IT can be complicated, so during the past few years the idea of an easy to deploy, all-in-one compute network and storage appliance has taken hold and been dubbed converged infrastructure. What started as a niche market a few years ago has blossomed into a multi-billion dollar business with many of technology’s biggest players involved.
Some of those players, including EMC, Dell and VMware are making big moves this week to solidify their position in this fast-growing market. Gartner predicted last year that revenues for integrated systems would grow more than 50% between 2013 and 2014. It estimated in mid-2014 that the market would end last year with $6 billion in revenues, but other more recent estimates peg this market at being even larger. (Read about Gartner’s revenue projections here.) Innovation is rapidly occurring too, with a newer breed called hyper-converged platforms emerging from big IT vendors.
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Converged platforms typically include hardware for compute, network and storage packages from more than one vendor converged into an integrated offering. Perhaps one of the best-known converged platforms is from VCE - which started out as a joint partnership using EMC storage, VMware compute virtualization software and Cisco networking gear. The various infrastructure components are architected to work seamlessly together by VCE. EMC late last year bought out Cisco’s stake in the company and it is now an EMC subsidiary.
This is a big week for converged infrastructure news too, with some of the industry’s biggest players advancing their offerings to stay up on competitors. Today EMC and VCE have their own converged infrastructure announcements: EMC announced VSPEX Blue, which EMC says can be configured to spin up a private cloud in less than 15 minutes - read more about that offering here. VCE had its own converged infrastructure news today too, announcing that it will integrate VMware’s NSX software defined networking software into its converged appliance. Customers will now have an option to deploy a VCE vBlock (the name of its major product) with Cisco-based networking software or VMware’s NSX.
One of the most active vendors in this market has been Dell. The company partners with a variety of vendors to offer converged platforms based on Dell compute and storage hardware. Dell has converged platforms designed to work in Microsoft environment, for example.
New today is a partnership between Dell and managed cloud company FireHost. The converged platform is made primarily of Dell compute and server hardware, along with NSX networking and it’s meant to provide a private-cloud for businesses that are concerned with various compliance standards. FireHost is known for its public cloud platform, which runs many sensitive workloads, but this is the company’s first on-premises private cloud and it’s coming in the form of a converged platform.
“Converged infrastructure is a trend that has been growing for over 5 years and is rapidly transforming the way that users consume IT,” Wikibon Senior Analyst Stu Miniman wrote in a recent report. He estimates that VCE collected about $2 billion in revenue last year, while FlexPod, another option in the market, generated $3 billion since 2010 for Cisco and NetApp who partner on that platform. Those figures suggest that Gartner’s $6 billion market size estimation could be conservatively low. Oracle has a converged platform based on its virtualization and database technology while VMware launched its EVO line which it will work with partners on to distribute converged platforms with VMware software throughout the stack.
As the converged infrastructure market heats up, newer so-called hyper-converged platforms have emerged from companies like Simplivity, Nutanix and Maxta. Unlike a converged platform where the components are from multiple vendors but architected together, a hyper-converged platform is typically an appliance that combines higher-density compute cores, all-flash storage arrays and all software-based networking from a single vendor, or from a close partnership of vendors. Some of these appliances come with features such as data deduplication and other efficiency-gaining technologies.
“Hyperconverged computing platforms are still a small percentage of modest but growing market that is integrated platforms,” writes Eric Hanselman of the 451 Research group in his latest report about the hyper-converged market. “(Hyper-converged technologies are) not a panacea, but in an age of shifting buying centers, they're a tempting path for those looking for the simplification that their integrated management software can provide.”
As Hanselman notes, end users have found converged and hyper-converged platforms to be a compelling answer to the problem of increased IT complexity. For businesses that are looking for the latest and greatest hardware to run in their own data centers for building out private clouds, converged platforms offer a compelling ease of installation and management. Vendors, meanwhile are looking to jump on the converged infrastructure bandwagon to get their share of the billions of dollars some of their competitors are already making in this industry.