Welcome NetApp to HCI(ish)



Do you remember NetApp’s first foray into HCI, the NetApp Integrated VMware EVO:Rail Solution? It was a long name for a short-lived product.

NetApp is once again seeking to make a hyperconverged splash. It just started shipping its own offering, NetApp HCI. And this isn’t just any HCI, it’s …“the next generation of hyper converged infrastructure.” NetApp’s CEO publicly declared that its approach is superior to “first-generation hyperconverged solutions” such as those made by industry leaders, “Nutanix and VMware.”

Alas, NetApp is a bit late with the next-generation claim. When introducing HyperFlex in March 2016, Cisco boasted that it was, “The next generation of hyperconverged infrastructure.” But Cisco was a year behind HPE who claimed that its HC250 was “the next-generation hyper-converged solution” (never mind that it has since been replaced by HPE Simplivity 380 which I assume is the next next generation HCI).

NetApp argues that “next generation” applies because its solution includes some HCI benefits even though it utilizes the same old converged infrastructure architecture. Chris Mellor, in his The Register article on the topic, did a nice job of summing up the offering, “…in essence the boxes just add compute nodes and networking to SolidFire (storage) nodes…under the covers it is a converged infrastructure system, not an HCI system.”

The cynics, however, are missing an important point. NetApp has the right to call its product whatever it wants. But it begs the question, “Why HCI?”

NetApp’s press release says Gartner projects the hyperconverged market to reach, “over $10 billion in 2021.” Every other leading datacenter manufacturer has an HCI offering, with some having multiple solutions. Clearly, NetApp doesn’t want to be excluded from the hyperconverged buzz.

And categories do matter. Avamar/Delphix founder, Jedidiah Yueh, wrote in his just published book, Disrupt or Die, “A great category will carve out its space quickly and then enable the category to propagate, from one customer to many.” This is particularly relevant in the datacenter space if, as CEOs Dheeraj Pandey of Nutanix and Pat Gelsinger of VMware both claim, “All infrastructure will be hyperconverged.”

Creating a Cloud OS

Step 1: Build a Great HCI Foundation.

Step 2: Leave HCI Behind

While Nutanix and VMware may both agree that HCI is the future, the organizations have very different perspectives on the technology. VMware has a hypervisor-centric view of the world where its version of HCI is tied exclusively to vSphere virtualization.

Nutanix, on the other hand, sees hyperconverged infrastructure as an essential prerequisite for bringing the same type of agility, simplicity and pay-as-you-grow attributes of public cloud to on-premises data centers. HCI, from this perspective, becomes a foundation for any type of Cloud Operating System. Capabilities such as virtualization, file services, block services, DevOps automation, capacity planning, storage efficiency and so on become software features (or services) of the Cloud OS.

HCI is not an end state. It represents a milestone on the journey toward full datacenter digitization including networking, security and application lifecycle management. Ironically, by promoting NetApp HCI (whether truly hyperconverged or not), the storage manufacturer helps validate hyperconverged infrastructure as a superior alternative to legacy infrastructure. In doing so, it empowers its customers to evaluate the merits of going #ALLin with an enterprise cloud.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are mine and not necessarily those of Nutanix, Inc. or any of its other employees or affiliates.


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