HPE Delivers Storage And Convergence At Discover 2019

By Steve McDowell - June 18, 2019
HPE CEO Antonio Neri kicks off HPE Discover 2019 in Las Vegas

It seems like it’s been a long time since either storage or HCI were front and center at an HPE event. Hewlett Packard Enterprise fixed that this week with a flurry of announcements during its keynote at its marquee HPE Discover event in Las Vegas.

HPE's has a robust storage portfolio. Its Nimble Storage and 3PAR products are healthy and meeting the needs of the market. HPE  delivered market-beating growth during the first quarter of this year. HPE supplemented that strength with a new high-end storage offering call Primera.

HPE also continues its investment in its SimpliVity HCI portfolio. Despite many analysts (including this one) reading much into HPE’s budding relationship with Nutanix, HPE is doubling down on SimpliVity. There are two substantial additions to the SimpliVity portfolio, as well as news that HPE's InfoSight predictive analytics platform now supports Simplivity.

HCI is also at the root of a fascinating product announcement from HPE's Nimble Storage team called HPE Nimble StoragedHCI. This new product is designed to provide the flexibility of composable infrastructure with the benefits of HCI.

Let's jump into the details of what HPE announced, along with what it all means.

Primera, a new high-end storage solution

The big storage news is the announcement of a new high-end storage array called Primera.  Positioned above 3PAR in the HPE’s line-up, Primera is designed to compete against Dell’s PowerMax and Pure’s FlashArray//X at the upper edges of the storage market. These are the competitors that HPE sees most often in deals.

Primera is a new product, both hardware and software, but its legacy derives directly from 3PAR. Primera's software stack is based on 3PAR's operating system. It uses an ASIC based on 3PAR’s latest generation technology.  But don’t let its legacy fool you. There are some reasonably substantial architectural changes within this product.

The Primera uses dual active controllers (or ‘active-active') based on new electronics to facilitate near-instant failover times when a controller goes down. HPE is also using container technology to keep non-critical data services on the array isolated.

Primera's container approach should bring an increased level of reliability to the table. This is the direction that the industry is heading, with even Dell Technologies executives indicating in interviews that the company’s upcoming storage architecture, Midrange.next, will leverage containers for precisely the same set of benefits. This is a nice win for HPE.

3PAR isn’t going away. HPE is using its brand distinction with Nimble, 3Par, and now Primera, to align with natural market tiering for storage arrays.  It’s a brand strategy that makes sense. It will help IT customers distinguish products. It also removes expectations about backward compatibility as Primera evolves.

HPE is incorporating Primera into its Synergy Composable Cloud offering, as well as its Google Anthos hybrid-cloud solutions.  These are integration efforts, not new products, but I’m happy to see it all available at launch.

Primera is a strong offering that will keep HPE competitive at the high-end of the storage market.  3PAR and Nimble are both healthy and competitive, and Primera complements those products nicely.

Simplivity at the edge

HPE wants to be clear. It views SimpliVity is as HPE's preferred HCI offering.

There have been recent joint announcements from HPE and Nutanix detailing joint offerings, but HPE's lead dog in the HCI race is its  SimpliVity line.  Nutanix exists in the portfolio to provide choice, HPE executives tell us. Supporting this position are three updates to the SimpliVity line.

The HPE SimpliVity 325 is a new offering that brings the power of Simplivity to a dense 1U form-factor powered by AMD EPYC processors.  HPE is smartly targeting the SimpliVity 325 to Edge applications, as well as remote office and space constrained environments.  Edge is a natural application space for HCI, with SimpliVity likewise being a good fit.

The company also announced a SimpliVity archive node.  The archive node provides a mix of traditional hard disk drives and SSDs in a 2U package to provide long-term storage options for a Simplivity HCI environment.   The SimpliVity archive node is a much-needed offering, as not every HCI implementation exists within a classic IT infrastructure with baked-in archival storage.

It should come as no surprise to see that HPE InfoSight now supports SimpliVity.  InfoSight, HPE’s predictive analytics solution, continues to expand across HPE’s data center portfolio.  The AI-driven predictive capabilities inherent in InfoSight once applied to Simplivity, will become a strong competitive differentiator. I’m thrilled to see this integration happen.

These add up to yield a great set of updates to SimpliVity. HPE is aggressively attacking the HCI market and is not slowing down with its direct investments in this space.

Disaggregating HCI with Nimble

HPE Nimble Storage dHCI (the “d” stands for “disaggregated”) is a bit of an odd duck, but one sitting at a unique place within the HPE portfolio. This software was first developed at Nimble before its acquisition by HPE, but updated to meet the current needs of the market. The offering is a bit of a departure for HPE in that it's an HCI-like offering that is entirely unrelated to the software powering HPE's Simplivity HCI.

If not Simplivity, then what it is? HPE's dHCI is a software stack providing the utility of HCI, including single-pane-of-glass manageability for storage and compute through a sophisticated vCenter plug-in. Instead of a dedicated appliance, dHCI runs on a combination of Nimble arrays and HPE ProLiant servers.

HPE Nimble Storage dHCI provides the simplified experience that has driven the success of HCI, while at the same time providing the flexibility of HPE composable infrastructure. It allows compute and storage to scale independently, delivering the right mix of resources for the hosted workloads. Its Nimble legacy ensures that InfoSight integration is there day one, bringing nearly a decade of predictive analytics models to the storage nodes.

HPE is targeting Nimble Storage dHCI at the mid-market where traditional composable infrastructure may be an over-fit, and traditional HCI too limiting. It's an unexpected move for HPE, and we'll be watching to see how the market responds.

The bottom line

There are a few consistent themes embedded within HPE’s announcements. IT is a world filled with many clouds. The software-defined data center is a reality, whether delivered through hybrid-cloud, composable infrastructure, some flavor of HCI, or even the new Nimble Storage disaggregated HCI.  Underpinning it all lay a series of performant products.  It’s hard to disagree with any of that, and I like the announcements.

There are gaps. Late last year when HPE delivered server-class memory with its “Flash Accelerated Memory” into its 3PAR products, the company declared that the Nimble-branded products would be updated with the technology sometime this year. I’m anxious to see how (or if) it makes a difference in those arrays, but that’s a minor disappointment in the face of what was delivered.

There were no updates to its file and object storage offerings. HPE has the StoreEasy line for NAS, but StoreEasy isn’t a strong competitor against either NetApp’s scalable NAS systems or Dell EMC’s Isilon series. Given NetApp’s current struggle to close deals, there’s a real opportunity for someone to come in and steal its existing customers. We’re seeing many of these NetApp deals going to Dell’s Isilon. HPE shouldn’t let itself lose too many sales to Isilon before deciding to address the gap.

HPE also has strong stories around both multi-cloud and its GreenLake flexible capacity model. GreenLake, in particular, is one of the best in the industry for capacity-on-demand. The stories are strong, but they suffer where they meet storage. Beyond incorporating Primera into Synergy, no new announcements touched on cloud storage or storage-on-demand.

HPE has offerings here, but the company is being out-innovated in both cloud storage capabilities and storage-on-demand by both Pure Storage and IBM.  HPE is in good company, as Dell EMC is equally lagging in these spaces (I touched on Dell’s differing strategy in a recent column). Good company or not, HPE needs a fresh vision in cloud storage.

Gaps aside, HPE storage delivered a good set of announcements at Discover. The core of data storage remains block storage, and HPE is making a strong play with the new Primera solution. Primera is an excellent product with smart positioning by HPE.  The company also demonstrated that it’s committed to SimpliVity with substantial updates to the line.  Infosight continues its march to provide predictive analytics across the HPE-power data center.

HPE’s sales teams are hitting it out of the park when it comes to storage.  It grew its external storage revenue over 14% year/year in the first calendar quarter of this year. That is over two times Dell’s growth, and only trailing the perpetually on-fire Pure Storage.

Dell may dominate the storage market, but it is a market that still clearly values choice. The numbers demonstrate that HPE’s global sales teams have figured out how to sell HPE storage against formidable competitors. That’s fantastic for HPE, and this week’s announcements should do nothing but make that job easier.

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