid rate,” said Ken Dai, general manager at Promise Technology.

He pointed out that HCIs leverage direct attached storage (DAS), and allow storage-specific policy-based management that can be used to manage storage pools. Dai believes this approach is smarter, more effective, and is more VM-centric rather than being LUN-centric. As a result of the onset of hyperconvergence, he said, the unit of scale-out for storage in the data center is changing from SAN and NAS to numerous pools of storage. Additionally, hyperconvergence is said to improve performance, enable storage tiering and give more control at the virtual machine level to the consumers of storage as well as the storage manager.

“Administering storage-based policies allows for more granular performance tracking that is crucial for planning and for automating service levels as well as compliance,” said Dai.

To some, however, there is a misperception that HCI is only for small or hyper-consolidated environments. Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO Group, debunked this concept.

“The reality is that different vendors have released or will soon make available HCI solutions that can scale-up and scale-out, as well as scale-down without adding hyper-complexity,” said Schulz. “What demonstrates is that vendors are aware that a single hyperconverged approach is not applicable for all environments, so different solutions are being rolled out for various needs.”

Some are ‘do-it-yourself,’ a few are ‘some assembly required’ and others are turnkey including those that are application focused. Further, those with a more traditional hardware focus to hyperconverged products have recently begun adding support for software variations or have loosened their closed hardware models.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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