Hyper Converged Infrastructure (HCI)

Updated: Jan 21, 2020

My idea of HCI includes AI in many forms added into the mix. My pals over at Boston Dynamics are giving me all sorts of ideas about Hyper-Converged-Humanoid-Entities (HCHE) and HCI merge points.

But lets not get ahead of ourselves too much just yet!! Right now I will keep those antics for Dream-Time and help create that reality as we go!!

Today, HCI is undergoing an AI revolution itself, mostly of the analytics and monitor kind for Orchestration purposes pertaining to slick Automation deliverables impacting Data Center operations.

Recently I have been gravitating heavily towards the new era IT transformation technologies that focus on Hyper Converged Infrastructure (HCI) and Cloud as all of that complex V-Max and Powermax stuff I took so much pain getting certified for requires a lot of talent and care to run in a Data Center.

Old school IT silos like this are too complicated and require a lot of expensive IT pros to run it all.

CFO's do not like the expense that goes with that type of old school setup.

Since the days when I was a Novell CNE, I had been searching for something similar to Netware but drastically more radically evolved that can run on just about any server platform.

I spent a great deal of time diving into over a dozen different HCI and CI products and platforms and proceeded to engage to evaluate them all and even help the respective OEM companies in this space plug the gaps in their portfolio and refine their strategy somewhat.

First it was VCE Corp VBLOCKS and a whole host of other CI based ideas that integrated existing IT silo's with a slick GUI so that you could manage it with a single pane of glass.

That was the idea at any rate.

I did some work with CRAY and NEXT and BMC Patrol but could never quite find the right concoction of blend that eliminated the deep and detailed knowledge you had to have of each silo to troubleshoot and operate the way you desired.

Then Nutanix came to my attention in early 2014 and the next thing I knew the fun had begun.

To my pleasant Surprise, Nutanix had all of the magic ingredients and were open about gaps and filling them and becoming whole and complete.

Something I had endeavored and failed to make Novell, Microsoft and BlackBerry use to their advantage.

But those companies at that time felt they were perfect and that improvement suggestions from the field were not to be taken seriously.

Only one of them survived.

To my surprise, Nutanix did not laugh when I made some observations and suggested what was to become the 6000 series concept for backup purposes was not a bad idea back in 2014 and I realized I was working with something new that was eager to listen and learn.

Focus also turned to the all Flash NX 8xxx and 9xxx series stuff that a couple of my customers were real interested in getting into with an ambitious goal of maybe one day having a system much better than their ridiculously expensive V-MAX storage iron with the separate Server tweaking silo merged into a single entity so simple to install and run that even eight year old kids could run it easily if needs be.

But at that sort of easy to run level of Simplicity.

Chad Sakac at EMC and a couple of my peers in the Channel space had gathered in various locations on the East coast with several of us channel architects from time to time while attending various technology events and I was to learn as a result of our impromptu 2 AM technology discussions we held whenever we bumped into each other, that they had engaged with Nutanix and were so impressed that the XC agreement and full deal signing for Dell to also sell Nutanix had taken place and great co-operation and idea flows were taking place between the two companies as a result.

Several top technologists at EMC shared with me that they were pretty impressed with the Nutanix platform and despite pressure from within since those early days, the Dell-EMC XC series line is now a thriving fact of life.

In due course, Dell-EMC got the message that HCI was going to be a big thing and they also poured money into developing their own VxRAIL HCI product.

When version 4.0 of VxRAIL arrived it was a massive leap forward from the previous version and was in time to lay other unexpected but not surprising foundations they would have to deal with in due course.

Nutanix and Dell-EMC now had another complicated problem to deal with as suddenly VxRAIL and Nutanix were now 1 and 2 in the Gartner MQ with sales indicating Nutanix in no 1 spot and VxRAIL in no 2.

They were now naturally evolved frenemies.

SimpliVity which had been in no 2 had been relegated to no 3 spot and were eventually bought by my old company HPe and were in time to languish even further down the HCI pecking order.

Others in this space were a long way behind Nutanix and Dell, with Nutanix ability to run any Hypervisor with any cloud platform giving them a long lead over VxRAIL which is a VMware only HCI platform and they also lag with the Cloud integration by quite a long margin (IMHO).

Not being slow to see the exposed market gaps, Nutanix also worked on their own Hypervisor and their own cloud platform (Xi LEAP) as well.

Nutanix and HCI soon became a defacto runaway train and started delving into areas like their own Hypervisor called Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV).

AHV has evolved quite a bit to where it is today and quite a few in-house features and benefits come from using AHV instead of VMware Hypervisors.

There are of course still companies that want the rich features, training and time investments the made with VMware to bear fruit for some time to come, but the advantage of Nutanix is you have the choices available to run what you want.

Today, even my old crowd at HPe have joined the Nutanix era fray with the DX line of offerings for HPe flavored Nutanix that they offer alongside their own SimpliVity platform and I am actually pretty impressed with how Nutanix works with all of these server vendors.

I keep having deja vu moments very similar to when my team at Technetics built MPR software for Novell and our very own NEBS 3 servers to run Netware for various banks and Telcos.

Along with the Lenovo HX series and other platforms like Cisco UCS, Inspur, Fujitsu, Huawei et al on the Nutanix HCL there are now quite a lot of choices available to run Nutanix on.

HCI, it must be said, has now arrived fully in the mainstream of IT for many companies looking for effective ways to cut their OPEX costs and manage IT operations at drastically lower cost levels compared to those offered by traditional IT approaches of the recent past - and get them into a solid cloud strategy - Hybrid Infrastructure style while they are at it.

That is to say with IT infrastructure that is as simple to operate as cloud is, but on premise and with very deep cloud capabilities built right in so that the many legacy applications can run very well sans expen$ive rewrites.

Gartner now even have a Hyper-converged magic quadrant for us technologist geek types to drool over!

CI vendors have not been totally asleep at the wheel and new and emerging products in the storage field are making CI solution offerings a lot more interesting than they were by combining several silo's of technology under a single product umbrella like Pure Storage FlashStack and NetApp's so called non HCI-HCI (because it is CI) platform for example.

These CI platforms have also become more cloud friendly and are on the road to being multi-cloud capable products but they are not there quite yet.

Those of you that remember VCE corp and their VBLOCKS will be familiar with this CI sort of approach to making Data Center IT more easy to run and operate single throat to choke style.

Containerization is also giving VMware a run for it's virtual machine money but it's not over for server virtualization by any stretch of the imagination as you still use a lot of virtualization in containerization solutions.

Bare metal kubernetes is starting to be a viable option to virtualization but I note the advantages and raison d'etre for virtualization will not be totally eliminated here either.

Virtualization as a concept and idea has been around since mainframe days for a whole host of different reasons one of which is the multi use of the same hardware to many users.

Opensource has also matured to the point that even the great Microsoft has been moving that way mainly because it makes financial sense.

Microsoft have embraced Openstack with a great big bear hug and they are doing the opensource way of getting stuff done these days, they just themselves need to be doing more work with the multi-cloud ambitions that consumers of IT are pushing for but they are blinded to their own ambitions with Azure somewhat and that is to be expected.

Its all good and well the work they are doing with Azure but options in a world of interoperability better be embraced rather than shunned, because that's where the consciousness of IT as a whole is going long term.

The whole IT space is suddenly getting very interesting indeed!!

Its quite the blend of HCI and cloud technologies these days that has helped Nutanix in particular pivot even further ahead of the old school CI vendors, and the reasons why are simple and straightforward.

Customer applications are simply not cloud friendly and need a hybrid solution to get them there, a stepping stone if you will.

Even then, being at the mercy of cloud outages and the risk to the business when they are down needs some serious mulling over to deal with properly.

Cloud itself has not evolved to the state where it can be 1000% dependable with zero risk of outages.

A Nutanix HCI stack with Nutanix Xi LEAP taking care of cloud integration and Nutanix Calm taking care of the applications leaves consumers of IT now suddenly dealing with a vastly simpler and more tightly integrated solution stack that delivers 97% more up-time at 60% lower cost with vastly simpler firmware and software update capabilities than that faced by the operators of traditional CI stack based solutions.

Features impacting operations with HCI, like simple four click firmware, OS, Networking and application upgrades vs the separate outage nightmare for every thing in a CI stack that comes with CI is a significant game changer in it's own right.

There is in fact simply no comparison to a fully integrated HCI stack like Nutanix compared to any CI stack in terms of vastly easier and simpler to run pragmatic realities of the two technologies from an OPEX and operations simplicity point of view.

OPEX is where the money is going down the drain in IT, and that's just a simple fact!

Build a matrix of the shenanigans it takes to upgrade BIOS, Firmware, software, Operating systems and Networking stuff et al in a CI stack vs a Nutanix HCI stack to get the idea rammed home.

There are also other time saving dimensions to a HCI stack such as Nutanix to consider for devops approaches to IT.

The other day I was marveling at how Jenkins and container shenanigans were completely integrated into Nutanix Calm making for the most sublime and awesome devops package I have ever worked with and it was fully integrated into Microsoft Azure to boot!!

Now I am an Azure bigot by virtue of the fact it was what I learnt first cloud wise despite the fact that AWS is the 800 lbs gorilla in the cloud arena.

The other cloud players like Microsoft and Google also deserve full consideration but AWS is the leader of the pack here right now.

However, if cloud is used properly all three platforms can form a valid BC/DR strategy with an on premise hybrid cloud platform a la Nutanix HCI. That way public cloud outages offer minimal risk to ongoing corporate business continuity aspirations.

The ability to integrate any cloud solution into your Nutanix HCI stack is so slick, so sublime and so well integrated, that stuff it took months and even years to orchestrate before is in fact now a mere swift couple of mouse clicks away and boy, does it ever work well!!

Having choices of which Cloud you want is also pretty awesome....

The argument for which cloud with which Hypervisors, with what application combinations is a much better place to be in than contemplating the pros and cons of each one vs the other old school CI matrix style!!

So many HCI solutions these days only work with VMware and that too is a problem because success with HCI that is a VMware environment means one of the winners is always going to be Dell-EMC who own VMware.

It's enough to give Mr Anderson (from the Matrix) a rather large headache when contemplating the myriad of potential matrices and solution architectures that can be derived!

All of this slick operation and rapid delivery stuff is leveraging the power of any hypervisor, with any cloud combo and the power of on premise gear in a mightily impressive Hybrid fantasia manner in my humble opinion.

In my mind, the legacy storage game is mostly over with HCI platforms like Nutanix doing what they do unless you go with the Pure Storage CI story, because they are already integrated with AWS and working on the other two (Azure and GCP).

This Nutanix stuff is so flexible using combinations of namespace, any hypervisor, multi-cloud combos and any server technology you like that if you find yourself with a need to build a HCI flavored with high speed NVMe only type HCI solution for say SAP HANA, well, you can do that easily and very rapidly with your many flexible Nutanix options.

Furthermore, deploying functional silo's of say High Performance compute, Database farms and other more critical to the business silo's of applications using containers, virtualization or whatever takes the given company's desire and methodology they are using to deploy their solutions to their workforce under, the Nutanix domain umbrella is pretty simple stuff.

There really is no end to the combination of power and flexibility of hardware and solution format you can create, all integrated under the Nutanix HCI umbrella in a corporate data center with this HCI business, it sure is a major game changer from the way I look at it.

AI and machine learning is also making an impact here and merging Nutanix HCI with AI is going to lead us to even more powerful, devastatingly slicker and dare I say it, even simpler IT solutions.


HCI affords many companies the opportunity to explore what value their business applications can deliver vs the traditional overspend on IT Operations in a very meaningful manner.

East-West Networking AI style, aiding and abetting this Nutanix HCI cloud magic is still something that needs some focus and attention though.

The Plexxi guys were doing some truly awesome stuff here, its a great pity HPe bought them but I am sure a dozen startups will come along to fill the void they have left in this space.

Juniper in fact worked with Nutanix to produce the Q10K series Switch specifically for Nutanix platforms and its in the Nutantgasm class of totally awesome.

Work with Mellanox and the way the Mellanox NEO software integrates into Prism and creates the networking configs you need in cahoots with the virtual networking interface is a thing of beauty to behold (click the link to the YouTube video below to see).

I am now focusing my blog site on various Nutanix subject areas as I am now a hard core Nutant warrior.

I will of course be keeping my eye on the others in this field as I go though.

Hitachi Vantara are about to launch their HCI platform which is also VMware centric at first launch and Scale Compute and others have some pretty neat technology and ideas that may develop into serious competitor status one day.

At the end of the day I am an HCI evangelista but after surveying the field and getting some customer feedback it seems that HCI is like cars. There are some seriously bad ones out there in a few Silicon Valley Chicken Sheds and there are some seriously good ones like Nutanix.

Those companies that are out there making cheap to ridiculously expensive point solutions like All Flash Arrays and half assed HCI products better have their cloud integration stack story with one pane of glass GUI to run it all pretty much polished up and ready to go because corporations these days are not much interested in running and deploying a million silos of stand alone technology old school style which they have to integrate and perform unnatural team break dancing efforts to run the operations thereof properly.

That sort of thing was yesterday's hero.

In case you had not noticed, we have taken a leap into tomorrow's world in a big way!

Leveraging cloud with Infrastructure like this really delivers IAAS, PAAS, SAAS and whatnot as a service directly to the consumer in near instant fashion.

Using just in time, just as you need it IT services and IT power when you need it at the appropriate cost levels is also somewhat of a no-brainer with Nutanix HCI going forward.

Imagine year end corporate tax shenanigans that require lots of IT services just at year end for all that SAP HANA and Oracle number crunching for those two critical months and then imagine deploying these services just for when you need them and then throwing the resources they were using back into the general pool bucket after the job is done and suddenly you can conceive a very valuable thing indeed!!

No need for over provisioned and expensive IT hardware to do nothing but month ends for the rest of the year and wait for the stress the same time next year!! The cost savings are unimaginable with this platform, they really are!!

This will be a new direction going forward for me as I turn a new leaf over in 2020 to help further drive the Nutanix flavored HCI transformation wave in the commercial account space and start delivering on the vast promise that the choice of any cloud integrated with Nutanix HCI architectures bring with them to the table.

I will also endeavor to include a chat and feedback portion to this Blog through this medium and encourage you all to participate as progress is always helped by good old fashioned engineering and architecture folks exploring the boundaries of the new era Nutanix HCI Data Center and delivering IT transformation while they are at it through passionate arguments on the pros and cons of HCI hitchhiking.

It is an exciting time for IT and those who partake in it HCI-Cloud style!

The new age server armed with PCIe 4.0 and very shortly the new PCIe 5.0 capabilities will make technologies like NVMe-oF still born and irrelevant before any of them have really even got off the ground.

With these new PCIe 4.0 changes, the technology that benefits the most is HCI and cloud integrated solutions aimed at Kubernetes and other high performance computing shenanigans.

For those that want to play PCIe 4.0 games in the data center, AMD is the only game in town right now, quite an EPYC situation.

The fact that even the Chipzilla Optane group is using EPYC and the 3000 series Ryzen 7 and 9 platform CPU's to test and enhance their new PCIe 4.0 SSD products should take the fret from your head about the compatibility issues some may make.

There are no compatibility issues. AMD uses the same x64 instruction set that Chipzilla does, there is a court case AMD won to prove it.

Re HCI aspirations in the new era just ask yourself "Why run and maintain four or more separate silo's when you can integrate them all into one?"

It will indeed be hard to compare and compete with Nutanix HCI given the slick and awesome state of Nutanix these days!!

Jump on the HCI bandwagon before it's too late, this train is runaway!

If you are a vendor that is counting on the NVMe-oF technology delivering gifts into your future basket, fret plenty, the odds I am afraid have just been stacked very heavily against you!!

For the mainstream, NVMe-oF on storage only platforms is already yesterday's stillborn hero!!

NVMe-oF may have a place in the multi-tenancy world of Data Center hosting by companies like Equinix who want to offer their customers virtual storage arrays and virtual machines in a secure multi tenancy format, where they host many corporations entire Data Centers under one roof, but few mainstream IT outfits are big enough to enjoy the benefits that approach could bring.

I only see Equinix, Verizon, AT&T and the massive NTT being interested in that sort of hosting game but much work will have to be done on operational simplicity and Nutanix have set the bar pretty high in that regard already!!

It's going to be pretty fascinating how this one unfolds!

Nutanix, simply consolidating all the complexity of legacy IT into a single stack

So in today's world, on premise equipment is called Private Cloud, Public Cloud is the AWS, Azure and GCP stuff along with Nutanix Xi LEAP and Oracle Cloud.

Nutanix is what brings Private Cloud and Public Cloud together. Et-Voila!! Easy Street has arrived in the Data Center.

In tomorrows world these guys will be helping us flesh and blood humans get it done right, every time!!

Whether we like it or not, the rise of the machines has been a fact of life since we started cracking nuts with rocks.

Automation, robotics and computing leading to AI has set the jib on our collective ship so the choice is either get with the whole program or go Hippie.

Me, I prefer to help make it what it should be.

In the end, It is for the benefit of us all and I am prompted to remember the words of good old Lao Tzu who reminded us so very long ago that a journey of 1000 miles by foot begins with a simple step.

What direction is another matter.......