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Commoditization economics and emerging workloads disrupt the data center landscape

Commoditization mitigation strategies require business model shifts and an ever-watchful eye on exascale cloud entrants

Volume or value?

Toward the end of 2018 in the data center market, two distinct vendor strategies emerged: Vendors began either increasing sales volume or selling lower-volume but higher-value solutions. TBR believes that in 1H19, now that vendors have determined their camps, they will begin to craft competitive strategies directly targeting specific peers. For example, Dell EMC has publicly stated its intent to increase its market share in both servers and storage, and we believe the vendor will target key competitors to gain this share. Similarly, Lenovo’s large-scale data center investments imply significant competitive goals.

In February Lenovo unveiled TruScale Infrastructure Services. This directly competes with Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) GreenLake and Dell EMC’s Cloud Flex. It also addresses customer demand for private cloud infrastructure that is financed like a public cloud offering. TruScale is available for Lenovo’s entire stack of data center infrastructure solutions. In April Lenovo unveiled a server portfolio refresh, which likely reinforces its TruScale solutions and increases its competitive edge against Dell EMC and HPE.

TBR believes that during the next few months, Dell EMC and HPE will fight back against Lenovo’s marketing tactics to preserve market share. HPE has an advantage in that it is pursuing value-centric data center sales, so it is likely willing to concede less-profitable sales to Lenovo or Dell EMC. Dell EMC’s stated objective to increase market share in servers and storage will increase competition between the company and Lenovo as both aim to scoop up HPE’s lower-margin customers.

ODM participation heats up as commoditization drives provisioning simplicity

Because data center hardware becomes increasingly commoditized as software capabilities become more advanced, we believe data center vendors will increasingly find themselves competing against ODMs, especially for larger deals. Smaller customers will still show a preference for OEMs as they need the additional software and services provided with OEM data center solutions. Lenovo’s manufacturing capabilities give the company an advantage in the hyperscale space, where Lenovo’s past financials illustrated some successes, and enable the vendor to differentiate from its OEM peers.

On the hyperscale front, ODMs are rising to dominance, but OEMs such as Lenovo remain a force to be reckoned with in the space. As cloud becomes an increasingly central piece of IT environments, public cloud providers seek ways to expand their environments as cost-effectively as possible to preserve profits. TBR believes very large enterprises are likely to explore leveraging hyperscale vendors as well for their on-premises environments if it is cost-effective.

Consumption-based pricing models tie to the commoditization march

TBR’s Hyperconverged Platforms Customer Research continues to highlight the correlation between private cloud installments and HCI. Most recent findings indicated that 80% of respondents leveraged their HCI purchase for a private or hybrid cloud environment. Since customers are already turning to HCI for cloud, it is a logical next step for vendors to price HCI like a public cloud solution to deepen the competition.

With their channel partners also engaged, Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo are the three main players in the consumption-based pricing space. Their solutions are not limited to just HCI, but HCI is one of the solutions that can be purchased in this manner. The key value proposition of consumption-based pricing for data center vendors is the ability to bundle software and services into hardware consumption-based deals. This is likely to boost the margin on the solutions. Further, it guarantees larger deals, as in many cases, these consumption-based pricing deals lock customers in for a predetermined duration that has early termination penalties.

Key findings from TBR’s 2H18 Hyperconverged Platforms Customer Research

  • TBR forecasts the HCI market will reach $15 billion by 2023, representing a significant growth opportunity for data center vendors.
  • Survey incidence data indicate that the majority of potential customers have not yet begun their hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) journey.
  • Emerging solutions, such as Lenovo’s TruScale Infrastructure Services and AWS Outposts have the potential to shake up the HCI market.

Opportunity for successful HCI vendors is great, as the market will rapidly expand through 2023

The HCI market evolves to meet customers’ changing demands. As customers embrace digital transformation, the opportunity in HCI increases, and vendors invest and adapt to become agents of change for customers. TBR estimates the HCI market will increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $15 billion by 2023 as customers leverage HCI for a wide array of needs, both traditional and emerging.

A majority of potential customers have not yet purchased HCI, creating opportunities for all HCI vendors to gain customers. Incidence data from TBR’s research show that only 27% of companies surveyed purchased HCI. This demonstrates the massive opportunity that remains for vendors to gain net-new customers in the space. Converged infrastructure (CI) leaders Dell EMC and Cisco have a distinct advantage over other HCI peers, as their CI legacies have afforded them incumbent status with existing CI customers. Despite the incumbent advantage, there is opportunity for any vendor to capitalize on emerging buyer preferences. For example, software is an increasingly central piece of the HCI story, and with 79% of respondents indicating that they would consider consumption-based HCI purchases, strategic marketing and investments can enable any HCI vendor to rise through the ranks.

While Lenovo is not a leading vendor at this time, 30% of respondents indicated they considered Lenovo for their HCI purchase. Lenovo’s restructured portfolio, its recent unveiling of TruScale Infrastructure Services, and the rapid positive changes in its overall data center business are likely to bolster gains for the vendor in HCI as well. Although Dell EMC’s and Cisco’s leadership in the HCI space has been established, the opportunity in HCI remains vast, even for fast followers in the space. Digital transformation only stands to reinforce this trend as HCI becomes more widely adopted.

Customers leverage HCI for private and hybrid cloud installments as security remains a top concern with public cloud adoption

It is clear the private and hybrid cloud value proposition is a benefit HCI buyers are looking to achieve, with 80% of respondents indicating they leverage HCI for private or hybrid cloud installments. A majority of customers (60%) leverage their HCI for database management, and many of these customers indicated their database management use was for mission-critical purposes. This underscores the need to protect critical and sensitive data. TBR’s research showed that buyers are making additional investments in security in conjunction with HCI, particularly network security.

Graph depicting 2H18 security software purchased with hyperconverged

Going forward, the emergence of AWS Outposts in the market will challenge current HCI deployment trends as Amazon Web Services (AWS) messages its Outposts offering as being able to seamlessly integrate with AWS public cloud, addressing a key driver behind HCI adoption for private cloud installments. AWS Outposts are expected to hit the market in 2H19, so it will take some time before the impact of Outposts is known. However, that AWS is making its Outposts offering available as a managed service will improve ease of use, and will likely increase demand, especially among existing AWS customers as the underlying hardware of Outposts will resemble that of AWS’ public cloud environment.

AWS shakes up the private cloud infrastructure market with Outposts

Outposts enable AWS to meet clients’ demand for private cloud

Amazon Web Services (AWS) unveiled at re:Invent in Las Vegas its new Outposts on-premises cloud infrastructure, which will enable AWS to become the sole cloud infrastructure provider for its clients. The underlying Outposts infrastructure closely resembles AWS’ public cloud data center infrastructure. Since the infrastructure will be similar, it is conceivable AWS will be able to tie customers’ public and private clouds together seamlessly, fulfilling customers’ desire to deal with one less vendor for their IT needs. AWS will deliver, install and maintain Outposts for customers.

The sheer volume of AWS public cloud customers creates a large base to sell Outposts to and takes aim directly at private cloud data center providers. Outposts will also directly compete with Microsoft Azure, and will generate accretive hardware revenue for AWS.

An advantage AWS has over infrastructure vendors is economies of scale, which will enable AWS to sell massive infrastructure volumes for low margins — much like an original design manufacturer — and become a price leader against OEMs such as Dell EMC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). AWS also plans to arm its channel partners with the necessary capabilities to sell these infrastructure solutions, further enabling large sales volume. Moreover, AWS is better equipped than other infrastructure vendors such as Dell EMC and HPE to attach the necessary services to provide connectivity between public and private cloud environments due to its expertise in the public cloud space — and will gain the higher-margin sales to boot. IBM has strong services capabilities but lacks the commoditized infrastructure and customer volume to match AWS’ strategy. TBR notes that pricing details of Outposts have not yet been determined.

VMware gets a piece of the AWS Outpost pie with the VMware Cloud variant

VMware and AWS collaborated to provide VMware Cloud on a variant of AWS Outposts, which will be offered by VMware as a managed service. As this creates a conflict of interest for Dell Technologies, TBR believes Dell Technologies has its sights set on the higher-margin sales generated from VMware Cloud and will forego the loss of lower-margin hardware sales to gain it.

Although AWS’ announcement may seem like bad news for the private cloud infrastructure OEMs, the good news for them is that AWS’ Outposts will not hit the market until 2H19, giving the infrastructure players some time to develop solutions that can compete with AWS as it moves into the data center hardware market.