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Techaisle research shows Hyperconverged Infrastructure on a high-growth trajectory within SMBs and midmarket firms

An extensive survey of US small and midmarket businesses shows that HCI adoption is poised to double within the current planning period. Techaisle’s US SMB & midmarket survey on CI/HCI adoption shows that 18% of midmarket firms are currently using hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI – systems that package compute, storage, networking, hypervisors and other system software into a single product) but more compelling is the fact that another 46% are actively investigating and planning to adopt, a 2.5X increase in adoption – significant growth over the next 12-18 months.

Within the upper midmarket firms (500-999 employee segment), the current penetration is 45% and another 38% are planning to adopt. HCI has also caught the attention of small businesses (1-99 employees) with slightly less than 1/3rd of IT mature small businesses are planning to adopt. Dell EMC XC Express, HPE HC380 and Cisco HyperFlex Systems appear as top choices within the SMB segment.

SMBs view technologies supporting HCI adoption as contributors to business growth. Techaisle’s survey data shows that the drivers of adoption, anticipated or currently realized benefits and important purchase criteria are very tightly aligned around cost, agility, scalability, operational efficiency and high availability. The SMBs that are fully committed to digital transformation are on the fastest path to adoption, as HCI is an important element of a future-ready, resource-sensitive IT approach.

Converged infrastructure solutions (which provide a hardware-centric bundling of system components) are already in widespread use with twice as many SMB firms already using; and software-defined HCI delivers even more compelling advantages (relative to conventional/siloed server, storage, networking and management technologies) than SMB buyers obtain from converged infrastructure. Some of the important benefits that SMB & midmarket buyers realize with HCI include:

  • Agility – the ability to keep pace with competitors and changes in buyer expectations; rapid time-to-value for new systems, positioning IT as an investment rather than as an expense.
  • Scalability – complexity associated with next-system deployment is reduced because HCI delivers as an integrated, modular solution; IT can scale capacity without equivalent investment in new staff resources. This also avoids a key constraint of conventional on-premise systems: because HCI is scalable, there is no need to ‘pre-buy’ capacity, resulting in better alignment between business needs and IT expense.
  • Efficiency – HCI’s VM-centric management layer enables IT to realize high utilization levels, providing compelling return on investments in hardware, physical facility space and power.
  • Manageability – given the staff constraints faced by SMBs, manageability is in many ways the single most important attribute of any IT delivery platform. HCI’s integrated, software-defined architecture provides SMB IT staff with an ability to deliver sophisticated capabilities without needing to maintain an elaborate web of resource connections.
  • High availability – relative to cloud, which depends on the public network to connect users to corporate resources, HCI provides the promise of superior access to corporate applications and data.
  • Cost – cost can be calculated in many ways: it can be driven by CAPEX or OPEX, by the expense of hardware components and/or ongoing service fees, or by the time and degree to which new IT capacity delivers tangible business benefit; it also includes the cost associated with delivery management by IT and non-IT staff. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question ‘what the most economical IT delivery approach is?’ – but there are scenarios in which HCI provides quantifiable advantages over other platform alternatives.

Dell and HPE strong players with Dell EMC leading the charge

SMBs & midmarket firms tend to be gravitating towards Dell EMC’s XC430 Xpress, HPE’s HC380 and Cisco’s HyperFlex solutions. Nutanix, NetApp FlexPod (Converged Infrastructure) and hyperconverged storage vendors such as Rubrik and Cohesity are also appearing within the SMB radar along with Dell EMC VxRail.

Where is HPE?

HPE’s HC380 has been in the market for a while, but HPE is considered as a new entrant in the SMB space with its HCI solution. Acquisition of SimpliVity has changed the perception in recent months. The combined offerings of HPE and SimpliVity provides a rich portfolio of solutions across HCI, 3PAR storage and composable infrastructure. SMBs are finding that HPE and SimpliVity products have all the important HCI features such as - global deduplication, cloning, multi-site data management, data replication and disaster recovery and built-in data protection.

In addition, the SMBs and midmarket firms find that the HC380 platform is scalable and uses ProLiant DL380 Servers along with StorVirtual IP SAN and OneView management software, with some componentry for automatically provisioning and automating workloads. Most of the small businesses tend to use a configuration with dual Intel Xeon Broadwell E-2600 v4 series, with upper limit of 1467GB DRAM and 12TB SSD. SMB customers find that HPE’s data virtualization, deduplication, data compression and data optimization improve data efficiency and application performance, which is very important for their IT environments. As per SMB customers, the best part of HPE HCI solution is that it can be up and running within 45 minutes as the hardware platform comes pre-integrated and is ready to connect to the network. In case of HC380, the User Experience (UX) management software offers a very simple user experience which is easy to manage on a desktop or mobile device. Self-install is quick and easy from power on to ready in minutes. It also provides SMBs’ lean and cost-constrained IT staff with flexible options to look for the right-sized appliance for their budget.

What is Dell EMC doing?

Dell’s EMC XC480 Xpress is preconfigured with virtualization, Azure Backup Service, and enterprise-like storage. The Dell EMC XC Series hyperconverged appliances have strong compute and virtualization abilities are ideally suited for SMB & midmarket customers who opt for hypervisor-centric solutions. Midmarket firms in particular find that Dell’s solutions leverage the best of all worlds into one umbrella – Nutanix Prism, EMC iDRAC from PowerEdge servers - makes the XC Xpress enable huge cost savings as these businesses do not need to maintain complex physical infrastructures. End-customers find the replication technology makes Dell EMC’s HCI offering unique. Since Dell EMC and VMware have integrated into number of HCI solutions, as evidenced by VxRail and VxRack SDDC for larger environments, SMBs get the benefits of VMware’s replication technology by which they can replicate VMs from one location to the other for efficient disaster recovery management. Additionally, Dell EMC RecoverPoint for Virtual Machines, an appliance for disaster recovery, allows firms to replicate solutions at VM level. Within Dell EMC’s HCI solution portfolio:

  • VxRack System is considered as one of the most promising rack-scale hyper-converged systems (it has ‘Spine-Leaf networking’ to enable software-defined WAN based data center)
  • vSAN which is a part of Dell’s HCI offerings has a strong capability of inbuilt installation which does not need to be installed separately as compared to other options available in the market where software defined storage needs to be installed separately
  • VxRail is a fully integrated, preconfigured, and pre-tested VMware hyper-converged infrastructure which is backed by vSphere, Virtual SAN, and EMC software technology. However, VxRail has yet to catch the attention of SMBs and midmarket firms. They do not perceive this as a utility product for them as it is usually branded as enterprise-level HCI offering that primarily addresses software defined storage requirements.

One midmarket customer put it to Techaisle, “the installation process is very easy and does not take more than 40 minutes. Dell EMC came with an excel sheet where we were required to input the IPs which needed to be configured. The management of the set-up was quite simple. That is the beauty of the Dell EMC VxRail. If somebody is managing VMware then the same console can be used to manage the entire set-up”.

During depth interviews conducted by Techaisle most SMBs mentioned that Dell EMC is a one stop-shop and its customer service team is able solve queries for HCI solutions at their lowest levels. From an escalation matrix standpoint, SMBs said that nearly 90% of the queries got resolved at first point of contact. Pricing flexibility and TCO levels are seen as much better with Dell EMC than HPE and one of the many reasons why small and midmarket firms express preference for Dell.

Techaisle Take

Increasingly, decisions on IT infrastructure aren’t – and shouldn’t be – made strictly on the basis of cost. However, economics is (rightfully) an important part of the decision process: an optimal IT strategy delivers the capabilities needed by the business today, incorporates the agility needed to respond to future requirements, and is responsive to the budget constraints that are common (as Techaisle’s research has shown) to organizations of all sizes.

HCI can provide businesses with a cost-effective means of building an advanced IT delivery platform. By using sophisticated software to harness the raw power of commodity hardware, HCI gives users both the advantages of a configurable and upgradeable management plane and the economic benefit of systems that incorporate standard component technologies. And because HCI can be sourced modularly, businesses can deploy a single appliance-type node to address a high-priority workload and expand in lockstep with new business or customer demands.

Perhaps more importantly from an SMB perspective, HCI offers an intriguing means of reducing total cost of ownership (TCO). By eliminating many integration requirements and simplifying management and scale-up, HCI reduces time allocated to low-value tasks. This allows resource-constrained SMBs to obtain greater benefit from IT staff (typically, the highest-cost area within the IT budget), which – combined with product cost savings – yields improved TCO.

In the end, the infrastructure debate shouldn’t be reduced to ‘which cloud?’ or even ‘cloud or on-premise?’. Agile, intelligent and fiscally-responsible firms need strategies that span all aspects of hybrid infrastructure – and HCI is an important element of a future-ready, resource-sensitive IT approach.

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