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Hyper-converged infrastructure? Pop open some 'Azure in a can'

Trevor Pott holds forth on HPE's cloud in a box

HPE and Microsoft have teamed up to give everyone else a right good kicking. The product of the now is the "HPE Hyper Converged 250 for Microsoft CPS Standard”. This is a very long name and so I propose instead that we shall think of it as "Azure in a can 250". Sticking to the Azure-in-a-can theme, HPE's new gizmo does exactly what it says on the tin, and it changes everything.

The Azure in a can 250 is a 2U chassis containing 4 nodes lashed together into a hyper-converged cluster using HP's StoreVirtual software. Each node comes with 2 Xeon E5-2640 or 2680 CPUs, 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of RAM and 2 SFP+ 10GbE NICs.

The cluster can be configured in a 4 node or a 3 node configuration. The hybrid storage configuration offers 4 x 1.2 TB SAS and 2 x 480 GB SFF SSDs for ~ 7.5 TB usable storage in the 4-node configuration and ~ 5.6 TB HA usable storage for a 3-node configuration.

Unlike most of its hyperconverged competitors, HPE has actually listened to the SMB and mid-market customers that the Azure in a can 250 is aimed at and provided a capacity configuration as well. The capacity configuration offers 6 x 1.2 TB SAS disks for ~ 11.5 TB usable storage for 4-node systems and ~ 8.5 TB HA usable storage for a 3-node configuration.

This is a bigger deal than any hyperconverged vendor (other than Scale Computing) has thus far been willing to admit. Obsessed with performance numbers, hyperconverged vendors have built faster and faster systems that end up priced out of reach for the mass market and ultimately are ridiculous overkill for the vast majority of workloads.

One need only look at Scale Computing to understand how out of touch most hyperconverged vendors really are. Scale is a small startup offering a feature-limited KVM-based hyperconverged solution that doesn't even use flash drives at all. Despite this, the company has managed to win thousands of customers very quickly and build a cult-like following in the process.

So along comes HPE, with a hyperconverged solution where the mid-market can afford the floor cost. But isn't just a hyperconverged cluster with some monitoring: it’s a proper hybrid cloud and it can scale out impressively.

Azure made easy

The Azure in a Can 250s come with all you need to take over the cloudy world: Windows Server 2012 R2, HPE OneView for Microsoft System Center (also known as "that thing that makes System Center almost usable"), and the Windows Azure Pack. This means that out of the box, the system is ready to deploy anything you see in the Azure marketplace. Windows VMs, Linux VMs, you name it.

The point of this offering, however, is to enable organisations to embrace hybrid cloud computing. Yes, it's great that you can run workloads from the Azure marketplace in your own data centre, but the real value-add is supposed to be that those exact same workloads can be set up to run on Microsoft's public cloud as well. Run it in your data centre, run it in Microsoft's data centre, it's all the same code.

The other part of this partnership sees HPE working with Microsoft to package up more applications into virtual appliance form and make them available through the Azure Marketplace. HPE is also committed to certifying an additional 5,000 staff as Azure Cloud Architects so that its services arm is ready to support this new play.

Backup and DR are provided by Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery. You can sign up for the services online and going through some fairly painless setup processes. Other options, such as Zerto, have been certified and Microsoft and HPE look like they're gearing up to aggressively grow the ecosystem around this partnership.

All of this is quite positive. HPE and Microsoft had produced something that, while not quite an Infrastructure Endgame Machine (IEM), is a giant leap towards one.

Towards a right good kicking

The entry cost for these units is somewhere around $80k. Consider this for a moment: for under $100k you can get a 4 node hyperconverged cluster that you unbox, put on the rack, plug in and go. Not just any hyperconverged cluster, but Azure in a can.

HPE has stolen a march on the competition. Very few major hyperconverged vendors are offering a full hybrid cloud solution out of the box. If you futz with the VMware-based ones (EVO:RAIL, Nutanix, SimpliVity, Maxta, etc.) for long enough then you can make your own hybrid cloud hyperconverged system. It is a fair amount of work to do so, requires rather a lot of expertise and – most critically – is spectacularly more expensive than what HPE is offering.

If you're willing to go for more obscure vendors – Yottabyte or Zerostack, as two examples – you can get very similar functionality to what HPE is offering for a lower cost. What you don't get is the fully populated Azure Marketplace. That makes a big difference.

Individually, none of the components are particularly difficult or even all that innovative. Any decent Microsoft sysadmin with enough time on their hands could buy some HP servers, install the relevant software and roll their own Azure in a Can 250. The 250 line is used for any number of converged offerings from HPE.

The whole, however, is much more than the sum of its parts. It's a fully self-serve hybrid cloud with working (and almost easy to use) full automation and orchestration capabilities, a jam-packed marketplace and a set of mostly usable management interfaces that's ready to go as soon as you plug it in. That's pretty bloody nifty right there.

A 4 node hyperconverged Azure in a Can for under $100k. Eat your heart out, Nutanix. ®

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