Hyperconverged Takes The Mantle Of Integrated Systems
September 30, 2019 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Sometimes IBM sets the trends in the midrange, and sometimes it bucks them. The AS/400 was, in many respects, an integrated system and a hyperconverged system long before those words were ever used, but the way its storage and networking is architected, you could argue that the platform that it has fallen outside of these definitions. But as many expected, integrated systems in many different flavors have found favor in the datacenters of the world, and predominately at what in the past would have been midrange shops running proprietary minicomputers.
According to the latest research by IDC, sales of converged systems of every type and style represented $3.9 billion in sales in the second quarter of 2019, an increase of 10.9 percent against a backdrop of slackening sales and shipment of servers during the same period. This is significant, and means that the value proposition of those who sell integrated platforms, integrated infrastructure, certified reference platforms, and hyperconverged stacks is starting to resonate better.
Some definitions are in order before we get into the IDC data. Strictly speaking, hyperconverged infrastructure means taking a cluster of virtualized systems and running a virtualized storage area network on the same cluster as the virtual machine supporting applications are running. Nutanix and VMware are the dominant suppliers here. But there is a new sub-category of hyperconverged storage that has come into the market, what IDC calls disaggregated hyperconverged, where the storage is on a separate appliance from NetApp, Dell EMC, IBM, or Pure Storage. By breaking storage free from the nodes, compute and storage can be scaled independently from each other – one of the big drawbacks of earlier hyperconverged systems. Broadly speaking, certified reference systems and integrated infrastructure is comprised of machinery that has compute, storage, networking, and system management all woven together and ready to deploy. Integrated platforms add layers of systems software and sometimes application software on top of that, such as Oracle’s Exadata systems or IBM’s now defunct PureApplication platforms. The way IDC does the math on these systems, the whole system is counted as one thing and it does not track individual compute or storage nodes. This is how people talk about these systems, so that makes sense.
So what are the trends in converged systems? This chart, which we built from years of IDC data, sums it up pretty well:
In the early years, sales of integrated platforms were quite high, running between $1.5 billion and $2 billion per quarter, but sales have tapered off significantly and the vast majority of these sales are now being done by Oracle with its Exadata database and Exalogic data analytics systems. Sales of integrated platforms slumped by 14.4 percent in the second quarter, falling to $626 million. IBM could build integrated platforms – and I would argue that it certainly does and the IBM i platform is the one it does for sure and furthermore the System z mainframe is arguably another one. But neither IBM i nor System z sales are in this IDC data.
Cisco Systems debuted the converged systems architecture more than a decade ago with its “California” Unified Computing Systems blade servers – and set the entire industry on a wild goose chase after it – and it continues to dominate here. But it is by no means the only supplier. There are lots of different certified reference platforms as well, which mix and match components from many different hardware vendors to create integrated infrastructure. All told, this class of converged systems had 10.5 percent growth in the quarter, generating nearly $1.5 billion in revenues for the period.
While this is big, hyperconverged system sales have blown by both of these categories of converged systems, with sales up 23.7 percent in the second quarter to $1.83 billion. The only sensible way of counting hyperconverged storage sales is by looking at who made the software, and right now VMware’s vSAN, Nutanix Acropolis (which available on Power Systems iron running Linux), Cisco’s HyperFlex, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s SimpliVity are the dominant ones, with VMware and Nutanix having the lion’s share of sales between them. In the second quarter, systems running VMware’s vSAN accounted for $694.1 million in sales, up 39.5 percent and giving VMware 38 percent of the pie. Nutanix posted $522 million in sales, up only 4.9 percent and growing much slower than the market that it pioneered a decade ago; it still had 28.6 percent of the hyperconverged pie, but its share is slipping. Cisco was the third ranked hyperconverged vendor, with $114 million in sales, up 46.8 percent and giving it a 6.2 percent sliver of the hyperconverged pie. The remaining vendors accounted for $495.1 million, up 23 percent. Everyone is gunning for Nutanix, obviously.
We have often mused that the IBM i platform – particularly for the scale out small iron rather than the scale up big iron – is a natural fit for hyperconverged storage, and it is a wonder that IBM keeps trying to push the storage out of the box when what many midrange customers want is the simplicity of having compute and storage all in one system or cluster.