EMC's Big Reveal: Will Ship Hyper-Converged Infrastructure This Year

David Goulden, seated center between Bill Scannell (left) and Joe Tucci, tells partners that EMC will enter the hyper-converged infrastructure market.

EMC Wednesday told its channel partners for the first time that it is building hyper-converged infrastructure technology, setting the stage for a battle pitting the storage giant against multiple startups that already have grabbed the high ground in this market.

David Goulden, CEO of EMC Information Infrastructure, revealed the news to solution providers at the EMC Global Partner Summit, held in conjunction with this week's EMC World conference.

The revelation confirms earlier CRN reports that EMC and VMware were working together on Project Mystic, which is a hyper-converged infrastructure solution, although the actual name of the project has yet to be confirmed by EMC.

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

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Hyper-converged infrastructure technology combines server, storage, networking and virtualization technology in a software-defined stack running on a single commodity server rather than being deployed as separate hardware components.

Goulden was responding to a question from a solution provider who said that startups in the hyper-converged infrastructure, all-flash array, and cloud backup appliance market are "kicking our butt."

Goulden then said EMC will have a hyper-converged infrastructure appliance by the end of 2014. "It will be very competitive to products starting with 'N' or 'S,'" he said.

"N" is a reference to Nutanix, while "S" is a reference to SimpliVity. Nutanix and SimpliVity are among the leaders of a group of startups that have been first to develop the hyper-converged infrastructure market.

Goulden said that VCE, the joint venture between EMC and Cisco, has taken about 50 percent of the converged infrastructure system market, while EMC's VSPEX reference architecture has grabbed about 50 percent of the converged infrastructure market. "We will play in the hyper-converged market," he said.

Jeremy Burton, president of products and marketing for EMC, told CRN that EMC is indeed developing hyper-converged infrastructure technology using a combination of VMware software and EMC hardware to expand the company's market opportunity with SMB customers.

Such an offering would not conflict with EMC's VCE or VSPEX partnerships with Cisco, Burton said.

"We don't really have an offering in the lower end of the market," he said. "We're looking at would it make sense to put VMware software on EMC hardware. At the low end of the market, neither EMC or Cisco have anything. But VMware has more presence down there."

Sources familiar with EMC and VMWare's plans told CRN earlier this week that Project Mystic runs on Lenovo servers and Arista Networks switches. But Burton denied that this is the case.

NEXT: Channel Partners Welcome EMC's Hyperconverged Infrastructure Plans

Burton said that EMC sees the hyper-converged infrastructure market more focused on departmental deployments for now, although as the market grows it expects the technology to move into the enterprise.

One possibility for EMC's hyper-converged infrastructure offering is to deploy it via a VSPEX reference architecture, Burton said.

"VSPEX is a good weapon," he said. "And the channel is good at working with VSPEX. We could put something together for them. To serve a part of the market we want to grow now, bringing the channel along would be a good thing."

This is a market EMC should enter, solution providers said.

EMC definitely needs to compete in the hyper-converged infrastructure market, said Brad Maltz, chief UberGeek at Lumenate, a Dallas-based solution provider and EMC channel partner.

"EMC needs it to go downmarket, and as a way to deploy their services over in this market over the long term," Maltz told CRN. "EMC will need to compete against companies like Nutanix."

EMC also will be looking at how to deploy its ViPR software-defined storage and ScaleIO server-based storage software technologies, Maltz said.

"So why not hyper-converged?" he said. "They want to put those ViPR and ScaleIO services on top of everything they deploy."

Emily Martin, director of technology and client services at Northern Micro, an Ottawa, Ontario-based solution provider and EMC partner, told CRN that hyper-converged infrastructure is something EMC has to do.

"EMC is already a market leader in the converged infrastructure market," Martin said. "So it's natural for them to move into the hyper-converged infrastructure market."

Martin said Northern Micro has run into Nutanix and SimpliVity but has not yet lost deals to them. "We're hearing corporate customers say their names," she said. "But they haven't adopted those companies' offerings yet."

Both Canadian customers and EMC are conservative and like to wait to see how a market develops, Martin said.

"EMC has taken time to evaluate the market needs, and we value that," she said. "EMC is late to the market. But this market has ramped up so quickly that it's no surprise."

"Need" is really a strong word in describing how fast EMC is entering the hyper-converged infrastructure market, said Mike Carter, principal and CEO of e-Group, a Charleston, S.C.-based solution provider and EMC partner.

NEXT: Nutanix Responds To EMC's Plans

"EMC has invested in VMware and other technologies, and can easily pull this off," e-Group's Carter told CRN. "EMC has done a remarkable job over the years. Maybe they haven't always been first to market, but they've always succeeded. Does EMC 'need' to get into this part of the market? Not really. But by getting in, EMC will raise the bar."

Steve Kaplan, vice president of channels and strategic sales at Nutanix, said the company thinks it's great that EMC is validating the idea of Web-scale IT, which is Nutanix's name for hyper-converged infrastructure, as the future of storage.

"We have two years' experience selling to government and commercial accounts," Kaplan said. "Our laser-beam focus is on Web-scale IT. EMC is still selling traditional SANs and arrays. Now it says it wants to sell hyper-converged infrastructure. That's a confusing message to its customers."

Nutanix's DNA is all about Web-scale IT, Kaplan said. "We're not hedging our bets. If you need brain surgery, do you go to a general practitioner?"

SimpliVity was unable to respond by press time.