Project Mystic's Potential Competitors To VMware: Bring It On

Developers of hyper-converged infrastructure technology are not yet ready to respond directly to the potential threats posed by a hush-hush competing technology being developed by VMware and its parent company EMC, but for now say they like the visibility that VMware brings to their part of the IT industry.

As first reported by CRN, VMware and EMC are teaming up to develop "Project Mystic," an EMC-branded converged infrastructure appliance based on software VMware is developing that could be integrated by distributors on industry-standard server hardware.

Converged infrastructure combines server, storage, networking and virtualization technologies from multiple vendors in such a way that they can be managed as if it were a single appliance.

[Related: EMC And Cisco: Coopetition Gone Wild In An Industry Used To Disruption]

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The best-known converged infrastructure offerings to date are those from multiple vendors, including vBlock solutions from VCE, which is a joint venture of EMC and Cisco with investment from VMware and Intel; VSPEX, which is a reference architecture based in large part on experience from VCE; and the FlexPod reference architecture from NetApp and Cisco.

Other vendors, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell and Oracle, have converged infrastructure offerings based almost exclusively on their own technologies.

Project Mystic's biggest potential target, however, could be the market held by developers of hyper-converged infrastructure technology, which differs from converged infrastructure in that the server, storage, networking and virtualization technology is all software-defined rather than coming from separate hardware components.

Those hyper-converged infrastructure developers include companies like SimpliVity, Nutanix, Scale Computing and Pivot3, all of which combine their software with an industry-standard server as an integrated appliance. Also included are companies like Maxta and Nexenta, which offer software that can be installed on top of an industry-standard server to offer the same capabilities.

Project Mystic appears to be a big part of VMware's software-defined-everything strategy, said Jamie Shepard, regional and health systems senior vice president at Lumenate, a Dallas-based solution provider and partner to both EMC and VMware.

Such a solution would likely include a wide range of VMware technologies, including the company's NSX software-defined networking technology from its Nicira acquisition, its VSAN virtualized storage offering and performance monitoring, Shepard said.

"It's an everything play," he said.

Project Mystic should most likely end up being a solution that includes the VMware software running on commercial hardware nodes or bricks, Shepard said, with the emphasis on the software. "It's similar to what SimpliVity and Nutanix are doing," he said. "Only instead of the hardware, VMware is focused on the software."

NEXT: Project Mystic Makes Sense For VMware

It makes sense for VMware to get into the hyper-converged infrastructure market, said Rich Baldwin, CIO and chief strategy officer at Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego-based solution provider and VMware partner.

"VMware's people are looking to push software-defined, and it is getting a lot of attention," Baldwin said.

VMware would likely target a solution like Project Mystic at the remote-office and branch-office markets and for department use that market hyper-converged infrastructure appliance developers like SimpliVity focus on, Baldwin said.

Hyper-converged vendors, for the most part, do not directly address the question of how VMware might compete with them via Project Mystic. However, they said that, based on what little they've heard about Project Mystic, it will help the industry as a whole by drawing attention to the concept of hyper-converged infrastructure.

Project Mystic is probably a good idea for VMware, said Doron Kempel, chairman and CEO of Westborough, Mass.-based SimpliVity, which develops the OmniCube hyper-converged appliance.

"Convergence is an important space," Kempel said. "We're seeing customer initiatives. The more options for customers, the better it is for customers and the market."

The converged infrastructure market is growing about 50 percent per year, according to IDC and Gartner, Kempel said.

"We want customers to cross the chasm," he said. "So what VMware is doing is good for SimpliVity. VMware is a partner of ours. We hope they succeed, and wish them luck with the new product."

It is not certain how VMware might address converged infrastructure over multiple sites, which is a feature of SimpliVity's OmniCube, Kempel said. "I can't think of a single case where customers didn't install OmniCube on at least two sites," he said.

Project Mystic is not something to be afraid of, said Steve Kaplan, vice president of channel and strategic sales at Nutanix, a San Jose, Calif.-based developer of hyper-converged infrastructure appliances.

Nutanix's primary competition are the SANs and arrays now installed in data centers and based on technologies invented in the 1990s, Kaplan said.

"These are very old technologies," he said. "If you believe next-generation data centers will have virtualization as a core component, then you believe traditional storage infrastructures will not work there."

Server and storage vendors are the prime competition for companies like Nutanix, Kaplan said. "Project Mystic is nothing to worry about," he said. "I think things like this are something to be happy about."

NEXT: Putting Project Mystic Into Perspective

Yoram Novick, CEO and founder of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based hyper-converged infrastructure software developer Maxta, said he has heard of Project Mystic, but declined to comment on anything VMware is doing in that area.

Novick, however, did say that traditional data center infrastructures that separate the server and storage make it increasingly difficult to tie storage into virtualized environments.

"There are issues with how storage works with virtual servers, how to expand capacity, how to manage change," he said. "Converged infrastructure addresses these issues."

Maxta focuses exclusively on software and stays away from the hardware side, which Novick said makes it easy to match a solution to customer requirements. And unlike VMware's VSAN, Maxta's software addresses a wide range of data services, including native support of sub-second snapshots and sub-second cloning, he said.

"In a lot of ways we're happy VMware has announced VSAN," he said. "We have similar visions in the sense that both of us believe there needs to be a software-defined storage practice."

Converged infrastructure is the long-term solution for both on-premise and cloud storage, Novick said. "Today, the only solution is storage arrays, both on-premise and in the cloud," he said. "We believe the ability to run storage on industry-standard servers is important."

Olivier Thierry, chief marketing officer at Pivot3, an Austin, Texas-based developer of converged infrastructure solutions for virtual desktop infrastructures based on VMware Horizon and for video surveillance, also said he is aware of rumblings about Project Mystic.

Project Mystic is likely to be a hyper-converged infrastructure solution for general-purpose use, similar to what companies like SimpliVity offer, and not tuned to specific applications like Pivot3's vSTAC offering, Thierry said.

Because of Pivot3's ability to tune its offerings specifically for VDI and videosurveillance, Thierry said he does not expects to be heavily impacted by Project Mystic.

Indeed, Thierry said he lauds EMC for taking the risk of disrupting its existing business with a focus on software for converged infrastructure solutions.

"If you are going to lose your traditional SAN business, it's best to lose to yourself," he said. "The fact that EMC has these appliance form factors is good for them."

VMware declined to comment on the Project Mystic news.

EMC also declined to comment on Project Mystic.

However, Jeremy Burton, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at EMC, told CRN in a previous conversation that the move to make storage intellectual property available as software gives solution providers more flexibility in building customer solutions.

"EMC is committed to delivering more of our IPs as software-only," Burton said. "We think more customers will want to buy software and hardware together as a system. That said, we provide more flexibility. We separate church and state, as it is."