About one year ago, Cisco announced their HyperFlex hyper-converged offering. At that time I did review the solution and provided my mixed comments to that solution. Since one year has passed, what has changed in the hyper-converged space for Cisco, and what about Cisco HyperFlex?
2016: A year of changes for Cisco partnerships
Cisco’s partnership with SimpliVity, which was in full swing when HyperFlex was announced last year, is definitely buried by HPE’s acquisition of SimpliVity. Cisco is therefore officially left with HyperFlex, the hyper-converged platform from SpringPath. Of course, there’s also Nutanix who officially supports Cisco UCS as a hardware platform on which you can run their solution, but it’s a one-way love relationship and Cisco has been (officially, at least) adamant about denying any level of support at the corporate level. I will not cover that as it’s out of scope and you should -as always- hear the story from both sides. But let’s get back to HyperFlex.
My participation in Tech Field Day Extra at Cisco Live Europe 2017 in Berlin included a presentation by the HyperFlex team and I took the opportunity to ask many questions. The first one was around Cisco’s relationship with SpringPath, the startup that created the HALO platform that is at the core of HyperFlex. That might be a scoop to many, but we were told that Cisco is not just into a partnership with SpringPath, Cisco has a majority stake in SpringPath. We also asked if Cisco is now the exclusive reseller of SpringPath product, the HALO offering, and this was confirmed as well. Thus, there seems to be a real commitment from Cisco to push HyperFlex and there’s no encumbering partnership to handle anymore. In fact, we were even served the classical « proprietary hardware » argument against SimpliVity in the competitive differentiators part of the discussion, which hints that the love story has ended abruptly.
Cisco HyperFlex and the HCI Market
In terms of market approach, Cisco claims over a thousand customers, of which 30% are net new to Cisco (i.e. cca 300 new customers who didn’t have any prior investments in Cisco UCS products). Compare that to VMware’s 7000+ customers on vSAN and Nutanix 4000+ customers. If those 1000 customers are truly actively running HyperFlex then it’s a remarkable performance for a product launched just a year ago and in a market that is already saturated with HCI (Hyper-Converged Infrastructure) offerings.
I also asked Cisco about where they see adoption and they spoke about ROBO (Remote Office/Branch Office), VDI (Desktop Virtualisation), Test/Dev environments and also High Performance Applications use cases.
From a technical standpoint, what has changed in the product itself since 2016? Since February 2017, Hyperflex supports 40 Gbps networking and customers can now also choose all-flash nodes. But is that truly innovation? Allow me to doubt about it, since this is inherently related to the underlying (and very good) Cisco UCS hardware platform. What we are specifically scoping into are the software improvements since the intelligence of hyper-converged solutions resides in software.
HyperFlex is still tied to VMware. There is no Hyper-V support, speak alone of other platforms, although Hyper-V support is on the roadmap for a farther release in summer 2017. From a security perspective, support for SED (Self-Encrypting Drives) is allegedly coming in the next release (May 2017). I also asked what is Cisco’s stance on the lack of backup & restore / disaster recovery / replication features and was told that this is also planned to be released in May 2017. It’s needless to say that these features are essential to provide a competitive hyper-converged offering, especially in a market where most of the well established players have had that for a long time already. In its first release, HyperFlex was managed by a vCenter plugin, sadly I was not able to find any information on Cisco’s blog as to whether this is still valid.
Cisco Integration Points
That aside, what about the integration points with other Cisco products?
Let’s cover ACI first. Since I wrote in 2016, the situation hasn’t changed. You have to consider the consumption model of HyperFlex as promoted by Cisco and their target platform to determine if ACI is a decisive advantage for your deployment. The ACI advantage is very relative, because it makes sense only if you have already invested into this technology and leverage it everywhere. I still think that for ROBO sites, if you are looking at a cost-effective solution, you’d better steer clear of fabric interconnects and SFP+ modules unless you have a valid reason to consider it.
I also asked Cisco about whether there is any integration with Cisco products such as UCS Director
and all I was told is that HyperFlex has an open API. Sorry, that’s not good enough. At one of my customers, we use Cisco UCS Director to orchestrate VM deployments on vBlocks and Nutanix clusters. I acknowledge that HyperFlex has an open API (like most of their competitors do) but if Cisco wants to position it seriously in the enterprise world they should walk the extra mile and show how it integrates with their flagship automation/orchestration product. I can understand that there’s nothing specific for vROps (VMware vRealize Operations Manager), but the lack of integration with Cisco UCS Director is a warning flag to me. If the product is part of an ecosystem, tie it into the ecosystem. I hope Cisco hears this.
Update 24-Feb-17: It turns out that HyperFlex is in fact integrated with UCS Director and that Cisco did truly walk the extra mile here. Thanks to Darren Williams for raising that point and correcting the info provided during the HyperFlex session. This is indeed logical, makes sense and is laudable. That’s definitely a plus for customers leveraging UCSD to manage large environments.
With all the good will of the world, and one year down the line, my opinion on HyperFlex is still neutral, but it has moved to neutral+. It’s encouraging that Cisco is committing to HyperFlex but they need to double-down if not triple-down on the development cycles and on bringing this product to be on par with the competition. In this sense, Cisco’s majority stake in SpringPath is positive as the startup can expect cash injections from Cisco and can focus on development instead of survival. Features that are essential are still lacking but at least they appear to be on the roadmap for what is now a relatively acceptable wait time. Two main advantages that we were sold during the presentation were the ability to scale compute independently of storage, and the way data is stored and read across is a feature that is not unique to HyperFlex: at least Hedvig and Nutanix have it.
That being said, HyperFlex’s future looks mildly positive, but only if Cisco shows 100% commitment to their SpringPath subsidiary and does not kills it off like they did with Invicta. With SimpliVity gone, Cisco must invest into HyperFlex if they want to stay in this market; having a thousand customers is hopefully helping them.
Shortened, feature-rich release cycles coupled with interesting incentives to Cisco’s sale force & channel on one side, and great deals to customers can potentially help Cisco score. However, Cisco needs to do a more serious job in making us understand why HyperFlex is unique and what problem it addresses, as they’re operating in a still very crowded place with competitors whose offerings are -and I believe I’m also being objective here- rock solid. Let’s wish them success!
This post is a part of my Tech Field Day Extra at Cisco Live Europe 2017 post series. I was invited to this event by Gestalt IT. Gestalt IT covered travel, accommodation and food during the event duration. I did not receive any compensation for participation in this event, and I am also not obliged to blog or produce any kind of content.
Any tweets, blog articles or any other form of content I may produce are the exclusive product of my interest in technology and my will to share information with my industry peers. I will commit to share only my own point of view and analysis of the products and technologies I will be seeing/listening about during this event.