I was privileged to participate in the 16th Tech Field Day in Austin, Texas, home to some of my favorite bands and brisket. NetApp flew under the radar in our surprise appearance at the event.  I was delighted that we presented right after Dell’s “big iron” product updates. Our presentation focused on what customers are asking for—hyper converged infrastructure.


We compared three different architectures in the HCI market today. A hat tip goes to Dave Wright, who took a similar approach at a previous Tech Field Day—Comparing Modern All-Flash Architectures. That video is one of the most-watched presentations from any Tech Field Day.


Adam Carter, NetApp chief HCI architect, and Andy Banta, NetApp VMware HCI Architecture, presented on “Comparing HCI Architectures.”  Watch the video and the pre-event video conversation and podcast.



We started the presentation by discussing the business outcomes that HCI systems are designed to provide. We believe that an outcome-based definition of HCI is the most customer-centric approach to defining HCI.


All HCI systems seek to achieve the following business outcomes, regardless of architecture:

  • Easy to buy
  • Easy to set up
  • Consolidated management and monitoring
  • Make private cloud easy
  • Provide one back to pat or one throat to choke
  • Offer pay as you go expansion and economics
  • Provide the ability to respond rapidly to business needs

Next we described the top three HCI architectures in the market.

Storage in a Virtual Machine and Hypervisor on Bare Metal

HCI vendors in this segment chose an architecture to get to market quickly.  They didn’t own hardware, a hypervisor, or a storage system. So they started out by getting a server with decent storage capacity, put a hypervisor on it, found an open-source storage system, and put that storage system in a virtual machine.  Because the components of the architecture are commodity, these vendors built IP around the installation and management layers in order to differentiate themselves. Management is the primary focus for these HCI architectures. Vendors seek to convince customers to bet their business and their business applications on their proprietary management UI and not the underlying “good enough” infrastructure.

Hypervisor and Storage Combined on Bare Metal

HCI vendors in this segment own a hypervisor and have preexisting management; their next steps are to build a storage system and a simple installation routine. The disadvantage of this architecture is its longer time to market. This issue is primarily due to having to build a storage system that lags behind in feature parity with other storage systems in the market. The storage subsystem is not optimized for performance and data mobility, and does not provide zero-cost enterprise-grade features. These architectures focus on advanced hypervisor integrations.

Independent Hypervisor and Storage

NetApp® HCI takes an independent hypervisor and storage architectural approach.  We already had a mature scale-out storage system, and we weren’t willing to compromise our enterprise-grade features to create an unpredictable and unreliable experience for our customers.  So we chose to go to market with an HCI product that has distinct nodes for compute and storage. We leveraged proven hypervisor-clustering capabilities on the compute nodes. We built a simplified installation routine to get systems up and running in 45 minutes or less. We also built a consolidated management UI to help our customers leverage management technologies they were already using. While other companies focus on management layers, our HCI architecture focuses on customer flexibility at the compute and storage layers.


We ended the presentation by describing the advantages of each architectural approach.

The “storage in a virtual machine” approach had the first-movers advantage of time to market, hardware platform compatibilities, lower entry point, and ability to support multiple hypervisors.


The hypervisor approach could accelerate hypervisor feature integrations  platform compatibility and bare metal performance.


The independent approach that NetApp HCI took offers bare metal predictable performance, multiple hypervisor support, flexibility, scale, fewer licenses, and all the features of enterprise SAN without the cost.


NetApp HCI is the first enterprise-scale, all-flash, hyper converged infrastructure that increases business agility by delivering predictable performance and simplified operations on a highly flexible and efficient cloud architecture that can be integrated into the NetApp Data Fabric for a complete hybrid cloud solution.

Troy Mangum

Troy Mangum has been in the IT industry for 17 years, with 13 years spent in Storage industry at EMC and NetApp. Troy is currently a Sr. Product Marketing Manager for NetApp HCI. Previously, Troy was the Sr. Technical Marketing Engineering Manager for Flexpod. Troy spread heads Flexpod solutions in emerging technology areas to include Hybrid Cloud solutions with AWS/Azure, Docker solutions, Flash solutions for Enterprise Applications like VDI, Private Cloud solutions like OpenStack Troy’s organization had the honor of winning ‘Best in Show for Cloud products’ at Citrix Synergy for their work on Netapp integrations for Apache Cloud stack.

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