HPE launches its year of storage with the help of VAST data

Hewlett Packard Enterprise threw a party in Houston this week, celebrating what CEO Antonio Neri dubbed HPE’s “year of storage.” While the company announced a bunch of exciting new storage-related offerings, HPE surprised us the most when it learned that it tapped VAST Data to provide the engine behind the new HPE GreenLake for File Services.

GreenLake is a huge success for HPE. Customers appreciate its flexible consumption-based experience. HPE GreenLake delivers on the promise of cloud-like simplicity, with the benefits of traditional on-premises infrastructure

Despite its success, GreenLake lacked some key features. This is especially true when looking at the overall history of GreenLake storage, which has evolved slowly. For example, HPE’s block storage capabilities, based on its Nimble Storage and Primera products, are showing their age. The company hasn’t released a compelling file storage solution in recent memory either.

HPE addressed those shortcomings this week while improving its data protection story. Let’s take a look at what was announced on the storage front.

HPE’s new Alletra disaggregated storage platform

HPE introduced its Alletra brand in 2021 at its annual HPE Discover event. The original version of Alletra was a pass-through product for HPE. The company had two separate, incompatible codebases for block storage with its Nimble Storage and Primera storage stacks, and it released a separate Alletra model to run each.

Multiple incompatible products in the same space from a single vendor confuse customers. It also leads to unnecessary inefficiencies and costs for the company that manufactures the products. Without replacing its existing Alletra offerings, HPE went a long way to solving its inefficiency problem with its new Alletra Storage MP multi-personality platform this week.

The Alletra Storage MP is designed for disaggregated scale-out storage. The Alletra Storage MP is built on a 2RU chassis holding up to two controllers and up to twenty SSDs. The actual deployed configuration will depend on the software running. HPE offers its new GreenLake Block Storage and GreenLake File Storage solutions on the same Alletra Storage MP hardware (but not simultaneously).

HPE GreenLake for file storage, powered by VAST Data

HPE has closed its gap in file storage with the introduction of HPE GreenLake for file storage. The new solution is based on VAST Data’s proven Disaggregated Everything Shared (DASE) architecture https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevemcdowell/2023/04/06/hpe-kicks-off-its-year-of-storage-with-help-from-vast-data/ and runs on the new Alletra Storage MP platform.

VAST and HPE have spent much of the past year integrating VAST’s solution into the HPE GreenLake environment. Most of this work has been integrating the management plane, giving the VAST software a GreenLake look and feel. The result is a fully integrated native file solution for GreenLake.

The new file storage solution allows customers to independently scale the Alletra Storage MP controller and storage nodes. The nodes communicate through a 100Gb-E NVMe fabric, routing traffic through HPE Aruba switches.

Missing object storage functionality

However, not all VAST features are available. In a confusing move, HPE chose not to enable VAST Data’s object storage capabilities. It’s a noticeable difference. Almost all competing unstructured storage solutions manage both files and objects, with VAST’s object performance being among the best in the industry.

I asked Tom Black, who runs HPE’s storage business, why HPE omitted object storage. Tom told me I had to stay tuned. HPE understands the need for object storage. However, he said the integration with VAST Data was intense and they didn’t want to complicate the effort by trying to deliver a multi-protocol device from the start.

My interpretation of this is that HPE has prioritized time to market for file storage over full file and object capacity. HPE Discover is fast approaching and Antonio has promised this is the year of storage. So I’m sure the object is not far away. The big question is whether HPE extends its solution with VAST Data’s object storage capabilities or develops its own software for fast object storage. Either way, it will run on the new Alletra Storage MP multi-protocol platform.

HPE GreenLake for block storage

HPE has combined the best of its Primera and Nimble Storage solutions, integrating them into the new HPE GreenLake for Block Storage. Leveraging the same Alletra Storage MP platform as its file storage solution, HPE GreenLake Block Storage.

HPE tells us that the block storage offering allows HPE to deliver mission-critical storage availability, performance, and scalability with midrange economics. HPE also claims the solution is the industry’s first disaggregated scalable block storage with a 100% data availability guarantee. While this might be correct since it is a block-only solution, Infinidat might have a problem with this claim.

HPE GreenLake for Block Storage is a solid offering that should match or exceed any competitive challenger. I’m glad to see the release.

The analyst’s point of view

There’s a lot in HPE’s GreenLake announcements. Beyond new block and file offerings, the company also announced new data protection capabilities for HPE GreenLake with its new GreenLake Backup and Recovery and GreenLake Disaster Recovery solutions.

The heart of the announcements, however, is about storage. There is a huge impact for VAST Data in this news and an equally critical impact on HPE’s GreenLake business. Almost everything here is positive.

Impact on VAST data

We don’t know much about the agreement between HPE and VAST Data. For example, we don’t know what safeguards are in place to stop agreement conflicts between HPE and the VAST channel. We don’t know the licensing terms between VAST and HPE, or their impact on VAST’s (or HPE’s) results. We don’t know if VAST Data can make a similar deal with HPE’s Tier 1 competitors, such as Lenovo, creating a potential partner conflict.

More importantly, we don’t know why HPE chose to license such a critical feature for its flagship GreenLake offering. This is the kind of intellectual property that a company like HPE typically brings in through an acquisition – and HPE loves a good acquisition. Even with contractual protections in place, this must make HPE somewhat uncomfortable. Maybe the purchase price of VAST is too high. After all, the company is experiencing explosive growth.

What is clear is that this deal is both a huge credibility boost and an important SAM expander for VAST. HPE will bring VAST Data’s technology to customers that VAST probably couldn’t get on its own. The feedback loop between the two companies will only improve each other’s offerings.

VAST Data also aspires to go beyond simply providing storage solutions. VAST has spoken openly about its vision for the future. For example, it added features that help businesses understand unstructured data stored on its systems. It’s not something that storage companies typically delve into.

I spoke with Jeff Denwoth, CMO and co-founder of VAST Data, in Houston (you can watch the video on YouTube). Jeff said that VAST Data is “essentially working on building a thinking machine” and that “in June we’ll be explaining all the parts that go into that.” I look forward to hearing the details of this announcement.

Impact for HPE

The impact of announcements for HPE is no less significant. GreenLake is the future of HPE. HPE has grown the supply from 400 customers in the first year to more than 65,000 today. GreenLake has over 2 million connected devices and manages over an exabyte of data. Over 80% of HPE’s largest customers use GreenLake.

Antonio said of GreenLake on HPE’s latest earnings call, “HPE GreenLake’s relevance to customers, combined with our disciplined execution, propelled both ARR and our total contract value as a service. Over the past 2 years, we have more than doubled the total value of our contracts as a service, reaching nearly $10 billion through the end of this quarter.

GreenLake delivers an all-encompassing experience that Dell Technologies tries, but fails, to emulate with its consumption-based APEX offerings. Lenovo is closing in on Dell with its TruScale solution, though it doesn’t yet have the breadth of offerings that HPE can offer.

Delivering a full cloud-like experience with its consumption-based managed model GreenLake requires comprehensive compute, storage, and networking capabilities. Unfortunately, HPE’s storage has long lacked high-performance file storage, and its block storage is showing its age. HPE addressed both issues this week.

New storage offerings and data protection features span the entire data lifecycle that enterprises grapple with. But HPE is not resting on these announcements. After all, this is “the year of storage” for the company. HPE promises more, and sooner than you think. Everything HPE has announced is just building blocks for more complex solutions. We’ll hear more about this from HPE about this in June at Discover. I can not wait.

Disclosure: Steve McDowell is an industry analyst, and NAND Research an industry analysis firm, which engages or has engaged in research, analysis and advisory services with numerous companies technologies, which may include those mentioned in this article. Mr. McDowell has no ownership interests in the companies mentioned in this article.

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