Sources: Cisco's Hyper-Convergence Offering Lacks Key Features, Some Partners Still Waiting For Shipments

Cisco Systems began shipping its HyperFlex hyper-converged infrastructure appliance to customers in March, but several channel partners told CRN this week they're still waiting to get their hands on it.

The partners said Cisco initially informed them they'd be receiving HyperFlex in March, but has since pushed back that timeframe indefinitely, without explanation.

Considering Cisco's previous struggles in getting its Invicta storage technology to scale, some partners are concerned about the possibility of similar issues with HyperFlex.

"Cisco is still being really tight with the HyperFlex gear. It’s making us wary of it," said one Cisco partner, who didn't want to be named.

HyperFlex, unveiled in early March, consists of Cisco UCS servers and software-defined storage technology that Cisco developed through a strategic partnership with Springpath, a startup founded by former VMware storage engineers. Springpath's HX Data Platform pools storage from solid-state and conventional hard drives and turns it into an enterprise-strength object storage system.

A Cisco spokesman said Thursday that the vendor has been shipping HyperFlex to customers and partners since the beginning of April, but didn't respond to a follow-up question about how many have received it.

Meanwhile, multiple partners told CRN the current version of HyperFlex lacks erasure coding, a technology which breaks up data into chunks and stores them across a range of locations and media types. One Cisco partner told CRN erasure coding can boost the storage capacity of hyper-converged infrastructure by 25 percent to 50 percent.

Rival hyper-convergence products from Nutanix and VMware support erasure coding. SimpliVity, a hyper-convergence startup that sells its technology on Cisco UCS servers, uses in-line deduplication and compression instead of erasure coding to increase storage capacity.

Cisco, San Jose, Calif., has developed technology that it says makes erasure coding unnecessary. "The HX Data Platform is built on a log-structured file system designed for hyperconverged environments," said the Cisco spokesman. "It offers excellent data availability and data optimization capabilities including inline deduplication and inline compression, eliminating the need for resource-intensive erasure coding."

The Cisco spokesman didn't directly address the all-flash point, but said HyperFlex relies on Cisco's UCS ecosystem of replication vendor partners to provide this functionality. As for cluster limits, the spokesman said the UCS architecture lets customers "flexibly scale multiple clusters horizontally."

"Cisco HyperFlex has no architectural limitations in node scaling and we are aggressively validating cluster topologies for our customers," said the spokesman.

Although Cisco isn't saying how many HyperFlex customers it has, the spokesman said its HyperFlex sales pipeline "is tracking ahead of our forecasts" and that the vendor has customers in all of its global sales regions. Cisco also plans to make HyperFlex available to all 2,152 of its global UCS partners, said the spokesman.

Cisco started out by training 175 of its top global partners on HyperFlex and plans to expand that to 900 partners by July, the spokesman said.

Despite the shipping delay and lack of features, Cisco partners are generally still bullish on HyperFlex. "Cisco is packaging and pricing this to win, and with the size of their sales force and the inclusion of networking, we think they’ll be successful," said one partner.

Another Cisco partner said he thinks HyperFlex can be a force in the marketplace, but given the maturity of the competition, he believes Cisco has to move quickly to fill the gaps in the current offering. "There is room for Cisco, but they need to do it right and do it quickly," he said.

"If Cisco can show and deliver a solid road map for HyperFlex by late Q4 [of 2016] or early Q1 [of 2017], then I would say they’re still in the race," said the partner. "But if it’s going to be late 2017 before they get there, that’s a different story."

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