This morning, EMC introduced VSPEX: a partner-centric pre-configured and pre-integrated infrastructure stack.
Yes, we're pretty excited.
Some will inevitably classify this announcement as yet another variation on a popular theme in the IT infrastructure marketplace.
I mean, isn't every IT vendor packaging up infrastructure in new ways?
Yes, somewhat true -- but many of us believe that there's plenty of room left for innovation and differentiation in this category.
VSPEX is not only interesting in what it does on its own, but how it nicely fits in to other things EMC is investing in -- like VCE and Vblocks.
The IT Infrastructure Landscape
At one level, industry themes like cloud, virtualization and IT-as-a-service are all about making IT easier to consume for everyone involved: users, IT groups, partners, vendors, and so on.
If we -- as an IT vendor -- can make our value proposition easier to consume, it's likely to be consumed more.
For IT groups, the motivation is often different. Infrastructure that's easier to consume -- for them -- means that they can spend more time on things that matter, and less time on things that don't. There's a compelling motivation across-the-board to simplify what they have to do -- if not for value creation, then perhaps to retain their sanity.
In between vendors and IT groups there lies an important and strategic constituency -- our partners.
They win when they create unique value around what we vendors do, and solve their client's challenges better than their competitors. Easy-to-consume value propositions matter to them as well. It means they can invest their resources on what makes them unique and special vs. simply re-implementing the wheel.
Considering The Continuum
At one extreme, there are the people who prefer to start with low-level commodity components, adding a mix of open source and homegrown software, and building their own clouds.
While it's hard to argue against the validity of this approach for a handful of the Big Cloud Guys (e.g. Amazon AWS, Google, Facebook et. al.) not every IT organization can justify the substantial investment in this approach.
Other than a few interesting pieces, EMC doesn't focus much on this group today.
Again, it's hard to argue against these use cases, simply because it makes such logical sense.
Although EMC doesn't directly provide end user cloud services (unlike many of our competitors), many of our service provider partners do just that -- and we're all about investing in their success.
In between those two IT infrastructure extremes there are a vast number of IT organizations that need to purchase IT infrastructure to deliver the IT services their internal customers are looking for.
Historically, this has been an infrastructure subsystem business: the all-to-familiar world of hotly competing storage vendors, server vendors, switch vendors and so on.
Customers pick the subsystems they wanted, assemble and integrate the parts, and work with multiple vendors when inevitable support challenges arise.
A world we all know quite well :)
By pre-integrating converged components from VMware, Cisco and EMC -- and providing a seamless support model -- they made IT infrastructure far simpler and more efficient to deliver as a service.
While somewhat controversial at the outset to the traditional orthodoxy, the VCE model continues to attract a steady stream of new customers and partners who want to fundamentally change -- and streamline -- the way they do IT infrastructure.
But not everyone is always up for fundamentally changing the way they do things -- or, at least, not to that degree.
For example, the Vblock configuration choices are somewhat tightly controlled -- in exchange for fast deployment, very predictable outcomes and vastly simplified operations.
Some IT buyers see that tradeoff as a big win; others sometimes see the Vblock model as unduly restrictive.
The other observation is that the advantage of the Vblock model becomes more compelling as scale increases -- larger configurations and workloads, multiple locations and the like.
Not every organization has a big IT footprint to work with.
So -- early on -- we knew we eventually wanted to create a variation of the pre-packaged infrastructure concept that worked well for a different set of customers -- and the partners that serve them.
The Importance Of Partners
Anyone who's been around the industry knows the truth -- much of the heavy lifting of translating technology into value is largely done by IT partners: resellers, integrators, solution providers, distributors, service providers and the like.
EMC didn't start life realizing this basic truth, but we're very fast learners indeed.
Indeed, a few analysts have said that "2012 is the year of the partner for EMC". That's flattering, but the reality is that we've been seriously working on improving our partner-centric model for many years now.
I've come to realize that there's no real magic to working well with partners -- all you have to do is focus on *their* needs vs. your own motivations. Not surprisingly, when you do this well, everyone ends up winning.
For example, each and every VCE Vblock proposal involves a VCE channel partner.
For example, some EMC channel partners have already made key technology choices -- like Dell or HP x86 servers. Or maybe an all-Microsoft stack.
We wanted to support -- and add value -- to the choices they have already made. Other partners like to be very responsive to their customer's established preferences, like perhaps being a Brocade shop.
We thought we shouldn't be debating these choices, better that we spend our effort on supporting the choices that have already been made.
No surprise: the process of selecting components, acquiring them, integrating them, qualifying their behaviors, documenting the resulting stack, delivering the solution, implementing it and supporting it all -- well, that burns up a lot of cycles for our partners as well as our customers.
They told us they wanted a simpler way of specifying and delivering infrastructure -- one that let them focus their resources on the aspects that they are uniquely qualified to do vs. simply re-inventing another infrastructure wheel.
Now We Can Talk About VSPEX
With all that context behind us, it's time to dive into the VSPEX itself.
In a nutshell, it's an initial set of five use-case EMC Proven reference architectures, each with a wide range of vendor component options, that enables our EMC partners to deliver a branded and packaged "customized infrastructure product" to their clients.
These deep-dive reference architectures are in turn supported by the EMC VSPEX Labs -- a test and configuration resource provided by EMC -- that enables our partners to "VSPEX-ize" specific configurations for individual customer applications.
Above this, an ongoing requirements definition process -- driven by our channel partners -- to drive new functionality and capabilities into the core VSPEX platform.
VSPEX partners, in turn, are directly backed by EMC and our massive global investment in enterprise-class interoperability and multivendor support.
In a nutshell, VSPEX enables EMC to do what we're good at, so our partners can do what they're good at -- namely, helping to solve customer IT challenges.
How Does This Compare To ...?
Of course, part of understanding something new is making comparisons to other things that are already out there.
If we compare VSPEX to a more traditional a-la-carte infrastructure model, there are some notable differences.
First, while there are some reasonable restrictions on customer and partner component selections, there really aren't all that many. Every effort was made to support the mainstream choices with regards to x86 servers, hypervisors, storage networks and so on.
Most people will find their favorites.
The customer gets a well-defined VSPEX "product" with established (and simplified) parameters with regards to capacity, expansion, performance, support -- and cost. Less risk, less effort, better results. In a nutshell, IT infrastructure is easier to consume for them -- and the partners that support them.
For Vblocks, the acquisition, deployment, operational and support model is more tightly defined, often strongly encouraging the customer to invest in changing the way they do certain things in their operation in exchange for more efficiency and value.
There are precise technology choices and guidelines that have been implemented. There's a single seamless support model. Again, Vblocks work very well when IT leadership is interested in fundamentally changing and simplifying the way they do things.
If we compare VSPEX to the collection of pre-integrated infrastructure variations from other vendors already out there (e.g. HP, Dell, Oracle, NetApp, et. al.) a few things jump out.
Yes, we tend to insist on EMC storage, but that's sort of to be expected, isn't it?
Second, the externalization of advanced development, testing, validation and packaging resources to partners (via the VSPEX Labs) is somewhat unique in the industry today.
Partners (and their customers) determine what makes up a VSPEX package, and EMC provides the resources and methodologies to help them "productize" it. If you think about it, this partner capability helps customers as well.
Third, there is a generous helping of EMC technologies to build upon -- yes, advanced storage platforms such as VNX and VNXe, but also advanced data protection, storage virtualization, security and management.
That commitment to great service matters no matter what size your IT organization might be.
Finally, I can't overlook the non-trivial amount of expertise we bring to the table in assembling real-world validated infrastructure stacks for our customers around VMware, Microsoft and Citrix. In one sense, we're "productizing" the vast experience we've gained over many years and many thousands of implementations.
How Does This Change Things?
Over time, various vendors have introduced their take on the original concept. None of the alternatives have enjoyed similar success to date, though.
In this context, VSPEX is a useful and attractive variation on an important theme -- making IT infrastructure easier to consume for both customers and the partners that serve them.
I think EMC partners now have an important new offering in their portfolio -- one that reflects their choices, their brand and their unique value proposition. That's subtle, but very important.
I also think that customers now have another interesting and differentiated option to consider when evaluating how they'd like to consume and deploy IT infrastructure -- especially if they're considering one of the packaged infrastructure offers from the usual set of players.
But make no mistake -- there's much more to come ...
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