How Does HyperFlex 3.0 Impact Cisco’s Position In The HCI Space?

By Matt Kimball - February 27, 2018

Cisco Systems recently released HyperFlex 3.0 to the market, strengthening its hyperconverged offering considerably. This release sports a number of new features that deliver on Cisco’s vision of any app on any cloud at any time, with a strong focus on simplicity.  The real question is, how does Cisco compare against Nutanix and Dell EMC in the battle for HCI market superiority? And can Cisco claim a leadership position?

What is HyperFlex 3.0? Cisco added significant capabilities to HyperFlex 3.0.  Some of the more significant capabilities include:
  • Increased capacity and flexibility with up to 64 nodes, supporting high availability.
  • Support for Microsoft ’s hypervisor, Hyper-V. In previous versions of HyperFlex, VMware was the only supported hypervisor.
  • Support for persistent storage with Kubernetes managed containers. This enables HyperFlex customers to deploy cloud native applications inside their datacenter.
  • Monitoring, management, and movement of applications across multiple clouds via AppDynamics and CloudCenter.
  • Additional validated designs for Oracle , Microsoft, and Splunk. This adds to a wide variety of validated designs that can be found here.
  • Cross HCI cluster management via Intersight (you can read my review of Intersight here, for more information).
It’s all about orchestration
Many would consider additional capacity, hypervisor, and container support to be bare-minimum “table stakes” requirements for Cisco to gain any sort of parity with competitors. These are features any serious player must enable to be relevant. However, HCI is bigger than hypervisors and containers. For that matter, it’s bigger than compute, storage, and networking. The power of HCI is in the ability to orchestrate at the physical component layer as well as the software layer—this is where I believe Cisco can really create some differentiation in the market.
Cisco comes to the HCI market from a unique place. Its deep roots in networking and experience in the server market should translate into a tighter integration of networking compute and storage in its HCI offerings. The logic here shouldn’t be hard to follow.
Cisco has been strategic in building its HCI portfolio. In addition to in-house development efforts, Cisco seems to be very focused on acquiring technologies that complete its HCI offering. While Springpath was certainly one of the more well-known acquisitions, Cisco has also acquired technologies that make HCI implementations work better, faster and more securely: performance monitoring, application performance, collaboration, network management, security, and more. The delivery of HyperFlex 3.0 shows a path to integration of these critical pieces. This continued integration should put Cisco in a strong position.
Isn’t it a Nutanix and Dell EMC HCI world?
Nutanix and Dell EMC  are strong leaders in the HCI market, and the head start each company enjoys will make it difficult for others to catch up. HCI is a relatively immature market that has an extraordinary annual growth rate. There is room for opportunity through innovation, and Cisco seems to be making the right moves.
While HyperFlex 3.0 begins to deliver on Cisco’s vision, there are challenges the company faces in the market—both technical and non-technical. Technically speaking, Cisco must continue to drive rapid integration of its HCI components. While the company has made a lot of smart strategic acquisitions, the ramp to integration is shorter due to the maturation of the HCI market. From a marketing perspective, Cisco lacks the brand recognition and equity of the established leaders. Nutanix’s brand is built on HCI, Dell EMC is considered one of the HCI pioneers. While this may seem somewhat trivial to technologists, IT consumers are consumers first. Their initial step in the purchase path is driven by awareness and trust. Cisco may also be challenged by its server market share, to a lesser extent. IT organizations considering HCI deployments will often go with their server OEM of choice before exploring other options. This can mean a significant advantage for Dell EMC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise . Keys to success The challenges Cisco faces are real, but they are far from insurmountable. To succeed, Cisco must do a few things well:
  • Focus on the solution, not the technology. Technology providers are enamored with technology—especially their own. Modern IT organizations are looking to better enable business outcomes. By focusing on how HyperFlex can enable those outcomes with greater ease and greater TCO savings, HyperFlex will gain market share.
  • Look for the easy wins. There are some workloads that are going to work better on HyperFlex, and therefore, there are specific companies in targeted industries that are going to be natural fits for HyperFlex. Win those deals. Promote HyperFlex success. Build momentum.
  • Build your brand. Tied to the above point, use every opportunity to promote the HyperFlex brand. In the HCI space, Nutanix owns the battle of brand recognition. Dell EMC is second. Who’s third? Even if third is Cisco, it’s a distant third. Building brand equity directly correlates to building market relevance.
  • Rely on the Cisco channels. Cisco has a strong channel presence. However, many of the channel sales reps who position and sell Cisco products are not as well versed on HyperFlex. Cisco would be well served to build a three-pronged channel strategy that builds channel awareness and incentives while simultaneously generating market demand.
  • Continue to tighten integration. I intentionally put this success factor last; partly because I have full confidence in Cisco’s ability and intent to deliver, and partly because if the market isn’t there to buy, and the channels aren’t there to promote, integration won’t matter.
Closing thoughts Cisco is making a big statement with HyperFlex 3.0—basically, “there are more than a couple of major players in the HCI space, and we are one of those players.” It is going to be an exciting year in the HCI space, and Cisco has made things that much more interesting. I look forward to watching HyperFlex evolve as a product, solution, and presence in the market.
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Matt Kimball is a Moor Insights & Strategy senior datacenter analyst covering servers and storage. Matt’s 25 plus years of real-world experience in high tech spans from hardware to software as a product manager, product marketer, engineer and enterprise IT practitioner.  This experience has led to a firm conviction that the success of an offering lies, of course, in a profitable, unique and targeted offering, but most importantly in the ability to position and communicate it effectively to the target audience.