Cisco HyperFlex - exit stage right
I remember Cisco bringing UCS to market back in 2009 (is it really that long ago?!) and the excitement around the revolution it was introducing to the compute market. I look at the UCS capabilities and still think, “that’s cool tech that can unlock some very tiresome operational challenges.”
Seven years later, Cisco entered the Hyper-Converged Market (HCI) with HyperFlex; looking to leverage the UCS capabilities and network integrations to upstage the wider HCI market. Sadly, as we fast forward to 2023, we have the demise of HyperFlex with Cisco pivoting its hopes for selling UCS compute to Nutanix (at least in the context of HCI).
In the context of last month’s announcement that Cisco and Nutanix were partnering to deliver "The industry’s most complete hybrid cloud solution to simplify customer operations, maximise resiliency, and accelerate IT transformation," It is hardly surprising we got the HyperFlex news this week.
For Nutanix, it is a great step into an ecosystem that was previously only opened via self-certification of the Cisco hardware. Moreover, the size of the Nutanix sales team just grew by 10x as every Cisco seller is incentivised to push the Nutanix software into UCS/HyperFlex and wider Cisco customers. While VMware vSAN ready nodes will continue to be an option, there is nothing better than a compensated salesperson to influence the direction of travel (one good reason CDW have our ‘Office of the CTO’ detached from the Sales motion).
Good Tech, missing the ecosystem?
When HyperFlex came out, it had a lot of promise from a technology perspective and the unique networking options that UCS added could have led to great things. The problem was that the rest of the HCI market (VMware & Nutanix really) was already getting ready to move beyond just providing HCI. With the acceleration of cloud adoption in the late 2010s, the pandemic and rise of Hybrid Cloud, HyperFlex was a little exposed as it relied on the ecosystems of vendors like VMware.
VMware and Nutanix expanded their respective portfolios beyond the basic confines of HCI to fully fledged Hybrid Cloud Management Platforms. VMware with Aria and Nutanix with CALM and BEAM added cost management, automation, and central management amongst many other features. With customers looking to consolidate technical debt the market moved on with platforms like VxRail, VMware Cloud Foundation and Nutanix leaving HyperFlex behind.
Where do customers go now?
In the past, Nutanix has been available on Cisco UCS M5 generation servers via a self-certification process. Now, Nutanix will be available on M6 generation UCS servers with full support from Cisco and will be available in additional configurations and future generations of servers. This allows a supported migration path from VMware-based HyperFlex deployments to Nutanix management while still taking advantage of the unified switching the UCS Fabric Interconnects provide.
Customers will need to purchase Nutanix software and work with technical experts to plan and execute one of many possible migration options. There are rumblings of some trade-in options coming for customers with remaining HyperFlex software commits, but nothing concrete we can announce today.
The Migration Whitepaper has a good amount of detail on the options available for the technical aspects of the migration journey.
In summary, the options are:
- Cross cluster vMotion
- Nutanix MOVE
- Other replication technologies like Zerto, Veeam, Cohesity
Plus, two of my own for you to consider alongside the Nutanix approach:
- Repurpose nodes as a vSAN or Cloud Foundation deployment
- Reuse the compute nodes with an external array
The one key component of all migration options; customers will likely need spare hardware to deploy onto before they can repurpose the existing HyperFlex hardware! (Possible migration tooling is coming but not confirmed.) It’s also worth noting that moving to Nutanix Acropolis Hypervisor is a possible outcome to support items like compute-only nodes.
As always, the specifics of the current deployment will have the biggest impact on which route is best to take. The age of the current platform, cloud plans, budget cycles and wider integrations will be key to making the right strategic decision.
Strategic Planning out of the HyperFlex wake
Five years of support for HyperFlex have been promised by Cisco, meaning existing customers have time to make strategic plans. No rash decisions, please! The challenge is more about the support for the VMware (which most HyperFlex deployments will be running) version; Cisco has not committed to anything past v8 of ESX!
Our data centre experts have been working with all the ecosystem technologies we have discussed in this article (Cisco, VMware, Hyper-V, Nutanix), and are perfectly placed to help you understand the journey away from HyperFlex. If you want to look at the strategic future of your DC platform and how to evolve towards a future target operating model, which will unlock the foundations for digital readiness, please do reach out directly.
It’s not a great surprise that Cisco has made the pivot away from needing to maintain its own HCI code base, given the market share they had gained. Aligning with the Nutanix platform allows Cisco to focus on its core capabilities of Networking and Security whilst being able to tie into an end-to-end Hybrid Cloud story, leveraging Nutanix. For those customers invested in the Cisco compute landscape it provides a way to keep the overall vendor count low, adopting either of the leading HCI platforms (VMware or Nutanix). For Cisco, they get a mature ecosystem to underpin UCS sales. Leaving Nutanix to benefit from the Cisco sales teams.
For me, it is one less option in an already crowded Hybrid Cloud market, which means easier decisions for customers.