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Examine the role of VMware in the HCI market

VMware carved out a leading position for itself in the HCI market. But HCI's evolution to encompass new areas, such as public cloud, keeps VMware on its toes.

As HCI gained traction among large organizations, VMware became a leading supplier. Now, the HCI market is shifting toward newer technologies, such as the public cloud, edge computing and various co-microprocessors. VMware must adjust to remain on its perch.

Hyper-converged infrastructure gained popularity because it provides agility and flexibility. HCI systems bundle server, storage, network and virtualization features into one device, which eases deployment and simplifies scalability.

"Public cloud has received a lot of attention because of the simplicity in getting these services up and running," said Christian Perry, a research manager at 451 Research, based out of Boston. "IT leaders see HCI systems as a way for their [on-premises] systems to deliver a cloud-like experience."

The rise of VMware in the HCI market

HCI began as a turnkey system that organizations could drop into their data centers as an appliance.

"Many organizations have limited technology skills and resources, and an appliance is a straightforward deployment," Perry said.

VMware has been at the forefront of HCI software development. The VMware HCI stack began with vSphere and vSAN and expanded to include NSX and vRealize Suite.

"VMware has been neck and neck with Nutanix as the software HCI market leader," said Allan Krans, practice manager and analyst at Technology Business Research, based out of Hampton, N.H.

IT leaders see HCI systems as a way for their [on-premises] systems to deliver a cloud-like experience.
Christian Perry Research manager, 451 Research

VMware also offers businesses other appliance-like HCI options. VMware has worked with third parties to bundle its HCI software on numerous hardware platforms, including 18 jointly certified OEM server vendors -- such as Dell EMC and Cisco -- with more than 500 validated configurations. Additionally, VMware's tight relationship with Dell EMC has resulted in several jointly engineered HCI appliances based on Dell EMC's VxRail and VxRack hardware.

However, many organizations' focus has shifted to emphasize software-defined infrastructure over HCI. Customers increasingly turn to software-defined technologies in areas such as storage and networking to achieve greater agility with their data centers.

VMware's HCI strengths

VMware's platform provides several leading features -- such as advanced data services and security.

"VMware added a lot of functionality, such as a much better user interface, with their latest update," Perry said.

The vendor included software encryption that eliminates the need for expensive, self-encrypting drives and stretched clusters that can tolerate site failures in its HCI systems.

VMware also built out its management suite. The company created a set of integrated software products in vSphere, vSAN and vCenter in the hopes of simplifying management for virtualization administrators.

New requirements in the market: Public cloud, edge and microprocessors

As organizations continue to adopt public cloud at a rapid rate, vendors must connect their HCI systems to those services. To remain a leader in the HCI market, VMware must adapt to this change.

"VMware has been [using] its tight relationship with AWS for customers with hybrid cloud environments," Krans said. But the vendor has been slower to offer such features for its other partners, such as IBM, and competitors, such as Microsoft Azure.

Edge computing is gaining traction, and companies have begun to place small HCI systems at remote sites. This niche market is still taking shape.

"I have not [seen] many large edge HCI deployments at the moment," Perry said.

But that scenario could change quickly. For example, oil and gas rigs capture big data loads that edge systems must process at remote sites. In these cases, organizations require a three node HCI system similar to traditional data centers. VMware has been largely inactive in the edge HCI market, though.

Hardware accelerators have also gained favor. Organizations increasingly adopt GPUs and Tensor Processing Units (TPUs). These chips aid in workloads with special processing requirements, such as video. This presents VMware with another HCI opportunity.

"To add GPU and TPU support, HCI vendors [must] be good at managing partnerships and [have] certification and validation programs for them -- areas where VMware has thrived," Krans said.

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