I make no apologies whatsoever for being an unabashed fan of VCE and Vblocks.
Converged infrastructure (and converged operations!) are turning out to be a compelling transformative tool for enterprises and IT service providers alike.
Rarely in my career have I seen something change so much for so many people.
When VCE announced a number of enhancements at EMC World 2012 a few weeks back, I thought they were done for a while.
Nope, as it turns out they've got even more interesting bits to share at this week's Cisco Live event.
And, if you're going, you might want to make some time to chat with the VCE crew.
Cisco Live Isn't Just Networking Anymore
It's interesting to see how the major vendors form ecosystems around their shows.
The same can be said about Cisco Live. It's not just about networking anymore -- it's more about infrastructure with a strong networking focus.
And, between the three shows, you've got all the infrastructure bases covered :)
The Cisco/EMC relationship isn't just limited to VCE, although that's a huge testimonial around how the two companies have invested together. EMC also does a substantial amount of joint solution development (see this recent announcement about a collaboration in support of SAP's HANA), and they're a big part of the new VSPEX offering.
I won't bore you with details, but a major portion of EMC's businesses are always collaborating with a major portion of Cisco's businesses -- and we're always on the lookout for new things we can do together for our customers and partners.
That being said, the VCE construct isn't only innovative and successful; it's been downright disruptive. If you don't believe me, just take a survey of all the other infrastructure vendors who are trying feverishly to replicate its success: HP, IBM, Dell, Hitachi et. al.
As a recent example, if you were following the recent HP Discover event, it seems that HP was comparing themselves against Vblocks at every possible opportunity. I take that as a great compliment.
IDC Does A TCO Study Of Vblocks
There are two kinds of customer surveys you can opt for in this world -- breadth, and depth. The IDC TCO study choses to go very deep on five VCE customers, and does a great job of explaining exactly where all those great savings are coming from. I should point out that while IDC acknowledges great value in the agility that Vblocks provide, they didn't attempt to quantify that particular attribute.
Consider it frosting on the cake.
While there will undoubtedly dismiss the study as too narrow, sponsored by VCE, etc. -- interested parties will take a close look at the methodologies used, and -- more importantly -- the results.
And the headlines aren't too shabby either:
5X faster speed to deployment - from 5 weeks to 1 week
4X less staff resource time to configure and deploy
83X better availability - from 71 hours to 51 minutes of server downtime per year
3X lower cost per user ̶ from $1304 to $472
Need An Enterprise Cloud In A Big Hurry?
A while ago, Cisco published the results to their recent EANTC Cloud Mega Test. The test focused on a number of Cisco's new solutions for service providers as part of their CloudVerse offering.
But EANTC and Cisco weren't really testing a Vblock, per se. They just needed an enterprise-class cloud in a big hurry to do the test.
Imagine how much work would be involved if they had to do it the usual way: specifying components, doing the integration, validating the results, support, etc. -- all before any useful work got done!
And that's just one of the things that Vblocks are really, really good at. The Cisco testing team was able to configure, order, install and deploy a modest Vblock in a matter of weeks. And, of course, it worked flawlessly -- just as expected, predictable results, no surprises.
The Cisco team could focus on what they needed to get done vs. sweating the details around their cloud. And that's what this whole converged infrastructure thing is *really* about.
VDI In A Box -- FastPath 2.0
One of the more innovative things I thought VCE did recently was to pre-package Vblocks around popular use cases, like VDI.
The first version of FastPath offered up a unique proposition: a ready-to-go VDI environment, pre-tested and pre-qualified, with a proven management model and known costs. And VCE partners have since seen good success with the approach.
As part of the news at Cisco Live, there's now FastPath 2.0 to add to the story.
First, there's a new smaller Vblock 300 version targeted at more modest deployments of 300 to 5000 virtual desktops. The original version was based on the Vblock 700, and was much, much bigger :)
Next, there's full exploitation of the VMware View 5.0 environment, which includes full rich media support, stateless floating desktops as well as Android device support to complement the existing iOS support.
And, finally, there's an enhanced multi-pool model for standardizing and templating different run environments for different classes of users -- different software stacks, different resource models, security, test vs. production, etc. Very few homogenous environments out there when it comes to VDI, and the easier it becomes to support individual preferences and requirements, the better.
Or, you can do it the hard way, and try and build one yourself :)
You Gotta See This Demo
At EMC World, VCE announced that popular technologies like VPLEX, Recoverpoint, Data Domain, Avamar, etc. were becoming an integral part of the VCE offer.
In particular, the VCE team has used VPLEX to do some truly eye-opening demos at industry tradeshows, include Cisco Live. If you've ever worked at an IT trade show, the infrastructure (power, network, etc.) isn't exactly data center class, so doing live demos on big iron involves a certain degree of bravery.
The demo environment involves two or three Vblocks at different booths on the show floor, all federated with VPLEX. Remember, VPLEX creates the appearance of a "stretched LUN" that has all the properties of being in two places at the same time.
If you've grown up in a world of storage replication, it can take some time to get your head wrapped around what you're seeing (and how it's fundamentally different than storage replication) but it's worth the effort. Cisco's OTV technology is used to create the appearance of a single logical network, which is awfully convenient as we'll see in a moment.
The first demo is live migrations of workloads as you watch. There's a database with a load generator, as well as a View session streaming a video on an iPad. As you watch, the workload is moved from one location to another with little or no performance degradation.
Sure, it's over a limited distance, but if you've got multiple Vblocks in either a single data center (or seperated by metro distances), you see how powerful it might be to create a single pool of resources across multiple Vblocks. Load balancing, scheduled maintenance -- lots of good uses for this one.
The second demo is also very interesting, but you have to pay closer attention.
The demo involves simply unplugging the Vblock, and watching the recovery on the other side. No big deal, right? Storage replication has been doing this for years.
Well, in this case, there's no storage replication, no SRM -- just a "stretched cluster" that uses VMware HA to do the failover, just like it would do in a single, physical cluster. Put differently, a total Vblock outage is handled in the same way that a server blade outage would be handled: a graceful and automated failover, and a straightforward recovery once the component was restored. The failover model is far simpler (and far faster!) thanks to VPLEX and OTV.
Yet Another Long Term Advantage To The Vblock Approach?
Let's say for the moment you were interested in all the cool stuff a VPLEX could do. Ordinarily, you'd be faced with a long and arduous process of trying to figure out how to make it work with all the stuff in your environment: versions, topologies, etc.
But, as part of a VCE Vblock, it's mostly just another option box you'd check on the Vblock order form. Put differently: the Vblock approach is turning out to make really advanced technology really easy to consume and operate.
And, if you really care about your IT environment, that's just another reason to consider a Vblock :)