NetApp is betting that it’s Data Fabric will propel its hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) to market leader status. And it also wants to rebrand HCI to “hybrid cloud infrastructure.”
“HCI means a different thing for us,” said Brett Roscoe, VP of product management at NetApp. “We use those words to talk about the consolidation of on-prem and cloud with a similar operating system and management tools. We want our HCI to provide cloud-like tools and cloud-like consumption.”
The storage vendor arrived late to the HCI party, debuting its long-awaited hyperconverged product late last year. NetApp, however, took a different approach compared to competitors like Nutanix and VMware. Instead of running storage on a hypervisor, NetApp HCI disaggregates the storage and dedicates some of the nodes in the chassis for running SolidFire Element OS. Element OS is based on technology from NetApp’s acquisition of all-flash storage vendor SolidFire in 2016.
“The Data Fabric is the cornerstone of the product in terms of bringing unique value,” Roscoe said. “First-generation HCI worked to consolidate the traditional three-tier architectures — compute, storage, and networking — and simplify it into an easy-to-consume infrastructure solution. But we think the world has changed.”
He says hyperconvergence is no longer about traditional architecture. It’s now about converging public and private clouds, and virtual machines (VMs) and microservices, and managing all of these through a single portal.
NetApp HCI Updates
To this end, NetApp rolled out several updates to its Data Fabric and HCI at its annual Insight conference late last month. It integrated its Ontap data management and storage software with its HCI, and it now auto tiers on-premises data to cloud, optimizing the location of the data. NetApp’s storage already integrated with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.
Integrating HCI with Ontap “is the bridge from on-prem to the hyperscalers,” Roscoe said.
Additionally, NetApp Kubernetes Service (NKS) now runs on NetApp’s HCI, allowing customers to manage container deployments in the public cloud or in the data center.
The company also announced a new verified architecture for Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform on NetApp HCI. Earlier this year it announced a similar validated architecture for VMware-based private clouds.
“There are three areas we’re investing in,” Roscoe said. “One is to be cloud connected and leveraging the Data Fabric to have whatever services you want from public clouds available to run in your own on-premises HCI solution. The second area is application agility: the ability to have a multi-cloud environment and manage all different types of applications, whether containers, virtual machines, or virtual infrastructure. And the third is cloud-consumption infrastructure. Our platform still has hardware that does storage, compute, and networking, but making that so abstract to the customer that deploying our platform feels like managing a cloud environment.”
Spoiler Alert: It’s Composable Infrastructure
In other words: composable infrastructure, which delivers fluid pools of networking, storage, and compute resources that can be composed and recomposed as needed.
“We absolutely fit that category,” Roscoe said.
Steve McDowell, senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, says NetApp falls more into the composable category rather than HCI. “NetApp is trying to redefine HCI,” he said. “NetApp came late, and what they introduced is not really HCI. It looks more like what Datrium is doing. It’s more let’s put the pieces together and manage them as a whole. But I think NetApp’s problem in that space is going to be they don’t have a broad portfolio of products. To go into the composable infrastructure business you really need the networking and the server business.”
In September, NetApp and Lenovo announced a partnership and a joint-venture company in China. The partnership will combine NetApp’s all-flash data management and storage software with Lenovo’s servers.
“It’s not overly impressive yet, but if they say phase two of the Lenovo partnership is we’re going to tightly couple SolidFire storage with Lenovo servers, that would be compelling,” McDowell said. NetApp has a “compelling vision” he added. “The challenge is going to be putting the stones in place to bring them from the data center to this hybrid-cloud vision.”