The big announcement so far at VMworld 2014 is the final emergence a new reference architecture called EVO and what was covertly known as Project Mystic or Marvin.  EVO is VMware’s hyper-converged offering to take on the likes of Nutanix, Simplivity and Scale Computing.

It’s obvious that VMware sees the idea of hyper-converged solutions as both a threat and an opportunity.  From a threat perspective, the hypervisor choice in hyper-converged doesn’t have to be VMware’s ESXi.  In fact Nutanix offers both Hyper-V and KVM, while Scale Computing has built their offering around KVM and their own proprietary code.  The opportunity is the take-up Nutanix and Simplivity have seen in their business models that simplifies deployment for the administrator, removing lots of operational overhead.  This is clearly a game VMware wants to get into as the growth of the existing hyper-converged players has shown that customers have an appetite for these types of solutions.

So what have VMware announced so far?  Well the offerings divide into two;  today a single server solution called EVO:RAIL is available, which consists of 3rd party vendor-supported hardware (available from Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, Inspur, Net One and SuperMicro) and a software stack from VMware that includes ESXi and vSAN.  From what I see so far, the value add is in the simplified deployment model for getting an EVO cluster up and running; all of the underlying components are existing products.

How does this therefore compare to the offerings from the existing market players?  Well, Nutanix have been offering 4-node 2U hardware solutions since they launched their platform in 2011.  Today their offerings consist of a range of server configurations for large and small requirements.  Full specifications can be found here – Nutanix Spec Sheet.  Simplivity currently offers three sizes of cluster, which scale performance and capacity.  It’s pretty reasonable therefore to say that the hardware components present little competitive advantage for any vendor and we shouldn’t expect anything else in a software defined world.  That therefore takes us back to software.

As I said earlier, VMware seems to be providing some simplified packaging for ease of deployment, but other than that the components are existing software products.  So looking at the difference at a software level between EVO and Nutanix/Simplivity/Scale Computing we’re back to comparing distributed file systems (Nutanix Distributed File System, Scale Computing Reliable Independent Block Engine, Virtual SAN) and the orchestration features.  In this area I still believe the existing hyper-converged players have the edge as demonstrated (for example) through Nutanix’s latest “web scale” releases of NOS 4.x with broad platform and cloud support.

The Architect’s View

There will be many customers for whom EVO makes complete sense and VMware will probably do well selling EVO to organisations who are familiar with vSphere and want simplified deployment.  However EVO’s competitors are much further down the line with the maturity of their solutions and with the flexibility of choice they offer.  The additional competition of EVO is good; hyper-converged is obviously a market that’s here to stay.

Disclaimer:  I am attending VMworld 2014 in San Francisco through a free event pass from VMware.  Flights and hotel costs are not covered by VMware.  Content is not reviewed by VMware before posting.

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Written by Chris Evans

With 30+ years in IT, Chris has worked on everything from mainframe to open platforms, Windows and more. During that time, he has focused on storage, developed software and even co-founded a music company in the late 1990s. These days it's all about analysis, advice and consultancy.