A hyperconverged head-to-head: storage made simple
Storage is in the air. If you don’t need more storage today, you will soon. The acceleration of the data economy has created a nearly endless need to catalogue, sort and maintain huge databases for record keeping and analytics purposes. It can certainly be a confusing learning curve to grasp and master.
Whether just getting started or looking to scale an existing system, one of the primary challenges is making sure that all of the different parts work together. You need servers, storage and network provisions that are compatible. Not even counting the difficulty of integrating your new purchases with existing infrastructure, it is a real challenge to make new hardware work.
Enter hyperconvergence — or, more accurately, hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). HCI isn’t quite new, but it is the latest development to come out of IT aimed at making storage easy. It collapses all of the components that go into a storage system (CPU, networking, memory and storage) into a single, interchangeable piece of kit. Theoretically, you just buy HCI hardware, snap it together, and you are good to go. This is the main reason that businesses looking to scale their storage capacity, or build a system from the ground up, are turning with increasing regularity to HCI.
Here, we will compare two of the leaders and early pioneers of hyperconverged infrastructure: HPE SimpliVity vs. Nutanix. In doing so, we will help you decide if HCI is actually a solution suited for you, and help you get your bearings when it comes to assessing differences in the market.
A Bit of Background: Is HCI Actually That Simple?
Hyperconvergence is all about scaling. Trying to integrate new pieces of hardware into existing systems is one of the more time-consuming and troublesome aspects of new IT acquisition — including the need to make sure that servers, storage and networking components all work together seamlessly.
The first attempt to solve this at the vendor level is converged infrastructure (CI) — pre-packaged boxes that include compatible components for compute, storage and networking that remain separate physical and dedicated components. Hyperconvergence takes this one step further and virtualises these capabilities within a single piece of hardware. This allows for the delivery of the all-in-one capability of CI at a lower cost per unit, but with a slight performance hit caused by the need to direct some CPU and RAM towards managing the virtualised system.*
Although designed for simple scaling, IT managers still need to be conscious of their ability to integrate hyperconverged components into their wider storage ecosystem. The guarantees for compatibility only extend to the hyperconverged components themselves. This issue can be resolved using hardware agnostic software-defined storage control systems, although this can diminish some of the capabilities on offer by the software systems natively supported by hyperconverged vendors. Regardless, it is important to make sure that hyperconverged stacks don’t become silos in and of themselves.
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Types of hyperconverged systems
Although all of the components within hyperconverged hardware are virtualised, that does not mean that they can be manipulated or altered. How individual pieces of hyperconverged hardware are proportioned between CPU and storage capabilities differs and is set at the point of manufacturing.*
Vendors have taken different approaches to this over the years. Both Nutanix and SimpliVity began by creating industry-specific hyperconverged offerings that had defined proportions of storage and compute to enable specific types of tasks. But, this approach always delivered limitations — ironically complicating scaling and sometimes requiring the overprovisioning of either compute or storage under certain circumstances. Both companies, along with the rest of the industry, have now moved to a more flexible means of scaling, offering compute/storage only nodes to create flexibility. How Nutanix and SimpliVity approach this is slightly different, but the result is relatively the same.
SimpliVity: Flexible, Federated Control
Founded in 2008, SimpliVity was an early independent leader in hyperconverged infrastructure. Acquired by HPE in 2017, they are now the leading hyperconverged solution within the wider HPE storage lineup.
SimpliVity is a hyperconverged system designed to simplify the day-to-day operations, delivering an all-in-one platform that combines compute, storage, and networking in a single 2U appliance. The system really covers all the traditional IT functional capabilities, allowing for WAN optimisation, VM management, data protection, cloud integration, deduplication, compression, backup and caching within scale-out architecture. It is a modular system, allowing for scaling in small and large server/storage increments.*
Where SimpliVity stands out from the crowd, however, is its ‘federated’ capabilities. This is a type of storage architecture that strings together multiple storage servers across any distance into a single data system. HPE delivers a seamless and natively supported federated system for its SimpliVity arrays through the HPE SimpliVity Data Virtualization Platform, which also acts as the control system for local SimpliVity storage.*
‘Self-learning’ and ‘self-healing’ fabric connects all SimpliVity clusters, preventing the need for reconfiguration when nodes are added or removed. Each node can be added to multi-node clusters, or to the federated array — a global ‘cluster of clusters’. This system can scale into the cloud via Amazon Web Services, and is controlled using an interface that is intuitive for anyone familiar with traditional vCenter operations.*
This system is not only significantly simpler to set up and maintain than a ‘do-it-yourself’ federated operation, it brings with it the industry-leading capabilities offered by the HPE control system — including snapshots, backup, deduplication, compression and more.
Nutanix: Focused on the Cloud
Nutanix was really the ‘second city’ of hyperconvergence, coming to market the year after SimpliVity in 2009. However, they have remained an independent vendor, solely focused on the delivery of hyperconverged infrastructure and cloud computing solutions — skyrocketing in size over their near decade of existence. In 2018, Nutanix is back on top of Gartner’s ‘Magic Quadrant’ 2018 report on hyperconverged vendors.*
Nutanix focuses on delivering a unified hybrid cloud environment that ‘simplifies management’ and allows for ‘non-disruptive one-click scaling’. This includes access to the Nutanix own brand public cloud offering, Nutanix Enterprise Cloud OS. It also delivers native integration with other virtualised solutions, including VMware, Microsoft HyperV and Citrix.*
The entire Nutanix environment is controlled through their software solution, Prism. Like HPE, Nutanix delivers compression, deduplication and reduction settings across streamline workflows through an intuitive interface based on HTML5 commands.
Nutanix vs. HPE SimpliVity: More Similarities Than it Seems
Fundamentally, these systems are not that different. Although SimpliVity markets their global interconnected system as a ‘federated model’ and Nutanix as ‘hybrid cloud’, there is a greater semantic divide here than a real one. Both use wide area network connections (WAN) to bridge distances and unite dislocated storage systems in a single, unified storage pool. Both deliver non-disruptive, scale-out capabilities and allow for the provisioning and safeguarding of compressed and deduplicated data.
When it comes down to the specifics, both companies deliver the ability to create long-distance unified storage pools that can be managed centrally for maximum efficiency.* Both allow for easy scaling, public cloud options and powerful data reduction technology delivered through intuitive interfaces.
Nutanix vs HPE SimpliVity: The Flexibility and Analytics Differences That Matter
If you dive a bit further, however, differences start to creep back in. The main divide is in the advanced capabilities of each system’s software management tools. The SimpliVity Data Virtualization Platform has much broader integration capabilities while Prism delivers powerful analytics that automates tasks and supercharge performance.
Prism uses machine learning technology to comb through system data to produce actionable insights for the optimisation of all aspects of your virtual infrastructure system. This allows operators to gain information about their system that would otherwise be inaccessible and is not a capability fully matched within the SimpliVity environment.*
SimpliVity, on the other hand, delivers a broader range capability to integrate and manage third-party servers within the SimpliVity hyperconverged environment. Both Nutanix and SimpliVity have augmented their scaling capabilities in recent years by offering storage only hyperconverged nodes that can, if necessary, be purchased separately and used to scale storage without overprovisioning compute. Neither, however, provides their own server only nodes, opening the possibility of over-provisioning storage to obtain more compute power.*
SimpliVity delivers a unique answer in their ability to plug non-hyperconverged x86 servers into their hyperconverged ecosystem — supporting HPE, Dell Cisco, Lenovo and Huawei components. This allows for greater flexibility when scaling than Nutanix offers. Perhaps more importantly, it enables the repurposing of legacy hardware within a single hyperconverged system when upgrading your data centre.
Summary: Power and Insights vs. Flexible Unification
If building a system from the ground up, the analytics of Nutanix deliver unmatched capabilities within the hyperconverged market – -there is a reason they lead Gartner’s ‘Magic Quadrant’ in 2018. But, most enterprise storage buyers aren’t starting from scratch and have a lot of legacy equipment already in operation. In that circumstance, HPE’s SimpliVity provides more options to utilise some of these existing parts to augment server capacity and make the move to a hyperconverged system with fewer redundant purchases.
Both systems deliver the ability to unite storage infrastructure spread across multiple data centres — making each a great choice for large corporate operations.* The quick and easy ability to scale delivered by both also makes them great solutions for fast growing, tech-enabled startups that depend on data and flexibility.
When looking at hyperconvergence, however, it is important to remember that there are other options. For a lot of businesses with lesser storage needs, and fewer reasons to scale, standard flash, or even hybrid arrays can do the job just fine and at lower capital costs.* If looking for easy scaling, however, HCI is a system built for purpose. Both Nutanix and SimpliVity are great choices. What works best for you might have most to do with which control system you find more intuitive and how the performance metrics will work out specifically given your particular data usage requirements. If, however, you want analytics, you need to choose Nutanix. SimpliVity is for buyers who want a greater range of server integrations within their hyperconverged ecosystem. But, both systems will deliver.
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*Hyperconvergence and The Future of The Data Centre
*Hyperconverged Infrastructure 101: A short primer about HCI
*HPE SimpliVity hyperconverged infrastructure for VMware vSphere
*HPE SimpliVity vs Nutanix vs Scale Computing
*How to Choose Hardware for Data Storage