Dell EMC strengthens their Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack HCI offering

A new flexible consumption model for partners to sell is the big channel play here, although the product enhancements, including a new all-flash configuration option are also significant.

Today, at the Microsoft Inspire event, Dell EMC is announcing enhancements to their Dell EMC Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack. The product upgrades include a new all flash VxRack Azure Stack configuration option, an automated patch and update capability for the hardware components that work with Azure Stack, and a new integration with Dell EMC SecureVM. In addition, a flexible consumption model has also been introduced through the Cloud Flex Program for channel partners.

The Dell EMC offering for Azure Stack first shipped early last October, and has done well since it hit availability.

“It is made out of our hyperconverged infrastructure [HCI] in a rack level VxRack appliance, with the networking integrated into the HCI nodes,” said Paul Galjan, senior director, Microsoft Hybrid Cloud, Dell EMC. “So it’s really another flavour of our HCI, and all the things that have contributed to our success in the HCI market have helped us here as well.”

For Dell EMC channel partners, the biggest part of this news may well be the introduction of a flexible consumption model, by extending the Cloud Flex Program from Dell Financial Services to the Dell EMC Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack.

“This will appeal to all Azure customers who have a cloud finance model,” Galjan said. “When they acquire Azure Stack, they want to put it in the cloud part of their model, and they want to do the same with our solution. They are used to OPEX and want an OPEX model – not just for cloud services but also for the hardware. This is the first step towards that.”

Being able to purchase Dell EMC Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack through this OPEX model will also expand the solution’s Total Addressable Market.

“Azure Stack has a minimum of four nodes, so it can only get so small,” Galjan stated. “Four nodes is a small purchase for a big organization, but for a smaller organization, it’s quite a big purchase. Buying this on CAPEX would be a significant part of their IT investment for the year. Spreading out the investment over time removes that barrier to entry for small and midsize companies who can use the capabilities of this kind of solution. And for the partners, it’s really appealing because it’s another tool in their belt, and a way to reduce friction for their customers.”

The product enhancements begin with a new all-flash VxRack Azure Stack configuration option, which is on a 1U Dell R640 PowerEdge platform instead of a 2U R740 platform. It includes 25G Top of Rack switches.

“The 1U platform is lighter, smaller and more environmentally friendly,” Galjan said. The hybrid 2U platform will continue to be sold, giving customers choice.

“Over time as the cost and density of all-flash evolve, there will be a cross-over point where there are no use cases for spinning disk – but we aren’t there yet,” Galjan said. “The all-flash model offers 10 GB drives which are very data intense, and with the all flash configuration, it will address the low latency workloads like analytics and database workloads that need very predictable performance. Today, it’s still a complementary offering because the data densities are not there yet with all-flash. When we move to the next generation of the platform, the many advantages of all-flash in relation to the market then will factor to what we decide to do, but for now we expect that both will continue to sell well.”

Galjan described the new Automated HCI Patch and Update, which is available in preview now, as an industry-exclusive feature for Dell EMC which no other Azure Stack vendor offers.  Patch and updates for Azure Stack are handled through two separate process. Microsoft provides monthly updates for the software through the Azure Stack Administrator Portal. The hardware updates need to follow a similar process as the Azure Stack software, and that, to date, has been a bottleneck for all vendors.

“Until now, the cloud admin has to move workloads around, which takes on average about 10 to 20 hours of manual work,” Galjan said. “Our new orchestration tool lets customers update the firmware on the hardware with a single step. So, it takes about five minutes of actual administrator time, and then the admin can do other things while waiting for the orchestration to be completed.”

The final new product element is the addition of geo-fencing capability through a new integration between Dell EMC SecureVM and Azure Stack. Secure, originally acquired by EMC in 2015 with Ottawa-based CloudLink, provides end-to-end encryption for private and public clouds through key management.

“This is a use case that provides a lot of value – and it’s not just the new integration with Azure Stack,” Galjan said. “Customers wanted new functionality from SecureVM. Previously, we used it in our VMware environments in AWS and Google Cloud. Geofencing was not a critical use case for the product then, because people didn’t move workloads around from one to the other, so they stayed in one place. We added this geofencing capability because customers wanted the policy engine to prevent keys being released which would let workloads move out of a country or into the public cloud. What’s especially interesting with this new use case in Azure is that it is completely transparent to the cloud operator. The new  geofencing makes this very cool.”