VMware 2017 predictions for Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

By Lee Caswell, Vice President of Product, Storage and Availability Business Unit, VMware

Over the course of 2016, we’ve seen the rapid adoption of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI)—powered by the latest release of VMware vSAN 6.5 and VMware vSphere 6.5—shape VMware’s vision of the Cross-Cloud Architecture and serve as a building block to the software-defined data center (SDDC). In 2017, we predict HCI will take center stage, particularly as the expansion of data into the cloud influences our day-to-day management, expectations of, and patience with, the data center.

Below, we’ve outlined five things we expect for HCI in the New Year.

The Rise of the IT Generalist in the Storage World

The arrival of HCI and unified management tools means storage can now be procured and managed by IT generalists rather than specialists. HCI lets these generalists manage the entire infrastructure with a single, familiar set of tools. As overall data center responsibilities shift to a generalist or a converged team of generalists, traditional enterprise storage and storage professionals will increasingly expand their expertise beyond storage, or focus on strategic projects where storage performance is critical. More importantly, because HCI allows staff and resources to be allocated more efficiently, we expect the conversation around IT in 2017 to begin to shift away from the day-to-day maintenance of infrastructure, and toward how IT can become an actual driver of business value.

Ethernet’s In, Fibre Channel’s Out

Industry analysts have long predicted the slow death of Fibre Channel–based storage. In 2017, we expect it to wane faster than ever, with the steadily increasing speed of standard Ethernet all but eliminating the need for proprietary SAN connections and the expensive Fibre Channel infrastructure that comes along with it. We expect this shift to finally happen broadly—even among the enterprise customers who are Fibre Channel’s traditional stronghold.

The acquisition of the last pure-play Fibre Channel player, Brocade, by Broadcom is only the latest indicator that storage specialization is becoming a smaller part of the market. In fact, all three of the classic Fibre Channel players—Brocade, Emulex, and Q-Logic—are no longer independent companies. As hyper-converged, scale-out storage becomes the norm, servers and storage devices will increasingly reside on the same Ethernet network, while Fibre Channel will look more and more like a legacy technology.

Expensive, Purpose-Built Storage Appliances Will Cede the Market to Server-Based Solutions

In the past, procuring enterprise storage often meant dropping hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars on proprietary storage appliances that were hard to configure and support. HCI is changing all that. The truly hyperscale data center operators—the AWSes, Baiduses, and Alibabas of the world—showed us the way. Each of them built massive compute and storage infrastructure using a scale-out model based on x86 servers.

Just as we will see proprietary Fibre Channel giving way to Ethernet, we expect a growing number of organizations, including large enterprises, to see the wisdom of a low-cost, high-performance x86-server model—and follow suit. We also think 2017 will be the year the traditional enterprise storage industry really starts to feel the heat, as a growing number of organizations begin taking advantage of the agility, easy scalability, and cost savings afforded by HCI.

Server Refresh Becomes the Primary Storage Refresh

Server hardware vendors have been struggling lately, with sales slumping in 2016. But we expect that trend to reverse in the New Year. In fact, the mid-2017 arrival of Intel’s much-ballyhooed, next-generation Skylake Server chips is likely to trigger a data center refresh cycle the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long while. Many organizations around the world will likely see this as an opportunity to modernize their data center and make the leap to HCI.

Even organizations in emerging markets that previously never really invested in traditional enterprise storage will begin looking at their infrastructure and applications choices in a whole new light. And because HCI leverages the existing IT skills of VMware’s 500,000 customers who already know servers, Ethernet, and applications, we believe 2017 will see the start of a radical evolution of data center operations in organizations of all sizes.

All-Flash Storage Becomes the New Normal

The economics of flash media are now such that the performance, flexibility, and management savings of solid-state storage cannot be ignored, even by organizations with tighter purse strings. With prices plummeting, we predict that flash sales will reach a tipping point in 2017—and probably sooner rather than later in 2017.

Even customers with limited IT budgets will need to justify their decision to buy classic hard disk storage instead of all-flash solutions, rather than the other way around. Particularly as the purpose-built appliances of yesteryear give way to hyper-converged solutions based on industry-standard server platforms, standardizing on all-flash storage just makes good economic sense, from both a scalability and management perspective.

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