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With what seems to be constant updates and new offerings in the Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) space, we spend a good amount of time trying to stay current and comparing the marketplace leaders. In this part of the HCI Comparison Series, we’re diving into VMware vSAN and how it stacks up against HyperFlex, Cisco’s HCI offering.

 

Underlying Hardware

First, let’s take a look at the underlying hardware. Obviously, with the HyperFlex solution you are ‘locked in’ with Cisco as a hardware provider, but they do offer some flexibility within that limitation.

If you were to mix and match your clusters, you would have to adhere to Cisco guidelines which essentially states you can’t mix models within a single cluster (i.e. 220s can’t be paired with 240 models). So, in reality, is it really the most flexible offering….? No.

On the other hand, VMware vSAN offers many compatible hardware options such as Cisco, Dell EMC, HPE, Lenovo, and SuperMicro. True to VMware’s agnostic nature, vSAN offers the flexibility to not only pick and choose your hardware but also allows for you to repurpose existing systems already in your environment, provided they are on the vSAN Hardware Compatability list.

 

Technical Architecture

Now let’s take a look at the comparative architectures. Cisco Hyperflex offers both hybrid and all-flash options just like vSAN, however, the scalability is limited to eight storage nodes in a hybrid configuration and 16 in an all-flash configuration. vSAN on the other hand scales to 64 nodes.

Cisco HyperFlex also has to use the dreaded Controller VM (CVM) whereas vSAN is built into the ESXi kernel (VMware hypervisor). Meaning a reduction in compute resources needed to facilitate storage operations with vSAN whereas CVM-based solutions need to consume more resources as the overall datastore and cluster grow (compute resources needed to support the CVM are at least 20% of the overall cluster capacity).

Features such as deduplication and compression are enabled in both offerings, however, it can be disabled in vSAN vs. always-on in the Cisco realm. A couple of other features that are important when talking HCI include erasure coding and QoS for storage. Both offerings are currently unavailable with Cisco HyperFlex.

 

Deployment

Deployment methods and time-to-market are common business drivers that are leading organizations to look to an HCI platform. Cisco Hyperflex is truly a turnkey solution. Yes, there is an initial configuration and setup needed, but it is far less in-depth than of the initial deployment for VMware vSAN. We like to call this the Tinkerer Model vs Consumer Model.

If you were to choose a turnkey solution, like HyperFlex, it is much easier to just set it up and have it run. Of course, you’d need to add nodes as you see fit but it really is just consuming IT resources. The tinkerer model lies more heavily in customization and continued tinkering or design of your environment as business needs change.

There are many factors to consider when adopting HCI. In the case of these two solutions, Cisco HyperFlex and VMware vSAN, we typically lean towards VMware vSAN in mixed environments that are heavily virtualized using VMware. Cisco HyperFlex can be a good fit for your organization if you are a Cisco-centric environment. Just keep in mind that VMware vSAN can deploy on Cisco too.

 

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