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VMblog's Expert Interviews: Maxta Talks Software vs. Appliance HCI as well as HCI's Role in Private and Hybrid Cloud


All of a sudden, software has become all the rage in hyperconvergence.  Just the hint of switching from an appliance model to a software model is enough to get financial analysts in a tizzy and the price of a stock soaring.  And why wouldn't it?  Software is a much better business model than selling appliances.  The CEO of Maxta, Yoram Novick, talks about software vs. appliance approaches to HCI as well as HCI's role in private and hybrid cloud. 

VMblog:  Maxta started out with a software approach to HCI. What are your thoughts as other HCI vendors try to make the switch from an appliance approach to a software approach? 

Yoram Novick:  There has been a lot of industry talk about a software approach to HCI, but to be completely honest, most appliance vendors that are introducing a software approach are doing it for all the wrong reasons. In other words, a software approach to HCI should primarily provide benefit to the customer.  However, the main reason most appliance vendors are pursuing a software approach is to benefit themselves by improving gross margins - not benefit their customers. 

A true software approach is not easy.  There is a reason why many products, not just HCI, come to market in an appliance form factor.  It's much simpler for the vendor from a development and support perspective, but ends up being a "black box" from a customer perspective as they cannot add anything to it or remove anything from it.  This severely limits the customer in terms of server hardware choice, refresh costs, and adding capacity. 

VMblog:  What are the advantages of a software approach to HCI?

Novick:  First let me say that I'm answering this from a perspective of "real" software instead of an "appliance in software clothing." With a true software approach to HCI, a customer can install the software on existing servers from any vendor and transition into production - not just use it for a trial or proof of concept.  A customer can also mix and match new and existing servers, different brands of servers, different models of servers, and even servers with different generations of CPUs.  The customer can also buy the software pre-configured on new servers and deploy those alongside software that was installed on existing servers.  Of course, the servers need to meet minimum requirements, but once the minimum requirements are met, a software approach provides a lot of flexibility. 

A true software approach will also provide a choice of a perpetual or term license, which is extremely important now that your storage is on a server refresh cycle.  With a perpetual license the customer owns that license for life so they can transfer it to a new server during a server refresh cycle instead of only having the option of either paying for the license every year or every time they refresh their appliance. 

Finally, a software approach provides the most flexibility when adding capacity as a customer can add drives to servers or replace low capacity drives in servers with higher capacity drives.  Obviously, customers can always add an entire server like they have to do with an appliance approach. 

VMblog:  What are the disadvantages to a software approach to HCI?

Novick:  The great thing about appliances is that they are simple to order, install and configure.  This is the reason why appliances do so well in the early part of the market development for new technologies and also with smaller customers.  While there are a number of customers that love the flexibility of software, a majority of customers still value the simplicity of appliances in terms of ordering and configuration. 

This is why we came out with what we call "(Un)Appliances" - software pre-configured and pre-validated on a number of server brands.  We call them (Un)Appliances since customers get all the value of an appliance with none of the downside.  In other words, the simplicity of an appliance along with all the advantages of software that we just spoke about.    

VMblog:  With the rise of containerization, how do you see that affecting HCI?

Novick:  Containerization and virtualization are really just two forms of abstraction.  While there will always be large organizations or specific types of organizations that will have separate infrastructures for containers and virtual machines, we believe that most organizations will want a single infrastructure for both. 

Actually, HCI value proposition of reducing complexity in IT infrastructure management is even more appealing to containerization as the goal from a DevOps perspective is to have as little IT interaction as possible. Therefore, it will be difficult to use traditional storage and SDS (Software Defined Storage) for containerization as there is still some form of storage knowledge required. 

For various reasons such as security, at least initially, it may make sense to use containerization on top of virtual machines and HCI is certainly a good solution for this model. However, to truly leverage containerization and container orchestration frameworks, an HCI solution should support containerization abstraction natively in addition to virtualization.

For all of these reasons, the growth of Containerization will probably be a very positive development for HCI.

VMblog:  How does HCI evolve as organizations implement private clouds?

Novick:  As HCI adds support for containerization as well as multiple forms of virtualization, organizations can build private clouds using the type of abstraction that is suitable for each application, whether that is licensed virtualization, open-source virtualization, or open-source containers with Kubernetes orchestration.  This enables the right tool for the right job based on application requirements, application compatibility, and the cost of the type of abstraction. 

That said, another goal of a private cloud is have similar economics to those of public clouds. While no private cloud will be able to match the cost structure of a public cloud, all the advantages that we discussed before in terms of a software approach to HCI certainly help a private cloud significantly reduce operational and capital expenses as compared to a traditional three-tier IT infrastructure. 

VMblog:  How does HCI fit into an organization's hybrid cloud strategy?

Novick:  Despite claims by some HCI vendors that they already support hybrid cloud, today's HCI does not really fit into a hybrid cloud strategy as it is essentially taking the HCI on-prem stack and just putting that same stack on bare metal in the public cloud.  While I understand the goal of having the same management framework on-prem and in the cloud, this model eliminates much of the value of the public cloud.

For example, what if I want to use some of the great cloud-native analytics, machine learning, or AI applications that are only available in the public cloud?  That's not really possible when I just add an on-prem stack on bare metal in the cloud.  And then of course there is the cost of keeping an entire on-prem stack in the public cloud. 

We believe that the right hybrid cloud strategy is leveraging the on-prem tools that IT knows in the cloud while taking advantage of cloud native services and applications that make the public cloud what it is.  This is the direction that we are taking. 

VMblog:  Maxta is in a crowded market with many large competitors. How do you compete in such a market?

Novick:  Great question.  When we are in a proof of concept (POC) against these larger vendors, we generally get a technical win because of the advantages of our software model and our native application-defined storage capabilities.  In some of those deals, larger vendors will just discount the deal significantly or throw the HCI product into an enterprise license agreement (ELA). 

Our goal is to get more POCs and also to find areas where a true software model gives us a significant advantage.  We've targeted areas where larger HCI vendors are not as strong and we've also focused on relationships where a partner licenses our software and ships as their own product - we have five of these OEM deals now. 

We do see the industry moving towards the software model that we have had in place from the beginning.  We just need to continue to raise the awareness of what software really means and the advantages of application-defined storage.

VMblog:  Can you explain what you mean by "application-defined" storage?I have not heard this term used by other HCI vendors.

Novick:  Yes, sorry, I should have explained that more in the last question.  The real drive to the success of HCI has been VDI. HCI really helped get the VDI infrastructure ready so that IT just had to focus on the VDI piece.  Unfortunately, that maniacal focus on VDI early on by most vendors meant that they did not develop a HCI solution that was meant to sweep the datacenter floor.

Our application-defined storage functionality natively optimizes performance and availability on a per VM or application basis, so you can reduce costs by running different applications on the same cluster without the more than 25% application performance penalty introduced by forcing all VMs to have the same configurations. Maxta also natively supports per application availability configurations such as replication factor and rebuild priority on the same cluster. 

VMblog:  As we end the year, what does 2019 look like for the hyperconverged industry?

Novick:  I believe that many of the things we just discussed will all begin to converge in 2019.  HCI will continue a shift to a software approach not just because this is the typical evolution of many appliance-based product, but also because private cloud implementations will want to come as close as possible to public cloud economics.  Organizations will then want to extend those private cloud implementations into hybrid cloud implementations to take advantage of public cloud native services and applications.  On top of that, Containerization will continue its growth and leverage HCI more and more in both private and hybrid cloud environments.

That said, we always tell prospective customers to make sure and test any potential HCI solution in the type of environment they will use for production, especially if they are running multiple applications on the same cluster.  Once they have a short list of vendors, ask the vendors for a quote for five years assuming their typical storage growth and make sure the vendor has a server refresh as part of the quote.  This will enable prospective customers to clearly see the difference in a software approach as compared to an appliance approach. 


Yoram Novick, Founder, CEO

With a proven track record of building successful startups, and deep expertise in enterprise systems, storage, and software, Yoram drives Maxta's vision and strategy.

Prior to founding Maxta, he founded Topio, known for its data replication and recovery prowess, and led the company as its CEO from inception until it was acquired by NetApp. Following the Topio acquisition, Yoram served as Vice President and General Manager of NetApp's Data Replication Business Unit. Prior to Topio, he spent 13 years at IBM in storage research and development capacities.

Yoram holds 31 patents in the systems and storage domains. He holds a bachelor's and a master's degree in computer science from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, both Summa CumLaude.
Published Tuesday, December 18, 2018 7:32 AM by David Marshall
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