VMware Feeling the HCI Pinch

Read between the lines of VMware’s latest VSAN announcement and you can learn a few things. The first thing I see is that VMware is definitely feeling the pinch — or at the very least worried they will feel the pinch — from hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) vendors like Nutanix, Simplivity, and Scale Computing. It’s perfectly fine from VMware’s perspective if you want to create a HCI system that has them at the center. They created this idea with the creation of VCE, the first converged vendor that I remember getting any traction. But when you start releasing an HCI product that has its own hypervisor; now, you’re taking money out of their pocket.

Let’s get back to the impression I got that VMware is feeling the HCI pinch. I attended Storage Field Day 9, which included a two-hour presentation from VMware. The VSAN 6.2 announcement started with about ten minutes from Yanbing Li, which you can see here, that focused entirely on how much the HCI market has grown in the last few years. The implication of course is that they see VSAN as an HCI enabler, which it obviously is. Until the introduction of VSAN, storage was the missing piece of the HCI puzzle if you wanted an all-VMware solution. Therefore, customers looking for an HCI solution needed to use a VMware partner, which is fine as long as the VMware partner is going to use VMware under the covers. But now that some of the HCI vendors are starting to use their own hypervisors (i.e. KVM), it’s time to VMware needs to release a full HCI product to compete with their partners.

The other interesting observation is that VMware is apparently more worried about reductions in their overall revenue via non-VMware HCI vendors than they are about ruffling the feathers of their storage partners. I’ve been going to VMworld for years now, and have often referred to it as the biggest storage show I’ve seen since Storage Networking World (SNW) in its heyday. In fact, I think it might actually be a bigger storage show than SNW ever was based on the number of sponsors. There are scale out vendors, scale up vendors, hybrid arrays, all-flash arrays, flash as memory, memory as storage, internal flash as storage and cache, and many other kinds of vendors. Then there are all the storage management products to make all those other products work together.

When I first heard the VSAN announcement at VMworld 2013, my immediate question is whether or not they worried about upsetting their storage partners. The response was that they were not trying to replace them; they were simply responding to the demand from smaller customers for a solution that didn’t require the purchase of a separate array. But with the number of features they have added since then, which I summarize in this blog post, they have clearly moved past that and into viewing it as a full-fledge HCI enabler.

StorageSwiss Take

More than a few conversations have confirmed to me that VMware sees some of its hyperconverge vendors are more than partners. In fact, I’d say it’s more than that great term coopetition. Some see them as a true threat to their revenue stream. As I said in the opening; they are feeling the pinch. VSAN 6.2 is their pinch back.

W. Curtis Preston (aka Mr. Backup) is an expert in backup & recovery systems; a space he has been working in since 1993. He has written three books on the subject, Backup & Recovery, Using SANs and NAS, and Unix Backup & Recovery. Mr. Preston is a writer and has spoken at hundreds of seminars and conferences around the world. Preston’s mission is to arm today’s IT managers with truly unbiased information about today’s storage industry and its products.

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