‘Old news’ of NetApp HCI solution availability still the big INSIGHT highlight to NetApp channel

NetApp’s first-ever HCI solution, announced in June, will be available in October, and that, rather than the shinier and newer announcements at INSIGHT, was what had solution providers buzzing.

LAS VEGAS – At their INSIGHT 2017 customer event here NetApp has made a series of new solution announcements, and will be making others later today which are not yet public. For NetApp’s channel partners at the event though, the big news was not any of the new technologies. It was rather the announcement of the forthcoming general availability of the company’s first hyper-converged [HCI] solution, which NetApp announced back in June – and which was openly discussed by the company for many months before that.

NetApp has acknowledged the rather obvious fact that it is a late-comer to the HCI market, but is maintaining that the wait has enabled it to come up with a better product than any of the established players in the space are offering.

“The change between the first generation of HCI and now is change from the idea of a shared core architecture under the covers,” said Aaron Delp, Director of Marketing, Emerging Technologies at NetApp. “The shared core architecture, where compute and storage are tied together, is simpler to build and simpler to operate. It also got you time to market – a very important consideration. Today, however, we already have time to market, so the issue becomes where to go next. Shared core architectures have innate compromises around resource utilization and scalability.”

NetApp’s HCI architecture is not shared core, which is why the company is marketing it as the only real enterprise HCI offering out there.

“The separate nodes for compute and storage makes scalability much easier, and will provide more scalability than most enterprise customers will want or need,” Delp said.

The HCI offering was developed by NetApp’s SolidFire business unit.

“I was part of SolidFire when it was acquired, and this was one of the first things we started to work on within the SolidFire business unit after the acquisition,” Delp said. “So it has been in development for some time. Before being acquired, we were very much a one platform, one product company. Since then, we have become very platform agnostic. NetApp has been very supportive of where we have gone and the resources we have needed. We think this is going to be very big going forward.”

Delp acknowledged that NetApp is at a disadvantage in the HCI market in coming from a standing start.

“We don’t have the run rate business in HCI at this time,” he said. “On the other hand, we also entered the all-flash market late and have been very successful. The key is being able to come up with a truly differentiated product as opposed to a me-too product that is just late to market. In addition to our architecture advantage, this is a very open HCI and allows us to do integrations with existing NetApp customers. That’s what really gets our customers excited here. The HCI can interact with NetApp’s larger portfolio. They will be able to do things like SnapMirror in HCI just like they have always done them.”

“Scalar is really looking forward to this HCI,” said Chris Maki, Vancouver-based Senior Solutions Architect and national NetApp advisor at Scalar Decisions. “It is a second-wave product, which allows them to learn from other people’s mistakes and do things differently.”

Maki thinks the NetApp HCI will get a strong response in Canada.

“It scales from very small companies to very large which is very important in Canada,” he said. “Canada is well known for SMBs, but we have some customers with very large requirements as well, Decoupling the compute from the storage will give a deployment advantage because it will have the ease of converged systems. People want things to be easy. We think that will give NetApp an edge in the HCI space.”

Scott Gelb, a solutions architect at Santa Monica-based Enterprise Vision Technologies, thinks the next-gen nature of the NetApp HCI will open up new markets.

“Before this was announced, a lot of companies wouldn’t talk HCI at all,” Gelb said. “NetApp behind it makes it palatable for them, and compared to something like [Dell EMC’s] VxRack, it has the advantage of simplicity.

Gelb also acknowledged that some of the established players still have features the NetApp product does not.

“This does not have one-click upgrade capability, like Nutanix, or KVM support, and I would really like to see them add both,” he said. “Right now, they are still roadmap.”

Trey Davis, a solutions architect at Norcross GA-headquartered Sovereign Systems, also noted that some things still need to be done with the NetApp product.

“I think the success of their all-flash has had an impact on their decision to bring the HCI out at this point,” he said.  “If they hadn’t been as successful with that, maybe they would have waited until the HCI product was fully baked before releasing it. They do have an advantage though in having something that scales for the enterprise as opposed to something that simply scales. Having the storage and compute separate is another tool in the toolbelt.”

“Because the compute doesn’t have storage in it, we think this will certainly let it open up to new use cases,” Gelb said.

“Grid computing is one of those new use cases, because you need compute, but don’t need a lot of storage,” TMac McCarthy, a consultant at Presidio, pointed out.

All of the solution providers who talked with ChannelBuzz carry other HCI vendors, and they all indicated that won’t change with the release of NetApp’s HCI.

“We can’t come in as a vendor shill,” Gelb said. “If a customer wants to get to 40 nodes while having simplicity, then we will bring NetApp in. If Nutanix or SimpliVity meet their needs, we will have them stay with them.”

“What product we recommend depends on what the customer is trying to solve,” Davis said. “Licensing could be an issue, with storage and compute being separate with NetApp.”

Scalar’s Maki indicated that as a NetApp expert, he has a natural bias there, but said that it’s not a hard one, and that what fits the customer best is always the key.

“Some times, a  customer comes with a request for a particular product, but by the second or third meeting, I come with the idea of a specific solution that best fits their needs,” he said.

The NetApp HCI solution will be generally available in October.