Re: too big, or too small
Which fancy buzzwords are you referring to exactly ? Reliability, Servicability and Scalaibility .. odd because I thought they were infrastructure design goals .. but let me answer you point by point.
1. all the existing HCI solutions have a bunch of "limitations", that are centered around flexibility, scale, and performance
Thats a fair characterisation of the first generation of HCI products, though to be fair every architecture has limitations in all these areas. In the case of Gen-1 HCI, those limitations are enough to make most implementations under 8-nodes in a cluster for a single workload before they crank up another one to handle a different workload. It's rare to see VDI and Database workloads on the same cluster.
2) hey we've got this new unique thing that let's you scale storage and compute independently with QoS!
From an HCI perspective a high quality QOS implementation based on all flash (which is pretty much required to implement guaranteed minimum IOPS) along with inline storage efficienciesr is a new and unique thing. From a Solidfire perspective this isn't new, but it is still unique in a shared nothing software defined storage product that is proven to work at scale.
High quality QOS at the storage layer enables scalable, predictable, multi-tenanted infrastructure. There is a direct correlation between the quality of your QoS implenentation and your ability to scale within a single cluster. QoS however it has little do do with independent scaling of Compute and storage. That feature comes from the way ElementOS has been packaged within NetApp HCI.
3) it's basically a SolidFire storage array + some compute + network...but it's in a new package!
If you'd also categorise that VxRAIL is just a VSAN array + some dell 2U servers + network, or that Nutanix is just a DSF Array + various compute + network then I suppose that would be a reasonable comparison, but none of those descriptions do justice to the rest of the work all three vendors have done around integration, user experience, workflow simplification and lifecycle management that goes into the packaging of those technologies. Arguably its the packaging that you appear to be deriding that delivers most of the cost savings and simplification benefits that people value in HCI.
"So we are full circle back to 3-tier architecture and all of the limitations/cost/complexity that comes with it."
Ok so when it comes to "3-tier architecture" .. I'll channel Diego Montoya and say "I don't think that term means what you think it does" vis <href>https://youtu.be/G2y8Sx4B2Sk</href> most people would argue that its software architecture design pattern thats' proven itself over and over again, unless you'd argue that because the presentation, logic, and data layers are separate and can be scaled independently that this just like most relatively modern datacenter infrastructure design patterns which is a bad thing, and that we should all run monolithic software on mainframes because thats simpler.
Ok, leaving technical pedantry around terminology aside, given there are people who argue that the lack of core-sharing means Netapp shouldn't use the term HCI,(see my post about looks like and HCI, walks like and HCI, quacks like an HCI) lets take the whole comment.
"So we are full circle back to 3-tier architecture and all of the limitations/cost/complexity that comes with it"
No, the compute and storage is designed to be separately scalable, and because of the way it's packaged the limitations/costs/complexity is removed, Thats the whole point to the work done on integration, delivery, packaging etc.
Maybe you can help us understand architecturally how this is different than a FlexPod? What benefits would NetApp HCI provide over that solution?
FlexPod (and vBlock for that matter) were built to be large standardised infrastructure scaling units using scale-up storage mentalities that was designed for traditional IT departments. There are trade-offs compared to NetApp HCI. With FlexPod you get the flexibility to chose pretty much any server config you like, and match that with an independently managed storage array sized, configured and generally managed by a storage expert who enjoys talking about RAID levels and LUN queue depths and NFS multipathing etc that aligned with the way many datacenter teams are built. Nothing wrong with that, still works really well for a lot of IT organisations, and there are lots of very large converged infrastructure deployments because it worked a lot better than the usually messy bespoke configurations that people had been doing for their tier-1 apps and virtualised workloads.
NetApp HCI scales in much smaller increments and is designed to be installed, operated, and run entirely by the VMware admin with little or no storage expertise at all. It helps a lot that Solidfire was never like a traditional array in the first place. It wasn't designed for traditions IT storage / infrastructure people, it was designed for cloud architects building scalable next generation datacenters.
"And given the very rapid adoption by customers of HCI solutions like Nutanix, Simplivity, VSAN, VxRail...you're telling us there are no benefits/value prop there, that only NetApp HCI can provide??"
No I never said that at all, the first generation of HCI solutions proved the value of the approach, if there was no value proposition there NetApp never would have invested in this space. What I am saying is that for customers who like HCI but have hit the limitations of their SDS layers and would like something that has better and more predictable and scalable performance, then they should be talking to us.
"Come on man...you're talking yourself in circles"
Not really, the message remains the same .. NetApp HCI is better than First Generation HCI for customers who want to save costs by consolidating more workloads into a single HCI cluster with guaranteed performance and better scalability for their next generation datacenter.