HCI – What Happened in 2017 and What to Watch for in 2018

By , Sunday, January 14th 2018

Categories: Analyst Blogs

Tags: blog, Cisco, cloud, Enterprise, HCI, HPE, hyperconverged, IBM, infrastructure, NetApp, nutanix, thinking outside the checkbox,


The Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) segment continued to grow throughout 2017. Evaluator Group research in this area expanded in 2017 as well, adding products from NetApp, Lenovo and IBM. In this blog we’ll review some of the developments that occurred in 2017 and discuss what to look for in 2018.

2017 saw some consolidation in the HCI market plus new hyperconverged solutions from three big infrastructure companies. Early in the year HPE bought SimpliVity and standardized on this software stack for their HCI offering. IBM joined the HCI market with a Nutanix-based product running on their Power processors and Lenovo added the vSAN-based VX Series to their existing Nutanix-based HX Series HCI solution. NetApp released a new HCI solution, using the architecture from their SolidFire family of scale-out, all-flash arrays.

Going Enterprise?

In 2017 HCI vendors were touting their enterprise credentials, listing their Fortune 100 customers and providing some detail on selected use cases. The strong implication is that “enterprise” customers means “enterprise” use cases and that HCIs are capable of replacing the tier-1 infrastructures that supports mission-critical applications. While there are likely some examples of this occurring, our data suggests this isn’t happening to the extent that HCI vendors are suggesting.

Taken from contact with end user customers and through our HCI in the Enterprise studies the past two years, our information indicates that enterprises are indeed buying HCIs, but not currently replacing tier-1 infrastructure with these systems. They’re using them for new deployments and to consolidate existing tier-2 and tier-3 applications. However, this doesn’t prove that HCIs are not capable of supporting tier-1 use cases.

More Clouds

Companies want the ability to connect to the public cloud as a backup target, to run workloads and do cloud-native developments as well. Many HCI vendors have responded with “multi-cloud” solutions that run their software stack on premises and in the cloud with support for containers and DevOps platforms. Some are including cloud orchestration software that automates backend processes for IT and provides self-service operation for developers and application end users.

NetApp and IBM Release HCI Solutions

In 2017 NetApp released its HCI based on the SolidFire Element OS. This product promises lower TCO as well, due to the performance of its SolidFire software stack that was designed for all-flash, and its architecture that separates storage nodes from compute nodes. This allows NetApp HCI clusters to scale storage and compute resources independently.

2017 also saw IBM announce an HCI product using the Nutanix software stack running on IBM Power servers. The company is positioning this offering as a high performance HCI solution for big data, analytics and similar use cases. They’re also touting the lower TCO driven by their ability to support more VMs per node than other leading HCIs, based on IBM testing.

VMware’s vSAN 6.6 release added some features like software-based encryption and more data protection options for stretched clusters, but not the big jump in functionality we saw in 2016 with vSAN 6.2. vSAN came in as the most popular solution in our HCI in the Enterprise study, for the second year in a row. The Ready Nodes program seems to be a big success as the vast majority of vSAN licenses are sold with one of more than a dozen OEM hardware options.

Nutanix kept up their pace of introducing new features as AOS 5.0 and 5.1 added over two dozen and announced some interesting cloud capabilities with Xi Cloud Services, Calm and a new partnership with Google Cloud Services (going up against Microsoft’s Azure and Azure Stack). See the Industry Update for more information.

Nutanix continues to grow their business every quarter, but have yet to turn a profit – although they claim they’re on road to becoming profitable. The CEO said they are “getting out of the hardware business”, instead emphasizing their software stack and cloud-based services, (as evidenced by the Xi and GCS activities). That is fine, as long as they plan to only sell through others, but to date they continue to sell their own systems. They will continue to sell the NX series of HCI appliances using Supermicro servers but won’t recognize revenue from it and have taken it off the comp plan. Given the consolidation we’re seeing in the HCI market, and the fact that server vendors like HPE and Cisco have their own software, this is probably the right move.

What to watch for in 2018

NetApp – see how their HCI does in the market. Their disaggregated technology is unique and seems to address one of the issues HCI vendors have faced, inefficient scaling. While this is a new HCI product, the SolidFire software stack is not new and NetApp has a significant presence in the IT market.

HPE SimpliVity – after some reorganization and acquisition pains, this product may be poised to take off. We have always liked SimpliVity’s technology and adding the resources and server expertise, plus a captive sales organization and an enterprise data center footprint may do the trick. That said, HPE has some catching up to do as Nutanix and the vSAN-based products are dominating the market.

Cisco – the company claims 2000+ customers in the first 18 months of HyperFlex sales but a large portion of those deals are most likely to existing UCS customers. The Springpath technology continues to mature but the question is what kind of success Cisco can have in 2018, as they expand beyond their installed base.

IBM – can they make HCI work in the big data and analytics space? Can they be successful with Nutanix running on a new server platform? We shouldn’t underestimate IBM but this is a new direction for technology that has been based on industry standard hardware and it’s being sold to a new market segment.

Orchestration and Analytics – HCI vendors have been introducing more intelligence into their management platforms with some providing policy-based storage optimization and data protection, plus monitoring and management of the physical infrastructure. We expect this to continue with the addition of features that leverage data captured from the installed based and analyzed to generate baselines and best practices.

For more information see Evaluator Series Research on Hyperconverged Infrastructures including Comparison Matrix, Product Briefs, Product Analyses and the study “HCI in the Enterprise”.

The amount and diversity of technology available in infrastructure products can be overwhelming for those trying to evaluate appropriate solutions. In this blog we discuss pertinent topics to help IT professionals think outside the checkbox of features and functionality.

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