Hyper-Converged Market Leaders: Forrester Scores 11 Top Providers

CRN breaks down Forrester's hyper-converged scorecards and rankings on the leading HCI software providers including VMware, Pivot3, Cisco, NetApp, HPE and Nutanix.


Hyper-Converged Hits Mainstream

As software-based hyper-converged providers like Nutanix, VMware and Pivot3 debate who owns the best technology and market strategy, Forrester Research took on the task of scoring the major players and how they stack up against each other.

Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is hitting the mainstream market as customers seek to lower cost and complexity, leverage infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) capabilities and stay ahead as more business-critical applications get certified to run on an HCI stack. Flexible, integrated compute and storage infrastructure is now central to a company's ability to do business in a marketplace with changing customer technology expectations, according to Forrester's new Hyper-Converged Infrastructure, Q3 2018 report.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester researched, analyzed and scored the 11 most significant software-based hyper-converged infrastructure providers in the market.

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Forrester's Scoring System

Forrester evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of the top software-based HCI vendors after examining user needs assessments, past research, and vendor and expert interviews. The research firm evaluated vendors against 36 criteria which it grouped into several high-level categories including current HCI software offering and market strategy. In order to make the cut, each vendor needed to have top level HCI software, hyper-converged functions offered on industry-standard infrastructure, provide product demos and reference customers.

All scores are based on a scale of 0 (weak) to 5 (strong). The vendors were placed in three market ranking categories: Leader, Strong Performer, and Contender. Here are the scores for the 11 vendors.

Leader: Nutanix

Product Evaluated: Enterprise Cloud OS version AOS 5.8

Product Score: 4.38

Strategy Score: 4.53

The San Jose, Calif.-based hyper-converged pioneer ranks the highest for overall HCI product offering and second for overall strategy. On the technology side, Nutanix's Enterprise Cloud OS was the leader in storage functions and runner up in platform support. The company scored the highest in product manageability and ease of operations and corporate strategy in this report, as well as a perfect 5 in product strategy.

Nutanix has maintained its position on top of the HCI market through its innovation, R&D investment, strong sales momentum, partnerships and ability to gain new customers from all segments and geographies. Since launching its IPO in 2016, the company has more than doubled its headcount and multiplied its million-dollar and repeat clients. Nutanix is striving to make hybrid cloud a reality by partnering with the likes of Google Cloud Platform to integrate public cloud services with its on-premises infrastructure, while also launching a slew of new HCI and channel offerings. Forrester said some customers raised concerns that Nutanix may fall victim to another full-stack competitor.

Leader: VMware

Product Evaluated: vSAN version 6.7

Product Score: 3.82

Strategy Score: 4.60

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based virtualization leader ranks the highest in terms of HCI strategy and runner-up in overall product offering. VMware's vSAN version 6.7 scored a perfect 5 in three categories: solution scalability, professional services and consulting abilities, and product strategy. The company scored strong in every category expect storage functions.

VMware vSAN is a software-defined, hardware agnostic solution integrated into its vSphere hypervisor. All VMware hypervisors now include vSAN bits, customers just need to activate the HCI function. Through the company's architecture, licensing and go-to-market strategy, VMware has gained significant market momentum in a very short time. The company has an engineering-centric partnership with public cloud powerhouse Amazon Web Services to enable hybrid cloud, including vSAN-as-a-Service. VMware dedicates a large R&D team to vSAN development and integration with applications from its ecosystem vendors. Forrester said since vSAN only works with vSphere, customers have limited options when they prefer to use other hypervisors.

Leader: Cisco

Product Evaluated: HyperFlex version 3.5

Product Score: 3.29

Strategy Score: 3.75

The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant ranks fourth in overall product offering and fifth in strategy. Cisco's HyperFlex 3.5 scored above a 4 in terms of storage functions, manageability and ease of operations, and professional services and consulting. The network leader scored a perfect 5 for product strategy, but scored only a 2 in corporate strategy.

Cisco acquired software-defined storage specialist Springpath in September 2017 and made significant HyperFlex additions since including support for other hypervisors, containers and stretched cluster capability for mission-critical applications. Cisco Intersight is a Software-as-a-Service cloud management platform that provides a central dashboard for HyperFlex deployments, centralized reporting and predictive insights. Customers can perform tasks like installation, upgrades and active management of several HyperFlex clusters across multiple data centers to enable cost saving and improve operational efficiency. Forrester said Cisco should improve its offering by adding QoS capability that operates at the storage layer.

Leader: HPE

Product Evaluated: SimpliVity version 3.7.5

Product Score: 3.12

Strategy Score: 4.15

Hewlett Packard Enterprise ranks third for overall HCI strategy and fifth in overall product offering. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor scored a perfect 5 in both product strategy and professional services and consulting. HPE's SimpliVity 3.7.5 offer scored the second highest in manageability and ease of operations, but low in platform support with a score of 1.2.

HPE standardizes its HCI solution on the SimpliVity stack it bought last year. The vendor leverages its strong server market presence by limiting new sales of SimpliVty to its ProLiant DL and Apollo servers. HPE SimpliVity offers a rich set of global multisite data management functions through its always-on global deduplication and compression architecture and includes a set of backup/recovery and clones with disaster recovery capabilities and network optimization. Paired with HPE OneSphere , HPE SimpliVity can deliver a hybrid cloud platform. Forrester said SimpliVity's hyper-converged innovation has somewhat stalled since being acquired by HPE.

Strong Performer: Pivot3

Product Evaluated: Acuity version 10.4

Product Score: 3.58

Strategy Score: 3.20

Although Pivot3 is a smaller player compared to the likes of Cisco and HPE, the privately-held company continues to make waves in the hyper-converged market. The Austin, Texas-based ranks third in overall product offering and among the middle of the pack in HCI strategy. Pivot3 scored a 3 or above in every product and strategy category.

Pivot3 has been selling its Acuity platform to enterprises for years. The vendor delivers consistent and predictable flash performance using NVMe flash and supports both cache and persistent storage tiers. Its Acuity Cloud Edition simplifies the use of public cloud for backup and recovery by running Acuity software as an Amazon machine image on AWS. It integrates with the Pivot3 management application and enables single-pane-of-glass management of on-premises and cloud deployments. Customers give Pivot3 high ratings for its product, solution, focus and customer service. Forrester said the company's QoS should evolve to address the growing needs of enterprise requirements.

Strong Performer: Scale Computing

Product Evaluated: HC3 version 8

Product Score: 2.94

Strategy Score: 3.80

Indianapolis-based Scale Computing ranks fourth in HCI strategy and among the middle of the pack in overall product offering. The company scored a perfect 5 for solution scalability, but low in manageability and ease of operations. Scale Computing scored a 3 or above in all strategy categories, including a 4.2 in product strategy.

Scale Computing's HC3 is built on the KVM hypervisor and sold either as an appliance priced per node or as a software solution through OEMs like Lenovo and managed service providers. Scale HC3 is a proven and sound choice for the SMB market, edge environments, retailers and distributed enterprises. Individual nodes or clusters can be connected by replication and used together for remote availability. Data is compressed in line for WAN replication. Scale Computing has a smaller revenue base, but its installed base is large in relation to its revenues. Forrester said the company should improve its interface by pulling operational metrics together and making it easier to use.

Strong Performer: Maxta

Product Evaluated: Maxta MxSP Hyperconvergence Software version 3.4

Product Score: 2.99

Strategy Score: 3.35

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Maxta ranks among the middle of the pack in both HCI strategy and overall product offering. Maxta received the highest score in platform support, with a 4.3, which was far above all other competitors. The company scored below average in corporate strategy and low in solution scalability.

Maxta's MxSP hyperconverged solution has one of the simplest licensing options in the industry which benefits customers. It is available only as a perpetual software license and a term license with the option to choose a hardware vendor. It can be hosted in AWS to enable data replication and disaster recovery in EC2 , while also offering synchronous replication across geographic regions through stretch cluster. Maxta doesn't support self-encrypting devices and is looking to partner with key-based encryption vendors. Forrester said Maxta should improve its offerings by prioritizing support for storage and manageability functions, including publicly available REST APIs.

Strong Performer: NetApp

Product Evaluated: NetApp HCI version 1.3

Product Score: 2.67

Strategy Score: 3.64

NetApp is one of the more recent players in the HCI space after acquiring SolidFire in 2016. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company ranks among the middle of the pack in both HCI strategy and overall product offering. NetApp scored high in customer feedback and in manageability and ease of operations. The company scored low in solution scalability and platform support.

NetApp HCI is available only as an appliance. Its architecture is different from others in the industry because it enables independent scale-out of compute and storage nodes. Through the SolidFire Element OS, the company has one of the most comprehensive storage QoS systems. Built on a credit system, it accommodates sudden application spikes in infrastructure demand. Netapp has leveraged its existing storage IP along with SolidFire technology to get service provider partners on board NetApp HCI. Forrester said NetApp's architecture starts with a pricier minimum configuration of six nodes, making it tough for smaller remote branch office deployments.

Strong Performer: Stratoscale

Product Evaluated: Symphony version 4.2.7

Product Score: 2.07

Strategy Score: 3.63

Stratoscale ranks amongst the middle of the pack in HCI strategy but below the average in overall product offering. The Israel-based company scored a perfect 5 in product strategy. Stratoscale received the lowest score of 0.9 in storage functions and a score of 1.6 in manageability and ease of operations.

Stratoscale has developed key HCI capabilities into Symphony including underlying storage functions and hypervisor integration. The company offers infrastructure and stack management via an intuitive, easy-to-use web portal. Stratoscale doesn't focus on storage services like deduplication and compression, as its target application developer users typically don't demand them. Stratoscale is a great enabler for developers who want AWS services on-premises to manage costs, security, and compliance. Forrester said Stratoscale will always lag AWS's rapid release of new functionality, so it needs the same rigor and pace of development as AWS to deliver updates to its on-premises solution.

Challenger: Huawei

Product Evaluated: FusionCube version 3.1

Product Score: 2.46

Strategy Score: 1.95

The China-based technology giant ranks low in both HCI strategy and overall product offering. Huawei scored a perfect 5 in professional services and consulting. The company scored below average in storage functions, product strategy and generated the lowest score of 2.8 in customer feedback.

Huawei's FusionCube supports KVM and VMware hypervisors as well as its proprietary FusionSphere hypervisor. The solution includes the company's proprietary software-defined storage FusionStorage. FusionCube has gained significant traction with existing enterprise customers, including those in the telecommunications industry in China, EMEA and Latin America. FusionCube's interface is easy to navigate and operate but is disjointed based on the use cases it supports. Huawei partners with enterprise software vendors like Oracle and SAP to certify their applications on FusionCube. Forrester said Huawei can improve by developing key storage functionality like compression, deduplication and policy management that enterprises seek as they deploy business critical applications.

Challenger: DataCore

Product Evaluated: Hyperconverged Virtual SAN version 10 PSP7

Product Score: 1.95

Strategy Score: 1.94

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based DataCore ranks last in both overall product offering and HCI strategy. However, the company scored the highest in customer feedback with a perfect score of 5. DataCore's scored the lowest in both corporate and product strategy, as well as one of the worst scores in both solution scalability and storage functions.

DataCore's Hyperconverged Virtual SAN leverages existing software assets and offers the unique ability to pool existing SAN capability into an HCI deployment. It can scale compute and storage independently by using external storage for capacity and tiering. The solution is only available as software and is licensed by storage capacity. DataCore supports one of the smallest configurations, requiring only two nodes for a cluster which is ideal for remote office deployments. DataCore has fully functional public-facing REST and PowerShell APIs that users can leverage to manage DataCore instances. Forrester said the company needs to further automate and abstract storage-focused operational tasks that clients want managed for them.