For the past decade, value-added resellers (VARs) have been talking to their customers about cloud computing and cloud resources and how technologies such as virtualization can help companies make better use of the cloud. More recently, discussions about convergence and creating a converged infrastructure have been prevalent, as vendors bring together computer resources to consolidate systems for the data center in order to centralize management using policy-driven processes. Now we have hyper-convergence, which takes convergence one step further, allowing vendors and VARs to provide preconfigured hardware and software systems delivered as modular solutions that are designed to scale.
IDC is predicting big growth for any integrated systems for the data center, especially systems that bring together servers and storage with a common management interface. In 2013, the market was valued at $5.4 billion, but IDC predicts sales to grow to $14.3 billion by 2017 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32.8 percent. Being able to deliver converged and hyper-converged systems is going to be a lucrative market for VARs.
Convergence versus Hyper-Convergence
Many VARs have been successfully selling convergence solutions as customers upgrade their data center. Convergence is a logical way to integrate systems by providing network appliances that bring together networking, storage, software, and system administration. With virtualization, the physical locations of data storage or software become irrelevant.
In a converged network, the components are integrated into a single infrastructure as building blocks, and those building blocks can be separated again. Therefore, a server in a converged system can be separated and used as a server, and storage can be reallocated for other storage applications.
In a hyper-converged infrastructure, the components are integrated using software and cannot be separated. The hyper in hyper-converged comes from the term hypervisor, so hyper-converged systems bring together the virtual and physical aspects of the infrastructure using virtualization.
Using hyper-convergence to bundle server and storage as a single node (i.e. a single logical entity) makes it easier to scale the enterprise infrastructure. The existing infrastructure of storage arrays and servers is collapsed into discrete components that are easier to implement and manage. The hyper-converged infrastructure performs as a single entity, with servers, storage, and virtualization operating as a single unit so the components are transparent to the system administrator.
Selling Preconfigured Hyper-Converged Appliances
Hyper-convergence promotes hyper-scalability. The more hyper-converged appliances you add, the greater the performance capacity. Rather than scaling out using more drivers, more memory, or more CPUs, you scale by adding more appliance modules. And the entire hyper-converged infrastructure is managed through a single pane of glass.
This is both good news and bad news for data centers. The bad news is that, since the hyper-converged infrastructure is a single integrated building block, you can’t add incremental upgrades, such as a little more storage or a little more computing power. If a cluster starts to run low on storage, you have to add an entire new hyper-convergence module. This makes it harder to perform tasks such as tuning disk storage.
And that’s the good news for VARs. With hyper-convergence, you are selling all-inclusive data-center building blocks that extend the existing infrastructure without having complex integration or having to add new system administration tools. You can deliver more computing resources in a package that is easier to install and manage.
VARs have two choices: buy preconfigured systems from companies like Nutanix, SimpliVity, or Scale Computing or build your own appliances. VMware VSAN and HP's StoreVirtual are designed to offer more control points for hyper-converged systems. You can choose to build your own hyper-converged systems as long as the server and storage hardware are supported by the software vendor.
Rethinking Profit Potential for VARs
Many VARs are going to argue against selling hyper-convergence. They are already selling all the components of hyper-convergence—servers, storage, virtualization, software, etc.—so why migrate to hyper-convergence and jeopardize already slim hardware margins?
Then there’s the argument for service. Consolidating administration in a single pane of glass using hyper-convergence limits the amount of billable time needed to install and design systems for the legacy infrastructure.
Hyper-convergence is the future, and more companies are going to embrace hyper-convergence because of its simplicity. Using a modular infrastructure with a centralized administration tool means data centers don’t need additional resources for storage area networks or other enterprise components. However, data centers are still going to need VARs to get them up and running, and hyper-converged appliances aren’t cheap, so the potential for healthy margins is there, especially for VARs that roll their own modules.