Integrating Nimble: Bringing its technology, solutions and culture into HPE

Bringing Nimble into the HPE fold raises many questions about how the integration will work. HPE Nimble gives an update on what has happened so far, and where it’s headed.

Gavin Cohen, Vice President of Product and Solutions Marketing, Nimble Storage, an HPE Company.

LAS VEGAS – Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s closing of the Nimble Storage acquisition in April was a big deal for HPE. It not only strengthens the company in the all-flash market for customers who aren’t a good fit for 3PAR, but Nimble’s InfoSight analytics capabilities are being added to the other HPE storage solutions. But it’s an even bigger deal for Nimble and its partners, who want to know how their solutions will fit in at HPE, when they will be available to the channel, and what will happen to the Cloud Volumes offering announced earlier this year. Possibly the most important issue, especially given HPE’s record of integrating acquisitions under earlier leadership, is what will happen to the culture that had made Nimble relatively unique as a separate company. Gavin Cohen, who had been Nimble’s Vice President of Product and Solutions Marketing when it was independent, and now has the same title with ‘an HPE Company’ after it, sat down with ChannelBuzz at the HPE Discover event to address these issues.

HPE’s senior executives touted the significance of the Nimble acquisition during the event.

“We are fired up about Nimble,” said Antonio Neri, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the HP Enterprise Group. “They have changed the game with their InfoSight analytics, a machine learning engine that eliminates most problems before customers even know they exist. It is why Nimble has a leading Net Promoter Score of 85. We will rapidly expand InfoSight to cover 3Par and other areas of storage.”

“All AFFs {All-Flash FASs] are fast,” Cohen said. “The issue then becomes what happens next, once you add that. InfoSight isn’t just fast, because we collect all the sensor data points to make it run faster, but which can also be used for analytics. Getting that was one of the key drivers for the acquisition, one of the big reasons to buy Nimble.”

Nothing has been concluded yet on these integrations, but Cohen emphasized that it is early days.

“It has only been six weeks since the close, and we have done a massive amount since then,” he said. “We have got some Nimble products into the global HPE channel and launched a new AFF product. It has been very fast progress. Right from the close our InfoSight team has been meeting with 3PAR teams, because that’s the natural first for the integrations.”

Cohen said that the InfoSight support will continue to be run separately.

“We had strong requests from Nimble customers not to mess up the support, and didn’t want it going back to the call centre,” he said. “So it was moved into the storage business unit, engineering side, and will continue to be run separately within the storage business unit.”

Cohen also emphasized that HPE is not positioning Nimble as a specific midmarket and SMB offering, under 3PAR in the enterprise segment.

“We are not at all positioning it in that way,” he said. “That’s not the reality. Both Nimble and 3PAR go from low capacity to high, and from low IOs to high. It’s also not how customers buy and consume products. You don’t have midrange customers, who only buy midrange arrays. Nimble and 3PAR sell to two very different kinds of buyers. The design center for Nimble is predictive and simplicity. We give a very simple user experience. We don’t have six different layouts. It’s designed to make things simple around predictive analytics, and it naturally lends itself to the customer looking for something different in storage. 3PAR, in contrast, is one of the most flexible and powerful array solutions, and can be used in all kinds of environments. It has a broader set of capabilities, and is more flexible. The 3PAR buyer is very storage-centric, who wants to put it in a very complex and well run data centre. It’s about flexible versus autonomously managed.”

Cohen said that that conventional data centre where 3PAR does well has never been a sweet spot for Nimble.

“When we go into a data centre where the customer wants different RAID levels, and we try to explain that they don’t need them with Nimble, then we lose,” he stated.

To date only a limited SKU selection mainly targeted at SMBs has been made available to the broad HPE channel, with availability of the full Nimble product line with all the SKUs scheduled for November 1.

“The rationale for making only the SMB SKUs broadly available now is purely a timing one,” Cohen said. “We had a to make a cold hard decision. There’s a massive amount of work getting SKUs in place in getting the back end work, done, the price books, the worldwide certification. We decided to start with the volume play SKUs.”

Only a week before the HPE acquisition was announced Nimble had announced Cloud Volumes, which took their original on-prem solution and provided a cloud option. It is slated to continue as a separate offering when it becomes available.

“It’s just coming out of beta now,” Cohen said. We have had huge interest in it since the announcement in February. Cloud storage is mostly object storage and most apps that move to the cloud are well designed to work with cloud native services. That’s not what we are trying to do with Cloud Volumes. Cloud block storage, however, has some really big shortcomings. AWS has a .1 to .2 per cent failure rate equalling loss of data. Cloud volumes is enterprise block storage service for the cloud, and is in a cloud that we built ourselves. There is a huge demand for that and it will all continue.”

Finally, Cohen addressed the culture issue.

“When we announced the deal, people weren’t happy,” he acknowledged. “At Nimble, we built a special company with a special culture. Because we are joining a larger culture, there was concern, even when people didn’t come out and say it.”

The plus, Cohen said, is that the storage culture within HPE has proved to be a good fit with the Nimble culture.

“HPE is a big company with a lot of business units, but the storage one is special,” he stated. “We couldn’t be more happy with the fit of the people. That’s a big reason why we have had an integration pace you would never expect in a big company. We still have to see where it goes, but the storage team has been fantastic, and we are doing what we can to preserve that culture.”