Cisco joins the HCI club

This week Cisco has introduced their Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) solution called HyperFlex (aka the HX Data Platform). The solution is a combination of Cisco UCS hardware (both server and networking components), VMware vSphere software as the hypervisor layer and the Springpath Data Platform software as the (converged) storage layer.

The latter is a relatively new player in the HCI market and only recently came out of stealth (I wrote about it last year). Since currently the Springpath software only supports VMware, both HX models that were announced come with ESXi pre-installed. In the future Springpath is expected to also support other hypervisors (Hyper-V and KVM were already mentioned), so probably other HX models will be available in the future as well.

Although based on the existing UCS hardware, the Cisco HyperFlex solution exists only as a completely pre-configured system. It is not possible to “build-you-own” HyperFlex system. Of course with a combination of Cisco UCS, VMware vSphere and Springpath you can create a system that is very similar to the pre-built configurations, but the advantage of theĀ  Cisco HyperFlex solution is that you only need to deal with a single support contact. Also by only supporting the pre-built configuration Cisco is better able to guarantee performance levels. This approach looks similar to Nutanix, which basically is a software product, but only sells it as a solution packaged with server and storage components.

Cisco differentiates itself however by also including the networking stack into the solution. Again this is mainly an advantage with regard to ease of support, as I guess that in many environments where HCI is installed, the networking part is also taken care of by Cisco components.

The models that are announced are the 1U HX220c M4 and the 2U HX240c M4 (and you will need a minimum of 3 nodes per configuration). The difference between the two models is mainly the available storage capacity, where the former has a storage capacity of 480GB SSD and 7.2TB HDD and the latter will give you 1.6TB SSD and 27.6TB HDD capacity. This means the solution uses a hybrid storage model with SSD for the performance layer and HDD for the capacity layer. Many other HCI (as well as the traditional storage) vendors are currently introducing all-flash solutions. Most recently VMware for example announced the 6.2 release of Virtual SAN which includes features like deduplication, compression and erasure coding which combined provide great storage optimization improvements, making all-flash systems very feasible (from a cost per GB perspective). Currently the Springpath solution does support deduplication and compression, but still uses 2-way or 3-way mirroring for protecting data, which negatively effects the $/GB price especially for a system where the capacity layer is based on SSD.

No matter what … imho this solution could fit a lot of application environments and it will be interesting to see how HyperFlex and the entire HCI marketplace develops !


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