SimpliVity vs. NetApp

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    A hyperconverged head to head

    Hyperconvergence has held buzzword status for a number of years. Put simply, this is a software-defined approach to storage management that combines storage, compute, virtualisation and sometimes networking technologies in one physical unit that is managed as a single system. But, are all hyperconverged systems created equal? Most hyperconvergence companies claim that their product will solve storage needs simply, breaking down silos and offering straightforward scaling – but if this was the case, it wouldn’t really matter which one we chose. In short: no, the systems are not all the same. The answer is a little more complicated than that though, with one of the biggest problems being a lack of consistency in how vendors talk about HCI software. There are even other terms for it, including:
    • Hyperconverged architecture,
    • ‘converged infrastructure’ (or CI)
    • HCIS — hyperconverged integrated systems
    You’d be right in thinking Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI), was confusing. We’re going to do our best to take the mystery out of two of the most popular pieces of HCI software right here — discussing the specifics of SimpliVity vs. NetApp. SimpliVity is a hyperconverged storage vendor. NetApp is the largest independent enterprise storage vendor on the market. Part of their lineup includes an HCI solution. This is a great way to understand the nuances of the hyperconverged market because, strictly speaking, NetApp’s HCI (hyperconverged) offering is not hyperconverged. We’ll talk more about this in detail below!


    • Founded in 2008
    • An early independent leader in hyperconverged infrastructure
    • Acquired by HPE in 2017
    • Now the leading hyperconverged solution within the wider HPE storage lineup
    SimpliVity is a hyperconverged system designed to simplify day-to-day operations. It is an all in one platform that combines compute, storage, and networking in a single 2U appliance for your convenience. Most traditional IT functional capabilities are covered, allowing for the following:
    • WAN optimisation
    • VM management
    • data protection
    • cloud integration
    • deduplication
    • compression
    • backup and caching within scale-out architecture
    This modular system allows for scaling in small and large server/storage increments. Their ‘federated’ capabilities are where SimpliVity really begins to shine, however. This storage architecture is effective in that it strings together multiple storage servers across any distance into a single data system. This means a seamless and natively supported federated system is provided, and this also acts as the control system for local SimpliVity storage. Then, there’s the ‘self-learning’ and ‘self-healing’ fabric connecting all SimpliVity clusters. This innovative fabric prevents the need for reconfiguration when a node is added or taken away. This system can even scale into the cloud via Amazon Web Services (AWS). It is controlled using an interface that is intuitive for anyone familiar with traditional vCenter operations. In short, this system is substantially easier to set up and maintain than a DIY federated operation, and brings industry-leading capabilities such as snapshots, backup and deduplication.


    • Founded in the early 1990s
    • Led the way in NAS technology
    • A long-time dominant force in enterprise storage
    • Now the second largest vendor in external enterprise storage —  $890 million in 1Q18 revenue.
    NetApp have recently announced a partnership with Lenovo that will expand their in-house offerings. This means they will be competing directly with the big companies like Dell and HPE in every market. That being said, they have done well in this respect for some time, specialising in third-party integrations and outpacing HPE in enterprise storage.    Although skilled in many things, NetApp is new to hyperconvergence. In 2015, they acquired SolidFire, which allowed them to bring all-flash arrays into their line-up. This hardware effectively forms the basis of the NetApp HCI solution, which launched 2 years ago in 2017.

    Hyperconvergence: What Is It And Why Do We Need It?

    The data centre is traditionally made of servers, networks and storage components. These pieces of hardware are specialised and can be purchased separately, which enables buyers to utilise flexibility in the best way possible. However, as you can imagine, this creates compatibility challenges. Since the late 2000s, storage vendors have sold ‘pre-integrated’ boxes that converged network storage and servers into a single solution that can be used straight from the shelf. This is what we came to know as CI, or converged infrastructure. HCI combines all of these nodes into one smart piece of software, rather than purchasing separate pieces of kit and packaging them together. HCI offers this in one complete package that is virtually subdivided. Why? In short, it’s much cheaper to build hardware this way rather than create it out of numerous parts. HCI hardware is also smaller and uses less energy. This means that your upfront costs will be higher than traditional hardware. That being said, you will save on maintenance and operational costs. However, a portion of the server’s CPU and RAM are used to manage the system, slightly reducing its capacity compared to CI in like for like testing. Regardless, the cost savings generally make it a worthwhile swap.

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    Why NetApp Isn’t ‘Technically’ Hyperconverged

    NetApp HCI consists of industry standard high-density, four server and two rack units. Their design delivers simple hardware foundations for a simple, dynamic and scale-out storage experience — what HCI is all about. However, rather than using a hypervisor to run the requisite storage management processes, NetApp dedicates specific nodes to act as servers that run its SolidFire OS. This segregation has led some to call this solution ‘converged infrastructure’ — or even ‘disaggregated software-defined architecture’.   The reality, however, is that this offering delivers an outcome nearly identical to that of ‘true’ HCI, it just gets there in a unique way. Some would even say that NetApp’s unique approach is advantageous — and the lines on what is HCI and what is CI is blurring in other regards as well.

    SimpliVity vs. NetApp: Do Their Differences Matter?

    These days, hyperconverged vendors are selling more flexible solutions than ever by breaking their integrated blocks apart. This is because although HCI came out of a desire to simplify scaling, it initially delivered its own limitations. Different HCI nodes come with different provisions for storage and compute. Traditional HCI nodes, which comes with at least some of both functions, can force buyers to overprovision one or the other if they only need to expand a single capability. The first answer was to create tailored packages designed to accommodate different types of users. But, the industry has steadily progressed towards the more customisable solution of providing storage only nodes — something that SimpliVity now offers. Effectively, this brings us back to where we first started — converged infrastructure and NetApps hybrid solution. The only difference is that NetApp also allows you to scale compute without having to buy any additional storage at the cost of some not wanting to call the solution ‘true’ hyperconvergence. The reality is that, no matter what you want to call it, both NetApp HCI and SimpliVity are very comparable products that compete for customers, in spite of their differences.

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    Conclusion: Which One Should You Use?

    Looking at what you already have available to you is likely the easiest way of deciding whether you should start using SimpliVity or NetApp. Both of them have their pros and cons, and both are unique and similar in various ways. Remember that although hyperconvergence is about easy scaling and breaking down silos, hyperconverged storage segments can very much end up as their own silos. Only when it comes to the overall hyperconverged system are they simple to scale and integrate. Whichever new piece of hardware you choose, integrating it is going to be just as tough as if you were using any new piece of kit. The biggest benefits of NetApp come from looking at the bigger picture and considering the offering overall. NetApp HCI sits within a larger non-hyperconverged storage family and can easily integrate with other SolidFire products. NetApp also offers ONTAP, their other software solution. Using ‘FlexArray Virtualisation’, ONTAP can integrate with almost any third-party hardware. If you are already invested in this solution, NetApp HCI is the obvious choice. In short, NetApp is a fully integrated system, doing the following:
    • Delivers greater cost efficiency and agility
    • Increased visibility and control
    • Simplifies management
    • Predictable Performance
    • Using Thin Provisioning to streamline storage provisioning to “on demand” provisioning.
    • Space-saving data FlexClones for development, testing, rapid virtual machine deployment and disaster recovery
    Now, onto SimpliVity. If you’d rather have something that is a cloud-focused powerhouse, and what some would call a truly virtualised solution, this is for you. A machine learning powered operating system on top is included. However, the issue is that it may have to be managed separately from various other ecosystems in your processes. Some would say SimpliVity is also a fully integrated system, with the following on offer:
    • Simplifies management
    • Delivers greater cost efficiency and agility
    • Increased visibility and control
    • Predictable Performance
    The solution that is best for you will depend on your goals. If you are looking to unify your data centre using a single software storage solution, NetApp is likely going to be your best bet. This may take more effort than you would like, but you can build something truly great. However, for simplicity and power straight out of the box, SimpliVity is the best option. That being said, it’s important to do your own research and decide which is right for you based on your specifics. When it comes to hyperconvergence, don’t forget about Nutanix.  
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    Troy Platts

    Troy has spent over 20 years helping organisations solve their data, storage and compute conundrums. He is a regular speaker at vendor events and spends any free time he has keeping abreast of advances in data platform technologies. He also makes a mean curry.

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