VMware introduces first hyper-converged infrastructure

VMware works with hardware partners to introduce Evo:Rail, a "hyper-converged infrastucture" offering that aims to make hybrid IT easier for enterprises.

Supermicro EVO Rail hardware with VMware

Supermicro EVO Rail hardware

SAN FRANCISCO – VMware kicked off its VMworld 2014 conference here Monday morning, introducing its first foray into converged infrastructure – or as it is calling it, hyper-converged infrastructure – in the form of the new Evo Rail reference architecture.

CEO Pat Gelsinger said that when enterprises are presented with the idea of the software-defined data centre, enterprises “get it” immediately, and the sales cycle is very short. But he could not necessarily say the same for the deployment cycle, which has often proved more difficult than customers anticipated over the last two years since the company’s “virtualize everything” SDDC strategy debuted two years ago.

“It’s all the components of the software-defined data centre with a common building block, a dramatically simpler hyper-converged infrastructure,” Gelsinger said. “It lets companies get to a software-defined data centre in minutes.”

Esentially, as in converged infrastructure, it brings together compute, storage, and networking into a single SKU, but adds the benefit of tight integration with VMware’s corresponding virtualization offerings for each category and management on top of it. Essentially the only choice customers for Evo Rail need to make is whether they want one fine-tuned for general virtual machine duty, or one fine-tuned for virtual desktops.

In a reference architecture approach, the Evo family will be built by various VMware hardware partners. Launch partners for the rail include global partners Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, and Supermicro, alongside Japan-based Net One, and China-based Inspur.

Notably missing from the list is major VMware partner HP, although Gelsinger said he expects the list of companies offering Evo-based configurations to grow over time, saying that because VMware is “very prescriptive” with hardware requirements, some vendors may have to come in at a different time based on decisions they’ve made with their server hardware lineup.

“We expect other key players to be on board in the future,” he said.

He stressed that it’s meant as an additional route to the software-defined data centre, alongside the slower “build your own” option and existing converged infrastructure offerings, including those from HP and others. The tradeoff appears to be less flexibility in exchange for quicker and easier deployment.

The first offering in the family is the Rail, which will support up to 100 virtual machines per unit, and stack up to four units in a single configuration. That will be followed, Gelsinger said, by the Evo Rack, a much more cloud-scale version that will dramatically ramp the size of deployment. Gelsinger said to expect Evo Rack, currently in the tech preview phase, to debut next year, and hinted that space, which is more directly in line scale-wise with converged infrastructure deployments for the most part, may be where converged infrastructure players get on board with Evo, mentioning VCE as one likely partner in that space.

The key to Evo will be offering “all the ingredients to deliver a 100 per cent software-defined data centre” in a single SKU, said Mornay Van Der Walt, vice president of emerging solutions at VMware.

The “franchise-like” Evo model presents interesting opportunities and challenges to VMware on the channel side. Van Der Walt stressed that each vendor of Evo-specification hardware will market and sell through its own distribution and channel networks, meaning that a successful Evo configuration could find its way to a much broader channel than the traditional VMware partner community. On the other hand, because it’s all a single SKU, and one owned by another vendor at that, VMware may face the challenge of having a larger group of partners selling its new products, but having little or no touch or sway over those new partners. Van Der Walt suggested that “maximizing reach” into the channel was one of the key considerations in bringing Evo Rail out with the announced launch partners.