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What the Gartner HCI Magic Quadrant Reveals About Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure

By Greg Smith

More than two years ago Nutanix took the ambitious step of de-coupling our hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) software from hardware appliances – transitioning our entire business model to one based on software. Software that is easily deployed on off-the-shelf x86 servers, with the freedom to move software licenses between different hardware platforms. We committed to a vision of IT infrastructure powered by advanced software, with no place for purpose-built, specialty hardware.

This week, Gartner validated Nutanix’s bold bet on HCI software. In the just-published HCI Magic Quadrant, Gartner analysts went all-in on HCI software. In the new Magic Quadrant, all appliance-only HCI vendors were dropped – including several “leaders” from last year’s report. To qualify for this year’s Magic Quadrant vendors had to offer HCI software that could be deployed on third-party hardware. In the world of hyperconverged infrastructure, this is a resounding statement for software.

How did a multi-billion-dollar market move so rapidly to 100% software? After all, HCI appliances were “software-defined” from the outset. As with so many industries, software proved capable of carrying the entire solution load, with zero need for purpose-built hardware, add-in HCI accelerator cards, encryption devices, etc. Software-defined became just… software.

Nutanix stands out as the quintessential example of this transformation. While our HCI software supports the latest hardware and storage technologies, of course, all features and functionality are delivered via software. This includes a complete networking stack, application security controls, data encryption, key management, and more. Nutanix customers get a single software operating model that delivers all of their applications, while preserving the freedom to select the right hardware for their business.

What about IT teams who remain wedded to hardware-driven products; continuing to make critical infrastructure decisions based on legacy hardware attributes instead of platform-independent software capabilities? The simple, but painful, answer: they are blocking their organization from the benefits of hybrid cloud, including the ability to easily move workloads and data between private and public cloud infrastructure.

Well-designed HCI software not only provides choice of hardware, but also choice of public clouds. The ability to run HCI software on bare-metal cloud instances as easily as datacenter servers provides an elegant and simple strategy for building and operating hybrid clouds. Nutanix is doing just this with Nutanix Clusters. A single HCI software solution that can run in public and private clouds alike, with licenses that are fully portable between environments – all managed from a single control plane. Any workload that runs on HCI in the datacenter will run in a public cloud infrastructure (e.g., Amazon Web Services).

So, the shift away from HCI hardware appliances towards platform-independent HCI software is not only about preventing hardware lock-in and preserving customer choice, it’s a necessary step in building an optimal foundation for a hybrid cloud. Therefore, Gartner’s research not only provides valuable insight into the evolution of the hyperconverged infrastructure market, but should best be viewed as a roadmap for extending the reach of enterprise datacenters into third-party public clouds.

It’s time to redefine cloud infrastructure. It’s time to redefine “HCI” as Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure.

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