In an interesting turn of direction, rumours abound that VMware might be about to enter the hardware business with a converged server/storage offering – details are here in The Register.

According to the article update VMware have stressed that they are a software-only company but do collaborate with OEM partners.  So if VMware was to build a hyper-converged solution, presumably based on Virtual SAN (VSAN) and vSphere, with whom would they partner?  Kindly parent EMC might seem the obvious choice as the company has been making hardware for years, however they don’t make servers, only storage appliances, albeit with a lot of similarity between the two.

Obviously EMC didn’t buy IBM’s server business, however if they had, it would have made this story all the more interesting.  This therefore perhaps means a partnership with Dell, HP, Cisco or Lenovo could be on the table, none of which really seem that likely.

Of course we should ask the question as to why VMware feel it necessary to build and offer a hyper-converged solution.  It doesn’t take someone with a brain the size of a planet to see the answer.  Firstly, hyper-converged solutions have been extremely popular in the market place, with offerings from Nutanix, SimpliVity and Scale Computing.  The Nutanix offering in particular is evolving fast and growing to cope with the scale large enterprises require.

Second, vSphere VSAN is an immature 1.0 solution.  It lacks many of the refined features of existing hyper-converged solutions (such as de-duplication) and is up against tough competition from Maxta, HP’s StoreVirtual VSA and even EMC itself with ScaleIO (although the architecture is subtly different).

Third, we’ve seen issues with VSAN  – this post on Reddit is a good example.  Although the blame is being placed on the hardware, the issue is more the ability for the software to understand the hardware capabilities and manage them accordingly.

As a result, what this shows (and other comments, blog posts and general noise around VSAN) is that customers are having to do a lot of hard work around choosing the right hardware platform for their VSAN deployments, without really knowing where they are at risk of choosing the wrong components.  For many this may mean the time and effort isn’t worth it and sticking with a dedicated storage platform is easier.

The solution is simple; VMware in conjunction with partners, simply offer some pre-packaged, certified solutions and the effort is taken away from the customer.

The Architect’s View

Should we see the rumours of potential hardware sales as a knee-jerk reaction to hyper-converged solutions?  Probably not, maybe we’re all just being a bit paranoid.  “Marvin” if it exists, could be as much about selling packaged VSAN solutions than taking on the competition.  However even at this stage of the game, if I was Nutanix, SimpliVity or Scale, I wouldn’t be that worried, as the VSAN software still needs some significant improvement.

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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.