Updated July 25, 2016

During the last VMworld, there was a lot of talk about hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) – in sessions, labs, product announcements, booth demos, etc. That shouldn’t come as a big surprise, since HCI is after all one of the hottest trends in the datacenter today. But what’s all the fuss really about, and why should this matter to you?

It’s obvious there is still a lot of confusion in the market both on the nature of HCI (what is it really?) and on the use cases for HCI (where and why do I need it?). As is the case with most emerging technologies, there isn’t a single obvious right answer to these questions.

At VMware we have our own vision of HCI.  Of course you could dismiss it as just one vendor’s opinion – but we do have the benefit of engaging in product discussions with a large constituent of customers and partners (3,000+ Virtual SAN customers, and a lot more vSphere customers). And we want to share this vision with the broader community because we believe HCI really matters – it’s going to be a major driving force in IT for many years to come.

We’ve also announced two great enhancements to our HCI solutions – Virtual SAN 6.2 and EVO SDDC. Check out these blogs for more details:

VMware EVO SDDC Blog

What’s New – VMware Virtual SAN 6.2


On the basics: What exactly is HCI?

The top-level definition of HCI is actually quite simple. HCI is fundamentally about the convergence of compute, networking and storage onto shared industry-standard x86 building blocks.  It’s about moving the intelligence out of dedicated physical appliances and instead running all the datacenter functions as software on the hypervisor.  It’s about eliminating the physical hardware silos to adopt a simpler infrastructure based on scale-out x86.

Hardware: The dedicated physical appliances are replaced with industry-standard x86 systems that can be scaled out. Almost like small lego bricks stacked together to build a much more imposing infrastructure. By design, there’s not much to see here. It’s simple, elegant, scalable infrastructure.

Software: The secret sauce is really in the software. All the key datacenter functions – compute, networking, and storage – are now running as software on the hypervisor. They work seamlessly together in a tightly integrated software layer. The software can be scaled out across many x86 nodes. And the software exposes programmatic interfaces for easy automation at the SDDC level.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 9.00.35 AM

Perhaps more fundamentally, it’s also about enabling private datacenters to adopt an architecture similar to the one used by large web-scale companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon. HCI is by no means confined to low-end use cases like ROBO and SMB (although it does great there too). The real promise of HCI is to provide the best building block to implement a full-blown SDDC.

At scale, it becomes very impressive … take a look at the picture below of a 64-node all-flash Virtual SAN cluster, which just happens to use the newly supported NVMe flash. This little beast was demo’ed in the HCI Zone at VMworld. It has 64 nodes, 500 TB of flash capacity, drives 4.2M IOPS and supports 6,400 VMs. Simple, powerful, and highly scalable! More details on the 64 node cluster here.




How big is this HCI trend exactly?

At VMware we think that HCI has the potential to get very big very fast. We’re looking at a couple of data points.

First, VMware Virtual SAN reached more than 3,000 paying customers by the end of Q4 2015. That’s 2 years after the initial product introduction or more than 100 new customers per month – very fast pace of adoption for a brand new storage product. Customers are pretty widely spread across segments (enterprise, commercial, small businesses, remote offices, etc.), industry verticals, and geographies – meaning there’s a lot of room to grow within each segment. And of course Virtual SAN is not the only player in the space, although we believe it has the broadest customer base.

Next, looking at analyst data, IDC forecasts that HCI is going to grow at a 64% annual growth rate to reach $4.8B in revenue by 2019. That would make it by far the fastest growing storage segment by a pretty wide margin.


HCI at VMware: How do I build it?

At VMware, we’re providing customers with a broad set of options to build out their HCI infrastructure. The foundation is always going to be based on vSphere and Virtual SAN. vSphere provides the compute and basic networking capabilities. And Virtual SAN is the new shiny object that provides the hyperconverged storage capabilities.

As a side note, we just introduced Virtual SAN 6.1 at VMworld, and we’re very excited about this new release which provides Stretched Cluster, faster replication, better management through vRealize Operations integration, and support for NVMe and SanDisk ULLtraDIMM. More details on Virtual SAN 6.1 here.


The foundation of vSphere and Virtual SAN can be packaged and consumed in a number of different ways:

Software + Hardware: The simplest – and to date the most popular – consumption model is the standard software + hardware model. In other words, customers purchase the software from VMware or their favorite reseller. And they purchase hardware from the OEM of their choice. This is the model that provides the most flexibility in terms of purchasing exactly the hardware that meets the customer’s requirements.

We have worked with all the main OEMs to pre-configure VSAN Ready Nodes – systems that are designed and optimized to run Virtual SAN. These systems offer a broad range of options and price points, covering lower-end hybrid configs to high-end hybrid and all the way to high-end all-flash configs. The Ready Nodes can be purchased ‘as configured’ or customized to meet specific requirements. More details can be found on the VMware Compatibility Guide for Virtual SAN.

EVO SDDC: EVO SDDC was just announced at VMworld and we’re very excited about its potential. Essentially it is a pre-integrated rack-scale system for easy deployment of a full-blown SDDC using HCI as the underlying infrastructure building block. It includes vSphere and Virtual SAN. But it extends those two products with a full set of SDDC capabilities including NSX and vRealize Operations, plus EVO SDDC Manager to manage the appliance lifecycle.   It’s available as a software suite from VMware and gets delivered as a pre-integrated system from one of our partners.

EMC VCE VxRail: Jointly engineered by VMware and EMC, the VxRail appliance family takes full advantage of VMware Hyper-Converged Software capabilities and provides additional hardware and lifecycle management features and rich EMC data services, delivered in a turnkey appliance with integrated support.

This broad set of options is clearly a competitive differentiator for VMware. We offer choice of deployment model, choice of hardware vendor, and choice of hardware configurations. No other vendor comes even close to offering such a broad range of options. It’s a lot of work to offer all these options because we have to certify a lot of components and support multiple routes to market, but at the end of the day we think it’s worth it to provide customers with the flexibility.


Why should you use HCI to build out your SDDC?

Which brings us to a very important question: Why VMware HCI? Why is it better? Why should you consider it for your datacenter?

This is a very long topic. For now, let’s summarize by saying that HCI provides the best building block for the SDDC because it is:

  • Simple infrastructure for the SDDC because it eliminates a lot of hardware clutter and runs fully integrated with vSphere and vCenter
  • Highly scalable infrastructure for the SDDC because it can be scaled very easily by adding small standardized x86 nodes
  • High performance infrastructure for the SDDC because bringing the data close to the compute and leveraging SSDs enables massive amounts of IOPS at very low latencies
  • Cost-effective infrastructure for the SDDC because we are riding x86 cost curves, and Virtual SAN typically enables a 50% CAPEX reduction compared to traditional storage.

The next step is to try Virtual SAN for yourself! The Virtual SAN Hands-on-Labs gives you an opportunity to experiment with many of the key features of Virtual SAN.

To find out where VSAN would fit in your environment, sign up for a VSAN Assessment. This free, one-week analysis can reveal where Virtual SAN can reduce cost, eliminate complexity, and increase your agility. Sign up today!