This past week HPE continued buying into server storage I/O data infrastructure technologies announcing an all-cash (e.g. no stock) acquisition of Nimble Storage (NMBL). The cash acquisition for a little over $1B USD amounts to $12.50 USD per Nimble share, double what it had traded at. As a refresh, or overview, Nimble is an all-flash shared storage system leveraging NAND flash solid storage device (SSD) performance. Note that Nimble also partners with Cisco and Lenovo platforms that compete with HPE servers for converged systems.
Earlier this year (keep in mind it's only mid-March) HPE also announced acquisition of server storage Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) vendor Simplivity (about $650M USD cash). In another investment this year HPE joined other investors as part of scale out and software defined storage startups Hedvig latest funding round (more on that later). These acquisitions are in addition to smaller ones such as last years buying of SGI, not to mention various divestitures.
What Are Data Infrastructures
Data Infrastructures exists to support business, cloud, and information technology (IT) among other applications that transform data into information or services. The fundamental role of data infrastructures is to give a platform environment for applications and data that is resilient, flexible, scalable, agile, efficient, as well as cost-effective.
Technologies that make up data infrastructures include hardware, software, cloud or managed services, servers, storage, I/O, and networking along with people, processes, policies... along with various tools spanning legacy, software-defined virtual, containers, and cloud.
HPE and Server Storage Acquisitions
HPE (and its predecessor HP before the split that resulted in HPE) was familiar with expanding its data infrastructure portfolio spanning servers, storage, I/O networking, hardware, software, and services. These range from Compaq who acquired DEC which gave them the StorageWorks brand and product line up (e.g. recall EVA and its predecessors), Lefthand, 3PAR, IBRIX, Polyserve, Autonomy, EDS, and others that I’m guessing some at HPE (along with customers and partners) might not want to remember.
In addition to their own in-house including via technology acquisition, HPE also partners for its entry-level and volume low-end MSA (Modular Storage Array) series with DotHill who was acquired by Seagate a year or so ago. In addition to the MSA, other HPE OEMs for storage include Hitachi Ltd. (e.g. parent of Hitachi Data Systems aka HDS) reselling their high-end enterprise class storage system as the XP7, as well as various other partner arrangements.
Keep in mind that HPE has a large server business from low to high-end, spanning towers to dense blades to dual, quad, and cluster in box (CiB) configurations with various processor architectures. Some of these servers are used as platforms for not only HPE, but also other vendors' software defined storage, as well as tin-wrapped software solutions, appliances, and systems. HPE is also one of a handful of partners working with Microsoft to bring the software defined private (and hybrid) Azure Stack cloud stack as an appliance to market.
HPE Acquisitions Deja Vu or Something New?
For some people, there may be a sense of deja vu of what HPE and its predecessors have previously acquired, developed, sold, and supported in the market over years (and decades in some cases). What will be interesting to see is how the 3PAR (StoreServ) and Lefthand based (StoreVirtual) as well as ConvergedSystem 250-HC product lines are realigned to make way for Nimble and Simplivity.
Likewise, what will HPE do with MSA at the low-end. Will they continue to leverage it for low-end and high-volume basic storage similar to Dell with the Netapp/Engenio powered MD series? Or will HPE try to move the Nimble down market and displace the MDS? What about in the mid-market, will Nimble be unleashed to replace StoreVirtual (e.g. Lefthand), or will they fence it in (e.g. being restricted to certain scenarios)? Will the Nimble solution be allowed to move up market into the low-end of where 3PAR has been positioned, perhaps even higher up given its all flash capabilities? Or, will there be a 3PAR everywhere approach?
Then there is Simplivity as the solution is effectively software running on an HPE server (or with other partners Cisco and Lenovo) along with a PCIe offload card (with Simplivity data services acceleration). Note that Simplivity leverages PCIe offload cards for some of their functionality, this too is familiar ground for HPE given its ASIC use by 3PAR.
Simplivity has the potential to disrupt some low to mid-range, perhaps even larger opportunities that are looking to go to a converged infrastructure (CI) or HCI deployment as part of their data infrastructure needs. One can speculate that Simplivity after repackaging will be positioned along current HPE CI and HCI solutions.
This will be interesting to watch to see if the HPE server and storage groups can converge not only from a technology point, also sales, marketing, service, and support perspective. With the Simplivity solution, HPE has an opportunity to move the industry thinking or perception that HCI is only for small environments defined by what some products can do.
What I mean by this is that HPE with its enterprise and SMB along with SME and cloud managed service provider experience as well as servers can bring hyper-scale out (and up) converged to the market. In other words, start addressing the concern I hear from larger organizations that most CI or HCI solutions (or packaging) are just for smaller environments. HPE has the servers, they have the storage from MSAs to other modules and core data infrastructure building blocks along with the robustness of the Simplivity software to enable hyper-scale out CI.
What About Bulk, Object, Scale-out Storage?
HPE has a robust tape business, yes I know tape is dead, however tell that to the customers who keep buying products providing revenue along with margin to HPE (and others). Likewise, HPE has VTLs as well as other solutions for addressing bulk data (e.g. big data, backups, protection copies, archives, high volume, and large quantity, what goes on tape or object). For example, HPE has the StoreOnce solution.
However, Where Is the HPE Object Storage Story?
On the other hand, does HPE use its own object storage software or simply partner with others? HPE can continue to provide servers along with underlying storage for other vendors' bulk, cloud, and object storage systems, and where needed, meet in the channel among other arrangements.
On the other hand, this is where similar to Polyserve and Ibrix among others in the past have come into play, with HPE via its pathfinder (investment group) joining others in putting some money into Hedvig. HPE gets access to Hedvig for their scale-out storage that can be used for bulk as well as other deployments including CI, HCI, and CIB (e.g. something to sell HPE servers and storage with).
HPE can continue to partner with other software providers and software-defined storage stacks. Keep in mind that Milan Shetti (CTO, Data Center Infrastructure Group HPE) is no stranger to these waters given his past at Ibrix among others.
What About Hedvig
Time to get back to Hedvig which is a storage startup whose software can run on various server storage platforms, as well as in different topologies. Different topologies include in a CI or HCI, Cloud, as well as scale out with various access including block, file, and object. In addition to block, file, and object access, Hedvig has interesting management tools, data services, along with support for VMware, Docker, and OpenStack among others.
Recently Hedvig landed another $21.5M USD in funding bringing their total to about $52M USD. HPE via its investment arm, joins other investors (note HPE was part of the $21.5M, that was not the amount they invested) including Vertex, Atlantic Bridge, Redpoint, edbi, and true ventures.
What does this mean for HPE and Hedvig among others? Tough to say however easy to imagine how Hedvig could be leveraged as a partner using HPE servers, as well as for HPE to have an addition to their bulk, scale-out, cloud, and object storage portfolio.
Where to Learn More
View more material on HPE, data infrastructure and related topics with the following links.
What This All Means
Generally speaking, I think this is a good series of moves for HPE (and their customers) as long as they can execute in all dimensions.
Let’s see how they execute, and by this, I mean more than simply executing or terminating staff from recently acquired or earlier acquisitions. How will HPE craft go to the market message that leverages the portfolio to compete and hold or take share from other vendors, vs. cannibalize across its own lines (e.g. revenue prevention)? With that strategy and message, how will HPE assure existing customers will be taken care, be given a definite upgrade and migration path vs. giving them a reason to go elsewhere.
Hopefully, HPE unleashes the full potential of Simplivity and Nimble along with 3PAR, XP7 where needed, along with MSA at low-end (or as part of volume scale-out with servers for software defined), to mention server portfolio. For now, this tells me that HPE is still interested in maintaining, expanding their data infrastructure business vs. simply retrenching selling off assets. Thus this looks like HPE is interested in continuing to invest in data infrastructure technologies including buying into server, storage I/O network, hardware, software solutions, while not simply clinging to what they already have, or previously bought.
Everything is not the same in data centers and across data infrastructure, so why have a one size fits all approach for organization as large, diverse as HPE.
Congratulations and best wishes to the folks at Hedvig, Nimble, Simplivity.
Now, lets see how this all plays out.
Ok, nuff said, for now.