In-Depth

Customer Q&A: Hyper-convergence

Why a company decided to go hyper-converged, and why it chose SimpliVity.

Despite being in operation since 2009, SimpliVity is a hyper-converged vendor that is generally considered still to be a startup. I sat down with Jeff Wilkinson of BRG Sports to ask why they chose SimpliVity over a more traditional vendor.

To start, I point out that not only did they go with a startup, they chose one that isn't the lead vendor in the hyper-converged space.

In It for the Long Haul
Wilkinson responds, "You take that chance with any vendor… they could go out of business at any time. We actually had discussions along those lines before buying. While you're investing a lot of money into [SimpliVity's] technology and the accelerator card, all the hardware can still be rebuilt with regular VMware on it. You'd lose some of the functionality and you'd have to move to another backup solution, but it's all really standard hardware, other than their accelerator card, which you could just pull out if they went out of business or something."

Wilkinson was focused more on the technology than the financing or the politics. "It seems like they have enough money where they don't have to be bought out if they didn't want to be; that was one of the big things for me before I was a customer. In many of the meetings that we had before that, that was one of the topics: not only what happens if SimpliVity goes under, but what happens if SimpliVity gets bought out by somebody else? Where does that leave the customer?"

Triggers for considering a startup were nuanced. Much of the pressure came from a pending datacenter refresh that required replacing a five-year-old VMware environment and getting offsite backups. Their existing backup solution proved not to be very efficient. One cited example: a backup application installation in one of his datacenters doing an initial backup for five weeks and then reporting that it should be finished by December 2017.

With  SimpliVity's approach to storage, Wilkinson now finds that his "backups run within 15 minutes on almost any day."

Decision Points
I asked Wilkinson what the biggest issue was that drove him to choose SimpliVity. I also asked for his single biggest complaint.

Wilkinson said that the offsite replication capability was the biggest driver for selecting SimpliVity. He was impressed by how little data had to be transferred, and, consequently, how nice this was to his WAN bandwidth.

"The worst thing is the capacity and the uncertainty -- if they had a storage unit or a data model that allowed you to more cost-effectively put more storage into a single node," he said. "I'm going to run out of disk space long before I run out of RAM and CPU … It's easy to scale by adding nodes, but that's not always the best solution when you only need additional storage."

Graphic Problems
He also notes that "[SimpliVity] did tell me up front that graphic data doesn't dedupe very well, but we have several sites with very little graphic data. Really, the "gotcha" is we've got a site with 4TB of raw camera footage in one folder that gets no dedupe -- no products can do that. You've got to know what kind of data you have. Anyone with large amounts of graphic data -- maybe not a great solution."

What's interesting to me is that the few complaints presented are fairly typical of any vendor, regardless of "startupiness." Wilkinson wants more customer control, more options, and a chance to get more exacting efficiency from his purchases so that he isn't spending more money than required. Perhaps there's a lesson in all of this; startups might not deserve all the FUD they attract after all.

(Disclosure: SimpliVity has been a client of mine in the past. I have written blogs for them, and my company has made some marketing videos for them. I have used this relationship to find a SimpliVity customer to interview.)

About the Author

Trevor Pott is a full-time nerd from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He splits his time between systems administration, technology writing, and consulting. As a consultant he helps Silicon Valley startups better understand systems administrators and how to sell to them.

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