Data Centers

What HPE's acquisition of SimpliVity means for data center customers

With the purchase of SimpliVity, HPE now has two competing rack-server hyperconverged infrastructure solutions. Here's how that will affect HPE's composable infrastructure strategy.

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Image: iStockphoto/monsitj

If you are a long time HPE customer, you may have watched the hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) market with some envy. All the while, HPE has promoted Synergy as the ultimate in hyperconvergence. According to Gartner, HPE is the largest x86 server vendor in the world. With that position comes the advantage of scale, as HPE can offer global support and logistics at an aggressive price point.

Two of the HCI market leaders, Nutanix and SimpliVity, simply didn't have the enterprise capability of HPE. But, it's reasonable to say that customers desperately wanted HPE to offer a competitive, rack-server based HCI solution.

As such, HPE recently purchased SimpliVity. Here's what the acquisition means for HPE customers, and how Synergy stacks up against other HCI solutions from HPE.

SEE: HPE buys SimpliVity for $650 million, beefs up hyperconverged system lineup (ZDNet)

Synergy & Hyper Converged 380

HPE began telling an intricate story around their two existing hyper-converged solutions in 2016. In April of 2016, along with other bloggers, HPE flew me in for a briefing on their Synergy and Hyper Converged 380 platforms. There's overlap between the two platforms, and understanding the difference between HPE's first HCI solutions may help understand SimpliVity's value in HPE's portfolio.

Synergy is the next generation of HPE's chassis-based server platform. HPE promotes Synergy as the ultimate convergence of hardware, management, and orchestration. The marketing term is "composable infrastructure." HPE CEO Meg Whitman introduced the composable concept During HP Discover in London back in 2015. The basic idea is that HPE Composer software is used to software-define the hardware underlay of the Synergy platform.

Synergy chassis supports storage, compute, and networking hardware components. Data center managers create logical server abstractions using the physical Synergy building blocks. Instead of associating a workload with a physical server, the Composer allows assigning the workload to logical resources. Administrators can migrate physical workloads between blades and chassis. It is a complex and significant investment. While compelling, a side-effect is the lack of ability to scale down the solution to a remote or smaller office.

To meet the down-market use case, HPE introduced the Hyper Converged 380 (HC380) platform. In theory, HPE had all the individual parts for a compelling rack-based HCI platform. The DL 380 is an extremely successful rack-based server. HP OpenView offers management and orchestration features, and HPE has a virtual storage appliance from their Lefthand assets. Putting those components together should result in a competitive HCI solution.

HPE executives believed the same. During the blogger briefing, HPE representatives shared that Meg Whitman gave direction to overcome any corporate silos to create HC380. Based on the demo I was given, I could tell that HC380 was not a fresh engineering effort. HC380 lacked the fit and finish of solutions from competing vendors. With over a year on the market, I believe HPE's customer response guided them to the purchase of SimpliVity. With all the talk of silo busting, Synergy seems to be a completely different effort than HCI.

Synergy with SimpliVity

HPE continues to sell the HC380 alongside the newly acquired SimpliVity platform. I'm not sure what value the HC380 offers over the SimpliVity platform other than support for the DL380. But, HPE has announced plans to offer SimpliVity HCI on the DL380. SimpliVity is best known for the ASIC approach to accelerating storage services. In my opinion, SimpliVity is a better technology for small offices, remote offices, and enterprise data centers than HC380.

HPE has some work to do. I fully expect HPE to take the storage IP from SimpliVity and integrate it into the Synergy platform. I expect HPE will leverage SimpliVity software to create and manage virtual storage services across multiple Synergy chassis. However, HPE has the same challenge they had with HC380 in SimpliVity. Integrating rack-based HCI into the chassis-based composable architecture is no small feat. Synergy is a new concept for HPE, and HPE is slow to come up with a timetable for integration of the Synergy Composer with HC380. I don't see how SimpliVity makes that integration easier.

If you are an HPE customer considering both Synergy and either of the HCI solutions, you should ask HPE about the features and roadmap for integration of the architectures. Regarding of the integration, I'd also recommend discussing the effort and impacts to operations.

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About Keith Townsend

Keith Townsend is a technology management consultant with more than 15 years of related experience designing, implementing, and managing data center technologies. His areas of expertise include virtualization, networking, and storage solutions for Fo...

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