LAS VEGAS — Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and software-defined storage (SDS) are arguably the hottest trends in data center modernization. IDC puts HCI at a $6 billion opportunity by 2020 — it’s the fastest growing segment in the data center space — and consistently ranks Dell EMC as a leading vendor in both HCI and SDS.
SDxCentral Senior Editor Jessica Lyons Hardcastle caught up with Chad Sakac, president of the converged platforms and solutions division at Dell EMC at VMworld to talk all things HCI. The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
VMware is deeply integrated with some of your HCI systems, but you also partner with Nutanix. Will you give me the rundown on Dell EMC’s HCI appliances and rack-scale systems?
Sakac: Basically there are only two questions we need to ask customers to figure out what the right system for them is. The first question is: have you standardized on VMware, and are you aligned with VMware and their roadmap? If the answer to that is yes, then our answer is either VxRail or VxRack SDDC. If they say, ‘No, we may use VMware but VMware is one thing of many, and it’s not a central part of how we look at infrastructure,’ then we have two answers: XC and Flex.
That first question can be visualized as some customers have a preference for infrastructure that is vertically integrated and some customers have a preference for infrastructure that is horizontal and supports all sorts of different stuff.
The word that signifies the value of the vertically integrated stack is simple. It is the most simple way to design an HCI system.
The word for a horizontal stack is flexible. They are never as simple. You have to think about how do I update this thing? And then how do I update VMware? How do I update Linux? It could be any of the things that are on it.
The second question is: are you ready to transform your network? Or are you just ready to transform your storage? If the answer is: ‘I’m not yet ready to transform my network with [VMware’s virtual networking technology] NSX, or the way I procure my network.’ Then what they want is they want either VxRail or an XC.
If they are ready to transform their network, depending on how they answer the VMware question up front, then they’re either going to be a VxRack SDDC or a Flex.
Two simple questions, four choices.
How much of Dell EMC’s HCI business do each of these four systems represent?
Sakac: Some stuff we say publicly; some stuff we don’t. I’ll give you a bigger-than-a-bread-box idea.
VxRail, we’ve publicly stated, is at a $400 million run rate. And we stated that at the end of Q1. So we are well north of a $400 million run rate at this point. From a cold start to, in essence, a half a billion-dollar business in a year and a half, that’s quite something.
VxRail represents about a third of the vSAN customer base. And that business has grown at 240-plus percent, year-over-year. As Pat Gelsinger said on stage, and Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell said it, too, it basically grew more than 400 percent over an 18-month period. VSAN growth and VxRail growth. You can think of that as being a huge mass.
Now the XC business, we represent in any given quarter, between a third and a quarter of all Nutanix customers. They chose our OEM of Nutanix. You take a look at Nutanix’s customer count, they’re at about 6,000 customers. We represent roughly about a third of that. So about 2,000 customers.
VxRail has roughly 3,000 customers; XC has roughly 2,500 customers in total, you can see those are two very big numbers of customers.
The number of customers that use VxRack SDDC and Flex are much smaller. They number in the hundreds, not thousands. However, they are enormous customers.
In the keynote on day one, you saw Medtronic, they’re a VxRack SDDC customer. They have five VxRack SDDCs across five data centers. It’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of nodes. Our largest VxRack Flex customer has north of 1,500 nodes. That’s 28-racks’ worth of HCI.
In terms of revenue mix, right now we see roughly around two-thirds appliances and roughly a third these giant rack systems.
What’s starting to happen that is interesting is that many larger customers are starting to say, “I’m really interested in these rack-scale approaches.” We’ve got lots of customers that, for example, had five Vx blocks of CI [converged infrastructure] and they’re refreshing, and two of the five turn into a VxRack. Generally those customers that have invested massively in CI say the network is part of the system for them.
What’s driving this growing focus on networking?
Sakac: Hyperconverged appliances were born as a simplification for customers in the world of infrastructure. That was their promise, their brand, their core value proposition. As soon as customers get to a certain scale of appliance count, even though they can build their own network, they start to go, ‘I want the network domain to be as easy as what you’ve done for the storage and compute domain. I want that to be part of the lifecycle. I don’t want it to be my problem anymore I want it to be your problem.’
Anytime a customer is thinking about 10 or more appliances, you should at least ask them, why aren’t you thinking about your network as part of this project?
What percentage of enterprise are going that route and considering networking? Is it still relatively small?
Sakac: Tiny. As a percentage, this is a thing which is both depressing and exciting at the same time.
Sakac: There are 350,000 vSphere customers. That’s a lot. This represents millions and millions of hosts.
We’re about 50 percent, 60 percent of the CI [converged infrastructure] market as a whole. Let’s say that’s roughly 7,000 customers that have said, ‘I’m sick and tired of building and running my own infrastructure stack. You guys can do it better. Make it easy for me so I can focus on things that matter even more.’
At the same time there’s currently 10,000 vSAN customers. And of this, roughly around 3,000 are using VxRail as the way that they do vSAN.
Nutanix has said that they have around 6,000 customers. And then there’s only hundreds of customers that choose rack-scale systems today. So this is depressing in one dimension because 340,000 customers are still suffering the pain and agony of trying to build their own infrastructure stacks.
It’s also exciting in the sense that it highlights that the world of SDS [software-defined storage] and HCI is still only at its most nascent era. It’s ramping like crazy, but it’s got a huge way to go before it even is a dent in the whole landscape of the ecosystem.
What’s the next phase of HCI?
Sakac: There’s a phase that is staring us right in the face, which is HCI is no longer exciting. And no longer exciting is actually the most exciting phase for real work to occur.
Because HCI is now the standard?
Sakac: Because it’s no longer a big debate. It used to be you’d get into a bar fight with someone about is HCI ready? Is software-defined storage ever going to be good enough to run blank applications? And then eventually you get to a point where it’s like: yep. Everyone knows it works. There are debates about which way is better or worse. But everyone gets on to the business of getting on to business.