Parsing VCE’s new “bright box” hyperconverged VxRack Systems

George Woolf on Seabiscuit

Not all best of breed champions are enterprise-ready.

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Since its beginning, VCE has followed a path that ignored or contradicted nearly every convention that Silicon Valley holds dear. How so?

  • The company was initially formed as a joint venture between three of IT’s most competitive and successful vendors, EMC, VMware and Cisco, a partnership that many said was doomed to fail. But the trio found common cause and numerous enterprise and service provider clients who recognized the championship qualities in VCE’s “best-of-breed” converged infrastructure solutions.
  • Virtually all system vendors start by developing lower end or single-use servers before tackling more complex solutions. In contrast, VCE rewrote the book on mission-critical enterprise computing with its foundational Vblocks.
  • Critics claimed VCE’s focus on factory-integrated converged solutions was too narrow for sustainable success. Instead, VCE enjoyed year-over-year (YoY) revenue growth of over 50 percent through 2014, achieving a $2 billion annual run rate less than four years after its 2010 launch.
  • At a time when some enterprise vendors are doubling down on proprietary technologies, VCE remains firmly committed to industry standard components.
  • In contrast to vendors with often confusing varieties of client engagement and support models, the company’s solutions are engineered, manufactured, managed, supported and sustained as single products as part of the VCE Experience, a core value proposition available to all customers.
  • While the company’s Vblock and VxBlock solutions leverage components from EMC, VMware and Cisco, VCE became an EMC Federation business last December, a move that allows it to consider a far wider range of technologies.

Note:  Pund-IT, Inc. has a consulting relationship with VCE.

In other words, VCE has ignored the common wisdom that believes vendors must evolve upward and achieve greater product sophistication and complexity over time. Instead, VCE is evolving outward, steadily creating innovative new solutions that are closely aligned with its customers’ most pressing business requirements and compute needs.

What are those customer imperatives? They include significantly enhancing the performance of mission-critical applications and workloads, radically simplifying system deployment and management, and markedly lowering long-term operating expenses (OPEX). This last point is underscored by the new VxRack Systems that VCE announced at EMC World 2015, and qualify as a next logical step in the company’s portfolio of hyperconverged solutions.

VxRack isn’t EMC’s first foray into the hyperconverged space. That would be the VSPEX BLUE appliances launched in February of this year. Based on VMware’s EVO:RAIL and EMC software, VSPEX BLUE leverages commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) “white box” hardware into cost-effective, easy-to-deploy and manage hyper-converged solutions delivered by EMC’s channel partners. But while VSPEX BLUE can support dozens of virtual servers running on one to four 2U-servers, VCE found that its customers have a pressing need for far more scalable, configurable and adaptable hyper-converged systems.

This is particularly true for increasingly common “third platform” workloads, like next generation databases, big data, social, mobile and cloud-native applications. That’s where the new VxRack Systems come in, cost-effectively leveraging what VCE calls “bright box” nodes with embedded HDDs and/or SSDs to support linear scalability from 4 to 1000+ nodes. VxRack Systems will initially be available in one of two “personalities” configured according to the customer’s virtualization preferences but I expect VCE to develop additional VxRack personalities over time.

Vblocks and VxBlocks focus on core tier one apps, transactional systems and traditional workloads that require high levels of resiliency and scalability. In contrast, VxRack Systems offer a robust, valuable platform for emerging and tier two applications where scalability is crucial. But just as importantly, VxRack Systems are fully integrated with VCE’s Vscale unified data center architecture and also support VCE’s Vision Intelligent Operations software.

As a result, VxRack Systems can be easily incorporated into existing VCE environments as part of a shared pool of compute resources. That means the new solutions will be valuable additions to VCE customers’ private and hybrid cloud computing efforts and practices.

This all sounds great, but does VCE face any significant obstacles or uncertainties? Certainly. While the company’s growth in its first few years was remarkable, the law of big numbers suggests that it can’t continue at that pace forever and is also likely to be impacted by increasing competition in converged systems. Problematic issues also arise when vendors enter a new market, as VCE has with VxRack Systems. These can include effective product positioning, defining best use cases and helping customers understand potential benefits.   

That said, the new VxRack Systems qualify as a logical, powerful next step for both VCE’s solution portfolio and in its continuing outward evolution as an enterprise system vendor. VxRack Systems also lend credence to and should accelerate the success of the company’s go-to-market strategy.

By focusing more on solving clients’ problems than it does on the often questionable common wisdom of the IT industry crowd, VCE has crafted a course that’s been hugely beneficial to both itself and its growing roster of enterprise customers and service providers. In this context, VCE’s VxRack Systems qualify as the latest step in a journey that has already seen many successes, with many more to come.

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