An unusual stir of excitement emanated from the universe of storage geeks who populate my twitter feed. Usually an unflappable bunch, Scale Computing’s demonstration of its HC3 hyperconverged solution running on Intel small form-factor NUC at a Tech Field Day event last November caught people’s attention. This isn’t how we are used to seeing HCI deployed.
Alan Conboy, a technologist in Scale Computing’s CTO office, told me that it was no accident that the company was able to demonstrate the solution. Scale’s engineers have been optimizing KVM into smaller and smaller footprints since 2010. They’ve gotten pretty good at it.
Scale Computing’s demonstration is refreshing in our current age of expansive hyperconvergence. There are HCI solutions from nearly every tier-one OEM that attempt to bridge rack-level convergence with the complexities of a multi-cloud infrastructure. HCI, after all, is fundamentally about simplicity; nothing needs simplicity more than our world of blended clouds. It’s just not that easy.
You’ll be excused for not having heard of Scale Computing. Scale is one of those rare technology companies that found success despite being born outside of the usual technology corridors. It’s easy to lose track.
Founded in Indianapolis in 2008, Scale Computing was one of the very first technology companies pioneering the architecture that would eventually become known as HCI. True to its midwestern roots, it simply focused on refining its technology and building its product, not publicly striving for the credit it deserved.
As others recognized the value of HCI, newcomers spent well-raised venture capital building brands and generating awareness. These others were making markets while also bundling complexity into solutions based around heavyweight hypervisors. They dreamed bigger dreams of conquering the cloud.
It seems that, while attempting to solve broader problems, the essence of HCI stretched beyond its ideal: delivering easily managed and deployed solutions whose intrinsic simplicity works to reduce IT OpEx. The need for traditional HCI, however, has not gone away. This is where Scale excels.
Enterprise at the edge
As HCI emerged and matured over the past decade, it became a compelling fit for many of the challenges of the rapidly distributed enterprise. In our modern environment of cheap and available bandwidth, data has left the datacenter. It lives in branch offices, industrial sites and a plethora of new environments that we bundle under the term “the edge.”
The edge is an expansive place, requiring scalable solutions. A 5G transmission hut does not need the same level of processing and storage capabilities as does a remote big-box retailer. Smart cities may deploy solutions in dozens of locations, each needing the bare minimum of capabilities. Industrial plants deploy solutions in relatively small numbers each requiring tremendous amounts of processing.
What each of these environments have in common is that they are far-removed from the realities of the datacenter. There is no on-site IT staff. The environment is often uncontrolled. A deployment may require dozens, or even hundreds, of identically configured nodes to manage the edge workloads. This isn’t a world where traditional servers, networking, and storage make sense.
HCI delivers value by combining traditionally disparate datacenter elements into a unified set of appliances. Scale Computing allows you to cluster its HCI nodes to provide increasing levels of capabilities. True to the needs brought to bear by the edge, Scale Computing will package its software into any form-factor required—from ultra-small form-factor devices to top-of-the-line rack-mounted appliances.
It’s no surprise that Lenovo chose to work with Scale Computing to deliver its range of solutions spanning highly-available edge to cloud and hybrid-cloud deployments. Scale’s solution simply works.
I spent a few months evaluating Scale Computing’s HCI solution, which you can read here. The company was kind enough to provide me a rack of servers, with an offer to help me set them up and evaluate. Installation services are bundled into the price of the system.
I declined Scale’s offer of assistance. If it’s really as easy as the company says it is, then an old technology guy like me should be able to configure it on my own. I’ll spoil the review and tell you that I had a 3-node cluster up and running, with a VM deployed, inside a half hour.
The review is comprehensive, focused on the usability of the product more than the performance. The performance is as close to bare-metal as you can get, and with the wide range of platforms offered by Scale Computing, I don’t have any doubts that the company can deliver performance matching the workload.
I found the Scale Computing HC3 solution to be strong, capable and extremely competitive. Much of this competitiveness derives from a simplified, yet complete, user experience designed with enterprise IT in mind.
Scale Computing’s assisted installation, whether remote or on-site, removes the pain of deployment for the company, and the simplicity of its HyperCore user interface allows for intuitive operation and quick installation.
HC3’s intuitive user-experience drives overall faster time-to-deployment for new installation, while allowing for seamless manageability and troubleshooting for existing deployments. These attributes should lead to lower operational expense and increased IT efficiency and productivity.
Built for the enterprise
The HCI market has been through a tremendous amount of churn over the past decade with solutions spiraling in every possible direction. At the same time, the need for a hardened, highly-available HCI solution has not diminished. The looming revolution, enabled by on-going 5G deployments, is accelerating.
Architectural distinctions are what provide Scale Computing long-lasting and difficult-to-disrupt competitive differentiation. The smart and strategic use of the most widely adopted open source hypervisor, KVM, allow Scale Computing’s solution to slide seamlessly into the enterprise, all without the burden of the hypervisor “tax” that accompanies many of the competing solutions.
Scale Computing is focused on delivering on the promise of HCI in the spaces where HCI makes the most sense. That’s branch office. That’s the industrial edge. That’s anywhere that IT personnel are scarce, where an easy-to-deploy and simple to manage software appliance solution can take the pain out of both IT costs and complexity.
Any CIO who is looking at deploying architectures at the edge, or simply looking at the most efficient in-datacenter HCI solution should take a hard look at Scale Computing. Scale Computing was there in the beginning at the HCI revolution, and it isn’t going anywhere.