When VMware launched in 1998, many viewed corporate IT as inefficient, unresponsive, and expensive. Server virtualization changed all of that by increasing server utilization rates, enabling rapid provisioning of new virtual servers, and reducing the number of physical servers required to run the applications of an enterprise.
While virtualization did address those challenges, particularly in the area of test and development, it introduced new ones, when VMware virtualization moved into production environments. Backup and disaster recovery processes had to be re-engineered and backup software replaced. Orphaned storage proliferated and had to be discovered and reclaimed. More efficient server utilization introduced performance bottlenecks in storage systems, requiring new storage architectures. Wide area networks became strained and required new approaches for WAN acceleration.
These challenges provided abundant opportunity for a wide range of problem-specific appliance developers, each with its own management utility. Unfortunately, over the course of the past 14 years, server sprawl gave way to virtual machine sprawl. Now, with all of this complexity, organizations are left wondering if they are actually better off today, than they were before they adopted server virtualization.
Converged Infrastructure For Savings and Simplicity
To address the infrastructure complexity problem, suppliers responded by delivering pre-integrated solution stacks designed to consolidate multiple IT functions into fewer building-block appliances. These solutions are available from every major IT supplier, as well as a host of emerging suppliers. Wikibon recently published a Primer on Converged Infrastructure and a Converged Infrastructure Forecast, which offer a more complete view of the market. SimpliVity, the newest entrant in this emerging market segment, promises to deliver a very broad scope of functionality and, in turn, substantially reduce today’s infrastructure clutter.
SimpliVity was founded in late 2009 by Doron Kempel, former Chairman and CEO of Diligent Technologies Corporation, which was acquired by IBM in 2008. The company recently completed a $25 million Series-B Funding Round, led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, bringing total funding to $43 million. The company emerged from stealth mode at VMworld 2012 in San Francisco in August 2012. The initial product,OmniCube™, is currently in beta release at a number of customer locations. The company plans general availability before the end of the year.
OmniCube™ is designed to consolidate a variety of functions, some critical and some forward-looking, into a single platform. These include:
- Server resources,
- Server virtualization,
- Hybrid (HDD/SSD) storage,
- Data deduplication,
- Data compression,
- Data tiering,
- Asynchronous replication for disaster recovery,
- Local and metro-area synchronous replication,
- Flash memory,
- In-network cache,
- WAN optimization,
- Cloud integration,
- Global scale out,
- Unified global management of OmniCubes.
Physically, OmniCube is comprised of a standard Intel platform with 12 processing cores and between 48 and 768GB of RAM, eight 3TB HDDs, and four 200GB SSDs. The unit also includes a specialized PCI-e card, the OmniCube Accelerator, that off-loads deduplication and compression functions from the processors and is the foundational technology that eliminates the need for WAN acceleration appliances, increases effective storage capacity, provides more efficient caching, and reduces local and wide-area network requirements for replication. OmniCube runs VMware and is managed through VMware vCenter. Absent the operating system, applications, and database software, OmniCube represents a data center in a box.
SimpliVity’s go-to-market strategy is 100% channel-assist. The approach makes sense, given the company’s focus on the mid-market, the <$55,000 per-unit list price, and the simple, easy-to-articulate value proposition. The channel can also provide rapid scale for repeatable services such as design and implementation.
SimpliVity eliminates the need for legacy appliances and the professional services required to tie together the component pieces. SimpliVity will have it's greatest success by focusing on channel partners that recognize the OmniCube value proposition and are willing to embrace a new approach to IT infrastructure deployment, even at the cost of cannibalizing some of their traditional product and services sales.
Storage-focused value-added resellers (VARs) may find SimpliVity sufficiently simple that they can expand a storage practice to include physical-to-virtual server migrations. More forward-thinking VARs should recognize the opportunity to convert portions of their business from event-driven box selling to outsourced managed services and recurring revenue with SimpliVity providing the core infrastructure.
Where to Begin
As with the adoption of VMware server virtualization, test and development environments represent logical first deployments. This helps mitigate the impact of any edge cases that might stress the system. Any organization with follow-the-sun application development teams should gain significant benefit and cost savings from the embedded deduplication, compression, and asynchronous replication capabilities. Physical-to-virtual (P-to-V) installations are also good candidates, as are any moderate-sized environments going through expansion. With a wide range of use cases, the company would be wise to keep lead generation and channel partners focused on fewer, simpler use cases initially, even if marketing conveys the opportunity more broadly.
Action Item: The range of tools promising to enable highly-efficient, highly-available, highly-resilient virtualized server environments is beyond the ability of any IT professional to evaluate. It’s not a limitation of skill, it’s a limitation of time. If we’ve learned anything from Apple, it is this: “Simplicity Matters.” SimpliVity is worth more than a look. It deserves a good tire kick and test drive. As SimpliVity begins to ship, IT professionals should be mindful of the competing agendas of server, storage, and special-purpose appliance suppliers, as well as their channel partners. Some will see SimpliVity as a threat to both hardware revenue and services margin and will elevate the FUD.
That said, while dramatically simpler than many alternatives, SimpliVity's system is as-of-yet unproven. Initial deployments should be in less-risky use cases, and customers should pay special attention to SimpliVity's support model and capabilities, since SimpliVity is an all-eggs-in-one-basket approach. If it crashes, you burn.
SimpliVity promises to dramatically simplify the IT infrastructure required to deliver virtualized infrastructure. The company has a couple of months to complete the beta program and ensure the system is rock-solid, before the product enters general release. At the time of release, the OmniCube simply needs to work...simply.