With Hyper Converged: Don’t Believe the Hype???

public-enemy-2013-rock-n-roll-nominee-black-enterpriseIt’s about time for a contrarian viewpoint around Hyper Convergence, and what better place to put it forth than from one of its prime cheerleaders (me). With EMC entering the Hyper Converged marketplace with VSPEX:Blue, and the impending releases of the major VMware OEM partners and their EVO:Rail solutions, I thought I would take a hard look at the state of the Hyper Converged market 5 years on and try to give a fair analysis of the market in terms of where it’s being successful and where it’s not.

Disclaimer: I have no proprietary information to share here, all of this comes from my observations of public statements made by various customers, and vendors in this space.


Nearly all of the Hyper Converged vendors will pitch that the TAM (Total Addressable Market) is huge. idc_marketscape_2014_hyperconverged_suppliersThe three claims by the analyst community that I have seen are Gartner: 6 Billion by 2014, IDC: 17 Billion by 2016, and Forrester 40 Billion by 2018. That’s a pretty big stretch and an amazing growth rate if it turns out to be true. The reality on the other hand is something totally different. Let’s take the recent IDC analysis of the Hyper Converged market. This graph has Nutanix clearly in the lead, a point that I find to be 100% valid. It also has them with roughly 5X the sales of its nearest competitor SimpliVity and Scale Computing, which I would also say is valid. Let’s face it, they have a good head start on everyone else in the market place having had product shipping since roughly 2011. Nutanix is claiming a run rate of business of around $300 Million.

Do you see the rest of the players in this space accounting for the other 5.4 Billion that Gartner claimed would be the TAM for 2014? No, at best you can equate the rest of the markets combined run rate of business at roughly $500 Million per year. Now for an emerging market that’s fairly impressive, but lets put it into a different context, 500 Million is roughly the entire Fibre Channel HBA market world wide. For all the claims that Hyper Convergence is taking over the data center, one has to ask how is that so if these companies, who are pioneers in the space, are not taking off in terms of sales that would make a dent in the multi-billion dollar Server/Storage market, let alone eclipsing a legacy storage transport market?

Now to be fully fair, I’m pretty sure that the analyst firms are bundling in the standard Converged Infrastructure players into this market space as well. The devils always in the details, and if we were to include VCE/FlexPod/Exadata/PureSystems etc into the mix that 6 Billion number looks a lot more appealing than my estimated 500 Million. VCE hit a run rate of 2 Billion this year per their claims. For those playing at home, thats 4X the entire Hyper Converged market today.

So Easy A Caveman Could Do It.

so_easy_a_caveman_can_do_it_tv_show_announcementHyper Converged vendors are most certainly first and foremost selling Simplicity. Nearly all of their sales pitches discuss how simple it is to deploy, manage, and configure (sounds like a VMware course title), and from what I’ve seen they deliver on that promise. I took the EVO:Rail challenge at VMworld Europe and knocked it out in 15:06, that’s a full 6 seconds  past the 15 minute claims by VMware for reading the document and doing any error correction in the data entry portion. So whats the problem with that? Well all of the Hyper Converged systems are Channel Sales driven, that means VARs (Value Added Resellers) are you go to market vehicle that bolsters your sales team. None of these companies are taking the business direct, even EMC is saying that VSPEX:Blue will be 100% channel.

Riddle me this, if I’m a VAR, and I already get slim margins on Hardware Sales (anywhere from 3-7%) where do I get to make the bulk of my money? That’s right, Services. What happens to all those billable hours that I used to charge for installing and designing the “legacy infrastructure” for my customers as their “Trusted Advisor” when I sell them a Hyper Converged system that they can have up and running in 15 minutes on their own?

This is a question I’ve posed to many people and no one seems to have a compelling answer so far. I know there are huge margins in the Hyper Converged space. These products are not cheap, but the OEM’s are the ones making the bulk of the money here, not the Channel partners who are selling it. Sure there will be SPIF’s and incentives to push product, that’s the nature of the beast, but what about those sweet, sweet, billable hours that are so much gravy ladled over the IT sales process? I’m sure there is a good answer out there somewhere to this question, but so far I’ve not heard a compelling one, and in my own experiences one of the first questions that arrises during the initial conversation with VAR’s I was working to recruit was: “How do I make up for this lost revenue?” Good question. Anyone have a good answer?

The Mis-Match Game

The last point I wanted to touch on was what I call the “Mis-Match Game”, how do the Hyper Converged matchgameplayers address the mismatch between Storage and Compute ratios that invariably will appear with an all-in-one approach? How do customers still find a way to leverage their investments in the legacy stack that they have depend on for the last two decades? Some of the vendors in this space attempt to do this by opening up the Storage functionality to external compute, but that will only let you scale compute resources. The challenge ends up being what if I want just a little bit of storage, or a whole bunch of compute?Certainly for some IT Shops it will not be a major concern if I have to scale one additional node, but what if that scalable unit is 4 like it currently is with EVO:Rail? Invariably there is a mismatch and customers end up buying more of what they truly need and as an industry, we have been pitching “right sizing” of environments since the dawn of time. This can be a fairly hefty financial impact for a target market that is currently geared towards the SMB/Mid-Market customer whose IT budgets are fairly tight to begin with.

This poses a significant challenge to customers and vendors alike, and to be honest, I find some of the arguments against this point to be very weak. What the customer makes up for in reduced complexity, they lose in terms of a very rigid infrastructure model that is not well adjusted to unforeseen change or mutation. I’ll tell you that speaking from my own experiences, the holy grail of an “All-in-One Datacenter” sounds great on paper to many customers, but it doesn’t always end up being so elegant in practice. As this space continues to mature, it will be interesting to see how the current crop of vendors attempt to address this point.

 So which way do we go with Hyper Convergence??

looney tunes abominable snowmanNone of above is a terminal to the Hyper Converged space. To the contrary, this space didn’t even exist 4 years ago, it’s starting to build an attractive run rate of business, and there is significant validation of the Hyper Converged concept by the entry of EMC, HP, Dell, etc. who are always looking to increase their bottom lines.

Let’s be real here, it takes time to change 20+ years of how IT has done business and it won’t happen overnight. I simply offer these examples as check points against much of the Hype that I see every day. And while it’s easy to get caught up in the echo-chamber of the influencer community to which I belong and play, customers tend to have a lot more riding on their infrastructure bets, namly their jobs. So they are going to cast a far more skeptical eye on these solutions, and in turn will be voting with their wallets.

Coming soon: Moving Beyond Hyper Converged, Rack Scale.


11 thoughts on “With Hyper Converged: Don’t Believe the Hype???

  1. February 10, 2015 at 7:32 am

    Interesting read Gabriel, begs the questions of if hyper-converged can, does or will exist without the hype? Also prompts the discussion of if they current hyper-converged hype is focused smaller environments reflecting capabilities of some solutions as opposed to expanding into hyper-scaleout hyper-converged with solutions that scale up and scale out vs. scale down? IMHO there are different markets needing various types of solutions, what works for SMB/ROBO may not be applicable at scale for large SME or enterprise and vise versa. OTOH, if hyper-converged is only hyper focused on a smaller market defined by where specific solutions fit, then the TAM will be hyper-constrained vs. being a hyper-oppourtunity and large TAM where many different products of various size will be needed.

  2. February 10, 2015 at 7:37 am

    Steve Kaplan (@ROIdude) here, VP Channel & Strategic Sales for Nutanix. Needless to say, I disagree with much of this post – and there are easy answers to the issues you pose such as how to scale compute & storage separately (i.e. in Nutanix’s case we have 17 different models and counting allowing easy match up of appropriate storage and compute requirements).

    The area I did want to address, however, is VAR services around HCI. In my role, you can imagine that I do come across this concern and wrote about why one of our partners was not concerned in the least in a post a year ago http://www.nutanix.com/2014/02/24/all-in-with-nutanix-dh-technologies/

    Most partners, like the one featured in the post, know that to be successful in the long-run, they need to have their customers’ best interests at heart – not their back end integration services business. These services tend to be low margin anyway and, in some use cases such as VDI, can come back to bite the partner with free corrective obligations.

    With Nutanix, partners find that their sales dollars increase along with sales velocity – giving them significantly higher revenues and margin. More importantly, they earn much greater trust and differentiation with their clients. Finally, Nutanix tends to act like an annuity not only for the initial use case, but for others that inevitably rise such as server virtualization, tier-1 app virtualization, DR, metro clustering, remote branch consolidation, big data, etc.

    As Nutanix partners get pulled into other use cases, they find they can charge more money for their services which are contributing far more value to their clients than back-end rack and stack fees. And ultimately, they’re able to really begin capitalizing on their expertise by helping their clients make the complete DC transition from legacy 3-tier to Web-scale.

  3. February 10, 2015 at 7:38 am

    TAM: we just got started. If not for VMware EVO:RAIL everyone outside of te community echo-bubble didn’t even hear about HyperConverged.

    Lost Revenue: how a bout lost deals to anyone that does follow the market? I used to sell these type of solutions and the more time I could spend AFTER the infra implementation on migrating actual business relevant solutions (that run on top) the better! Say I got 2 weeks of servies to spend, would you rather spend them on infra implementation services or business solution services?

    Chunk buying: this is not a reason at all. It didn’t put EqualLogic out of business by selling per box right? It even helped them making the sale easier. The big up here is you only buy resources for what you need today and can granularly scale for tomorrow. Can’t do that with upfront oversized arrays.

  4. February 10, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Hi Gabriel, these are all valid points. Especially the one about the mismatch between compute and storage growth. I posted a similar article last week about hyperconvergence http://blog.openvstorage.com/2015/01/hamburgers-french-fries-hyperconvergence/ .

  5. Brian Suhr
    February 10, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Hey Gabriel, some good thoughts. As someone that works for a partner we have been watching what modern, easy to use products would do to services. Flash storage players have been delivering this before HC vendors already.

    The old world of services on hard to implement gear is shrinking for many reasons. If VARs/Consulting partners don’t evolve to build more valuable services they will suffer. Customers still need help with solutions, applications and cloud projects. These can be very good and separates the good partners from the box pushers.

  6. February 10, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Good point Brian about the changing aspect of what the VAR of the future looks like and how the evolving model of channel driven sales needs to keep up with the changing landscape of products. My primary reason in writing this post today was to get feedback from others, and thankfully its coming in on the comments pages and through twitter. I do very much believe in the HCI space, but I also think its important to take a step back and ask some hard questions because in the end everyone benefits when they are answered.

    1. February 11, 2015 at 5:59 am

      Disclosure- EMC Employee

      I agree with most of what you said here, but have to agree with Brian. If VARs are worried about losing basic Install/Configure services, they’re going to be in trouble anyway. They’re low value/low revenue services- they should (and most do) be moving up the stack and focusing on more advanced services. When I worked for a VAR, plugging cables and clicking next-next-next wasn’t a valuable source of revenue, but a necessary evil.

  7. February 11, 2015 at 6:11 am

    @Tyler/Brian One aspect I didn’t touch on though is that with Hyper Convergence they are missing out on much more than just Install/Configure/Manage of the Hypervisor component. You have to also take into account the loss of revenue from disparate products that they sold in the past, this can include: Storage Arrays, Storage Switches, Servers, Backup Appliances, Backup Software, and WAN accelerators. Thats a fairly large legacy stack of kit that Hyper Convergence replaces if done properly. All of that stuff adds up quickly in terms of deliverables, but even more so, in terms of the TCO of a traditional legacy stack solution that is replaced by Hyper Converged. 3X Lower TCO is the general rule of thumb here, thats also 3X less revenue opportunity for the VAR.

    1. Brian Suhr
      February 11, 2015 at 8:03 am

      Disclaimer: I don’t sell anything, don’t deal with pricing or margins.

      I’ve seen legacy architectures kill projects because of the large cost for the first step. The start small and scale out is attractive to customers.

      I guess my point goes back to my other comment and Tyler’s, partners must move up the stack and provide attractive solutions. These solutions are more about their services and people. Typically companies make more money billing for their smart people than they do on selling low margin storage arrays. People and services is what separates partners from each other, any partner can send out worker bees to install an array.

      Infrastructure is becoming a utility and the utility in your data center should make things easier to build clouds, automation, orchestration, EUC, etc. Not make it more challenging.

  8. February 4, 2016 at 12:51 am

    Very interesting article, Gabriel. I especially appreciated your point that customers “are going to cast a far more skeptical eye on these solutions”. You can read real user reviews for a variety of hyperconverged infrastructure solutions at IT Central Station: https://www.itcentralstation.com/categories/hyper-converged-infrastructure.

    Users who were interested in hyperconverged infrastructure solutions also read reviews on FlexPod’s CI solution. This user writes that Flexpod is “flexible in terms of configuration and scalability.” You can read the rest of his review, as well as access other enterprise storage solutions, here: https://www.itcentralstation.com/product_reviews/flexpod-review-34423-by-oliver-vasquez.

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