EMC-VMware VxRail appliance upgrades VSPEX Blue in VCE hyper-converged lineup

VxRail has the same concept as last year’s unsuccessful EMC first foray into hyperconverged, but is designed to be much more flexible and modular, and benefits greatly from an improved software stack. It will also be available through all EMC partners, not just ones certified on VCE.

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Rob Lunney VCE Canada’s Country Manager

EMC and VMware have announced its new VxRail family of new hyper-converged appliances. Available for VMware environments in either a hybrid storage or all flash option, the VxRail is designed as a more flexible and modular improvement on the VSPEX Blue appliance at the lower end of the VCE lineup.

“The VxRail is very exciting for us,” said Rob Lunney VCE Canada’s Country Manager. “We had known about it for a while and had to keep it under wraps, but we gave customers and partners a sneak peek last week, with our teams spread out to show this to as many as possible. Both partners and customers said that the integration with VMware was of particular interest to them, and were happy that we had come together to provide an upgrade to the VSPEX Blue product. This now gives us a complete portfolio of converged solutions to offer, and that full portfolio differentiates us from the other converged players.”

The VSPEX Blue was itself introduced only a year ago, a much-anticipated melding of VMware’s EVO:RAIL software with EMC differentiating technology that EMC hoped would take on hyperconverged vendors like Nutanix and SimpliVity. It would let customers download pre-validated software titles from EMC and VMware like EMC RecoverPoint for Virtual Machines, EMC CloudArray Gateway, and VMware Data Protection Advanced. VxRail’s strategic purpose is basically the name — take on the hyper-converged startups by blending VMware and EMC’s software to provide high value. However, VxRail has been specifically designed to overcome issues that limited VSPEX Blue’s adoption.

“EMC and VMware spent more than 200,000 hours of joint engineering in developing this product,” Lunney said.  “They have features that VSPEX and other VCE systems didn’t have before. The appliances are much more modular than VSPEX, with more modules, and the software integration is much deeper. The entry point is much lower. The ability to add CPU cores, cache, memory and storage configurations have been greatly enhanced. There is a wider array of hardware options. There is also  more scalability now.”

The enhanced modularity was particularly important, Lunney stressed.

“The new models have a lot more flexibility and modular design. That was one of the things we learned from our initial entry into hyper-converged in 2015, that customers wanted a more modular approach and more flexibility.”

Whereas VSPEX Blue was launched with one single 2U SKU — to keep it from butting heads with vBlock in the space above — VxRail comes with multiple hardware options, and a capability to be integrated with vBlock which its predecessor did not have.  VxRail also can leverage EMC cloud tiering to extend to more than 20 public clouds, providing an additional 10TB in on-demand cloud storage per appliance.

VMware Virtual SAN 6.2, which was just launched last week, is a key element in providing mission-critical data services, as it chops the cost of all-flash hyper-converged solutions to as low as $1 per usable GB with new data deduplication, data compression and erasure coding capabilities.

“Virtual SAN 6.2 permits a much better utilization of storage because it brings a lot of software-defined storage that are critical for hyper-converged,” Lunney said. “In addition, in addition to Virtual SAN, the VxRail appliances comes with many EMC rich data services like EMC RecoverPoint for Virtual Machines, and vSphere Data Protection for backup and recovery.” It also has the option of backing up to EMC Data Domain for centralized storage and management. There is also an integrated VCE VxRail Manager.

VSPEX Blue will not be summarily cast into end of life — at least not right away — but Lunney indicated that with VxRail being touted as a migration path, the writing is literally on the wall for VSPEX Blue.

“Blue will continue in the market, but we expect that with the power and compute capabilities of VxRail, that customers will move to this. Blue customers will be able to integrate into a VxRail cluster. We have planned for that, to give these customers this path forward.”

The enhanced scalability expands the use cases for VxRail upmarket compared to VSPEX Blue.

“Because of the scalability of VxRail, it can cover many businesses requirements for virtualized infrastructure,” Lunney said. “In particular, we are focusing on VDI environments, general use compute environments where the customer has 2000-3000 VMs, and environments at the edge. Also, as enterprises get into the next generation of  web scale applications, they will be able to ramp up VM quickly for IaaS capabilities with this,”

EMC also says the improved affordability of the VxRail will make it play among smaller businesses that have the sort of requirements that could benefit from its capabilities. However, at a starting price of $USD 60,000 — which is almost $CDN 100,000 these days thanks to the weak dollar — that’s likely wishful thinking in the Canadian market.

“The market likely does begin with more medium sized companies in Canada,” Lunney said. “If you run 10-20 virtual machines, this would be overkill.” However he said that even in the stressed Canadian economy, which at this point is weaker than the American, the cost efficiencies still make this a play even in extremely challenged sectors like oil and gas.

“Oil and gas companies are much more cautious now, and their concern is getting full value with what they have on the floor today,” he said. “But VxRail can fit there for point applications that still return a good business value, whether for exploration or exploitation of current reserves, because the entry point is lower now, and this is a fit where a separate SAN might be too much.”

Four appliances were announced, three of which will be available in March and one in Q2, In May, the full all-flash versions will be announced as well.

“These are primarily a channel product,” Lunney said. “However, instead of just being represented by vBlock certified partners, who require a separate set of certifications, this has been opened up to the whole EMC partner community because of the simplicity of the product and the mass appeal.”

As an aside, for those (like myself) who didn’t know VCE still has a country manager in Canada, now that they are not only part of EMC, but since last month are now officially the EMC Converged Platforms Division — they do! Lunney, who has been with EMC since 2002, and who took this role last month, described his job as managing the sales team in their work with other EMC teams, teams from affiliated EMC companies like VMware and Pivotal, and channel partners, to make sure everyone is following the same strategy.