EVO:Rail and the missing acquisition phase of hyperconverged storage

It’s rare that a storage-related technology arises without there being any acquisitions.

Look at flash. The startups emerged and pushed the big six to either buy some of them or to develop flash architectures from the ground up. Mostly big storage bought its way into the space, witness EMC/XtremIO, IBM/Texas Memory Sytems etc.

But hyperconverged compute/storage has seemingly sidestepped that familiar cycle. It’s a hot area that emerged a couple of years ago from pioneers such as Nutanix, Simplivity and Scale Computing. They combine processing and storage in one box, with scale-out capability that allows the customer to grow capacity in grid-like fashion.

It allows easy setup and administration and with a VM-friendly architecture.

Then the font of software-defined everything, VMware, came along and brought out EVO:Rail.

EVO: Rail runs VMware virtualises CPUs with vSphere to, storage with VSAN, networks with NSX, while vCenter Log Insight and the EVO Engine handle deployment, configuration and management of resources.

Currently, EVO:Rail only scales to a 48TB four node cluster, but more is promised when the bigger EVO:Rack hits the market.

Right now, hardware makers that offer pre-configured EVO:Rail appliances include Dell, EMC, NetApp, Hitachi Data Systems, Fujitsu and HP. That’s all the top seven storage vendors except IBM.

And so, with a big player weighing in from early on, ie VMware doing a good job of providing the software heart of hyperconverged computing, the usual cycle of acquisitions of startups has been bypassed.

So, will the pioneer hyperconverged players be eclipsed? You could imagine they might feel a bit lonely. They got to the dance first, knew all the trick moves but never got picked. VMware came along and swept all the big boys off their feet with EVO.

That’s quite unusual in a world where startups not only innovate but often go on to form the core IP of a big players offerings when they are acquired.

But, the hyperconverged pioneers are not necessarily destined to stay as wallflowers. For a start they offer a choice of the hypervisors they run. Nutanix runs Microsoft Hyper-V and it looks like Simplivity has it planned. Meanwhile, Scale Computing’s HC3 products are based on the open source KVM hypervisor.

So, despite the hyperconverged storage and compute market bypassing the usual acquisition phase, it looks like the pioneer startups have a comfortable niche in which to sit, especially given this is mostly an SME to midrange play where they can compete in terms of scale and functionality.