If you follow this blog, you know I'm an ardent and passionate fan of the Vblock concept. I just can't help myself.
At a tactical level, that means getting results faster.
At an operational level, it's the ability to spend more time on the stuff that matters and less time on the stuff that doesn't.
And -- strategically -- it means accelerating IT's transition to an internal service provider.
If you've sat through the Vblock roadmap sessions, you'll notice that development is progressing nicely around two axes. One important axis is "better Vblocks": faster, more efficient, more functionality, better security, better operational integration, and so forth. I always am surprised at just how fast these folks are moving.
The other axis is becoming important as well: pointing the Vblock concept at well-established IT use cases, and creating sinlge-SKU "products" that bring the Vblock model (real product vs. reference architecture, speed of deployment, pre-integration, single support, etc.) to specific and popular use cases.
Such is the case with the new Vblock FastPath/VDI. In a nutshell, it's a single product you can buy that does VDI -- at scale -- in a box.
The Essence Of The Vblock Controversy
While that skill set is still useful in some situations, it's quickly giving way to standarization: standardized service catalogs, standardized operational models and standardized shared infrastructure.
The Vblock is the controversial poster child of this new model. IT traditionalists tend to dislike it. IT leaders who are highly motivated to move quickly to the new model love it.
It's really that simple.
Show me someone who's highly motivated to change the way they're doing things for the better, and they'll fully consider a Vblock proposition. Conversely, with no motivation to change, there's little interest -- and sometimes, downright hostility.
Who said IT was boring?
The benefits and value propositions associated with a Vblock approach can be greatly magnified if they're applied to specific, repeatable and problematic use cases for IT organizations: especially ones where there's no question whatsoever of having to do things differently.
For example, doing VDI at scale :)
What Makes VDI Hard
There's the struggle to come up with a meaningful and realistic ROI that reflects business realities, and not IT-centric ones.
Then there's the resource question -- desktop teams are pretty thin to begin with -- where will the "surge" skills come from to make the transition?
Digging deeper, there's a complete re-architecting of how desktop services are specified, delivered, monitored, secured, etc. New technologies, new processes. Yikes!
What if we -- as vendors -- could make some critical aspects of this problem dead-simple for IT organizations?
That's the goal of FastPath/VDI. Technically speaking, the formal name of the product is "VBLOCK FASTPATH DESKTOP VIRTUALIZATION PLATFORM", but FastPath/VDI just rolls off the tongue :)
Choose Your Size
The FastPath/VDI product comes in three sizes: 500, 1000 and 1500. That's about the hardest decision you'll have to make.
Either expand considerably in-place, use multiples, or use the standardized approach to build yourself a really big one.
Same ingredients and process, different scale.
In the box, there's just about everything you need.
There's the Vblock itself -- and all the required additional components from the parent companies: VMware, Cisco and EMC. There are connection servers. There is security software and management software. And there's three years of support and maintenance.
Going farther, there's a pre-site configurator that asks all the key questions needed to build a quick-install config. There are new wizards that automate final configuration and administration. It's all there.
Other than going to an external service provider, there is nothing in the market that is faster and easier to deploy for VDI in the marketplace today.
How This Changes The Game For VDI Projects
At the outset, you know what it does, how it will perform, how it operates, how it's supported, and -- most importantly -- what it will cost to acquire and operate it.
Compare that with the usual "home grown" IT project.
You're usually not quite sure what it will do, not quite sure how it will perform, not quite sure how it will operate, a challenging support model, and -- most importantly -- an unclear notion of what the entire endeavor will end up costing.
Something that's well-defined has some important advantages.
For example, you can have an intelligent ROI discussion without making stuff up. Here are *all* the costs, here are the benefits. You can also commit to a project timeline that doesn't involve lighting candles at the altar ...
Second, you can now spend your IT resources on the parts of the project that require the really heavy lifting. For example, migrating your users and making them happy. Or getting comfortable with the new workflows and processes associated with provisioning, monitoring and managing desktop services using the new model.
Third, you can get to tangible results orders-of-magnitude faster than trying to assemble, integrate, deploy and support the solution yourself. And -- at the end of the day -- that's what business people care about.
More Wizardly Goodness
For starters, there's a pre-site configuration survey tool that makes the actual installation and firing up of the Vblock possible in minutes vs. hours.
Not only does it speed the production process, it uncovers any, ahem, *interesting* external configuration challenges you might have before the equipment shows up, and not afterwards.
But there's more -- far more.
The VCE engineers have built best-practices wizards around four important functions: initialization, installation, deployment and reset/reclaim. They found that those four key areas were responsible for a majority of the frustration and inefficiencies associated with getting a VDI environment up and running.
The initialization wizard has a lot to do: configuring the Vblock itself for use as an optimized VDI platform: the core elements of storage, compute and VMware products. The internal and external aspects of the network are defined (again, using best practices), as well as AD, DNS and DHCP.
Many hours of work are accomplished in minutes, and -- more importantly -- done right the first time.
Again, the same sort of benefits: done in minutes, done using documented best practices, done right the first time.
Again, the same identical benefits.
Finally, the reset/reclaim function automates recycling of no-longer-needed VDI instances, introduces a new master image, or -- perhaps more frequently -- gets you back to an initialized state in case there's a problem with either a specific VDI configuration, or -- perhaps -- the Vblock configuration itself.
Not that I would ever have to reset a device to factory defaults :)
Performance? Know What You're Getting.
Justifiably, many VDI projects are concerned with end-user performance. If the new desktop experience is perceived as slower than a traditional approach, user adoption will be a long, hard slog indeed.
The team has invested considerable effort in precisely characterizing performance for a number of end-user personas. Your deployment should see exactly the same performance VCE has characterized unless there's a serious misconfiguration issue.
Need more? Need less? There are clear recommendations on how to turn the knobs to get exactly what you're looking for for each use case profile.
Security? Baked In Vs. Bolted On
Part of the appeal I found in this VDI-in-a-box product was the extensive security functionality that had been fully integrated as part of the offering.
From security configuration to patch management to event logging, it's arguably best-in-class. All fully integrated with both VMware and Vblocks.
All The Cool Tech
From storage to networks to security to virtualization to management to security -- every component is arguably at the top of its respective class. Deep-dive technologists might want to argue one aspect or another, but -- from a big picture perspective -- it's probably what you'd want to build for yourself.
That is, if you had the time, money and inclination :)
And Let's Not Forget ...
That's very fast indeed, if you think about the alternatives.
There's single, seamless support from VCE. Release updates are delivered as a single, tested and integrated whole vs. dribbled out from the respective vendors. And, of course, there's one number to call when you need help.
Stepping Back A Bit
In many regards, that conversation has started and continues to this day.
It's another thing entirely to focus on a specific well-understood use case (like VDI) and compare and contrast the specific differences between the approaches. The comparison couldn't be more stark from what I see.
I wonder what arguments the traditionalists will offer for the do-it-yourself approach this time?