Updated: May 29, 2020
Hyperconverged infrastructure solutions are making substantial inroads into a broader set of use cases and deployment options, but limitations exist. I&O leaders should view HCI solutions as tools in the toolbox, rather than as panaceas for all IT infrastructure problems.
Strategic Planning Assumption
Driven by increased HCI scalability and management functionality, by 2023, 70% of enterprises will be running some form of HCI (i.e., appliance, software, cloud-tethered), up from less than 30% in 2019.
Once. Twice. Three Times a Leader. The 2019 Gartner MQ for Hyperconverged Infrastructure. Download the report here: http://bit.ly/35Zao1d
Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is a category of scale-out software-integrated infrastructure that applies a modular approach to compute, network and storage on standard hardware, leveraging distributed, horizontal building blocks under unified management. HCI vendors either build their own appliances using common, off-the-shelf infrastructure (hardware, virtualization, operating system), or they engage with system vendors that package the HCI vendor’s software stack as an appliance. Alternatively, HCI vendors sell their software directly to end users, through resellers and integrators, for use as part of a reference architecture, or on an HCI-as-a-service basis, either on-premises or in a public cloud.
IT leaders should remain cognizant of the origins of HCI suppliers and the strategic importance of HCI within these vendors’ larger portfolios. Some vendors approach HCI from a storage virtualization and data management perspective, partnering for all other components of the HCI stack (hypervisor, network virtualization, management). Others approach HCI from a server virtualization perspective and add storage virtualization and data management services later. Many server vendors approach HCI from a hardware appliance perspective as the natural evolution of their installed base of x86 servers. These server vendors either acquired an existing HCI or hyperconverged integrated system (HCIS) company or partnered with multiple HCI companies to deliver appliances or reference architectures. A few smaller providers approach HCI from a full-stack perspective, willing to compete head-to-head with leading hypervisor suppliers by initially focusing on a single niche. Some approach edge requirements strategically, while others address these requirements reactively. For most HCI vendors, the public cloud is an extension of the strategy, but also could be a strategic threat if IT leaders buy public cloud services in lieu of spending on their own infrastructure.
During the past year, Gartner has witnessed increased consideration of HCI in mission-critical enterprise applications. With this change, users have increased their scrutiny of support and application certification. At the same time, HCI vendors have expanded their strategy to embrace hybrid/multicloud deployments, as either backup targets or disaster recovery options, or as an alternative for on-premises infrastructure for unpredictable or cyclical resource requirements. Some HCI providers have begun to offer artificial intelligence (AI) functions to automatically improve performance and prevent failures.
The HCI vendors that historically were data-center-focused have begun to target the needs of edge environments, previously only served by niche vendors. Small remote office and edge deployments require less storage capacity, fewer compute resources and fewer features, but benefit greatly from centralized management and high-availability designs. Much of the focus for this segment is on software that can be run on minimally configured servers that will support high availability (HA) with two-node clusters or even a single-node with limited availability. Finally, HCI vendors need to meet the asymmetrical scaling requirements of IT (compute, storage and network resource requirements do not always scale at the same rate) and are offering more compute-only, storage-only and software-defined networking options. These HCI providers offer that asymmetrical scaling while maintaining the server as the primary deployment method.
It is worth noting that some vendors are operating outside the sphere of Gartner’s strict definition of HCI and are designing solutions from the outset that offer unified management, but are intended to scale compute and storage resources independently (e.g., disaggregated HCI [dHCI]). These solutions look much like integrated infrastructure solutions, but with scale-out architectures for back-end storage. They do not meet the inclusion criteria for this Magic Quadrant because they typically do not combine virtual machine (VM) and software-defined storage (SDS) resources, both running on the same physical servers, as the primary deployment method (see the Inclusion Criteria section).
Nutanix Strengths and Cautions
Founded in 2009, Nutanix was the early market and mind share leader in the HCI space since 2011. Nutanix’s HCI solution is composed of its software-defined stack: Software-defined storage; AOS; an infrastructure control plane, Prism; and optionally its hypervisor, AHV. Over the last two years, Nutanix has evolved from a vendor of HCI system appliances and data services, to a provider of a broad portfolio of software solutions and cloud services. Over the past year, Nutanix introduced a database-as-a-service offering (Nutanix Era), application self-service and app life cycle management (Nutanix Calm), S3 object storage (Nutanix Objects), file storage services (Nutanix Files) and Xi Leap disaster recovery service. Nutanix offers subscription, term-based software licenses that are portable across hardware platforms and clouds. IT leaders deploy the Nutanix HCI solution for core IT, VDI, cloud and mission-critical use cases.
Nutanix has established itself as a leading HCI solution provider, which has contributed to significant traction in large enterprises and resulted in multimillion-dollar purchases by repeat and new customers across multiple industries and geographies.
The Nutanix HCI software platform attracts IT leaders who prioritize flexibility because it supports multiple third-party servers, storage protocols and hypervisors, as well as a broad range of procurement and deployment options.
Customers and end-user references continue to report positive support and service experiences, which contribute to strong customer loyalty.
Nutanix’s transformation to a software company model triggered some IT leaders to question the company’s long-term operational consistency in the areas of hardware integration, seamless global support and robustness of third-party server OEM solutions.
Nutanix Xi Clusters’ integration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud is still a nascent offering that is currently in tech preview.
Cultural resistance within some infrastructure teams to adopting Nutanix’s native virtualization (AHV) prevents IT leaders from taking full advantage of additional Nutanix stack offerings.
By Jeffrey Hewitt, Philip Dawson, Julia Palmer, John McArthur