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With VxBlock 1000, Dell EMC AMPs up converged platform

Dell EMC VxBlock 1000 lets customers mix and match VMAX, Unity, XtremIO and Isilon arrays in a block with Cisco servers and networking. Will that reverse market share decline?

Dell EMC has launched a new VxBlock converged infrastructure architecture with Cisco compute and networking that features a revamped management platform and the ability to mix array types inside a VxBlock.

Like previous VxBlock converged infrastructure (CI) products, the VxBlock System 1000 includes Dell EMC storage arrays and data protection, Cisco Unified Computing System servers and switching, and VMware virtualization in a turnkey system. But while previous VxBlocks were based on a single array family, the VxBlock 1000 enables the deployment of any of Dell EMC's major array families available inside a VxBlock under a scale-out management system.

The VxBlock System 1000 options include Dell EMC Unity, VMAX and XtremIO all-flash SAN arrays, and Isilon all-flash and hybrid NAS systems.

The VxBlock 1000 also includes Cisco C-Series rack server and B-Series blade server M5 and M4 options, as well as Cisco MDS Fibre Channel and Nexus 10 Gigabit Ethernet and 40 GbE switches.

The VxBlock 1000 will replace the current VxBlock lineup, which includes the VxBlock 350 with Unity arrays, the VxBlock 540 with XtremIO and the VxBlock 740 with VMAX. Isilon was available as a secondary system for unstructured data, but it was not integrated into previous VxBlocks.

"Customers would say, 'We would like to buy a singular architecture where we can acquire the arrays that we want and pair it with the compute we want,'" said Trey Layton, senior vice president of engineering, converged at Dell EMC.

The VxBlock 1000 also includes Dell EMC's data protection platform -- physical and virtual versions of Avamar, Data Domain and Networker -- VMware Site Recovery Manager and Site Recovery Advisor, and VMware's virtualization stack.

VxBlock 1000's new scale-out management

One piece of new technology in the VxBlock 1000 series is the AMP-VX centralized management, which scales higher than previous VxBlock advanced management platforms (AMPs). Previous VxBlocks required separate AMPs. AMP-VX supports eight individual VxBlocks, and customers can mix and match array and server types. Each VxBlock 1000 can support 10 arrays.

"This changes the way you scale VxBlocks," said Eric Sheppard, IDC research director for enterprise storage and converged systems. "You don't have to deploy an entire new VxBlock if you need to scale. An important part of converged infrastructure is the consolidation of management. The more you can provide a single pane of glass management, the better the benefits of converged infrastructure."

AMP-VX runs on Dell EMC PowerEdge R640 Gen 14 rack servers and Cisco Nexus switching, and it includes virtualization, management, data protection and monitoring software.

The rollout comes as Dell EMC tries to stem CI market share losses to its rival NetApp's FlexPod reference architecture, which also uses Cisco compute and networking. Dell EMC also faces questions about its partnership with Cisco, which competes with Dell EMC servers and VMware software-defined networking. The VxBlock 1000 is the first product rollout since Dell EMC got rid of its converged platforms and solutions division this month.

Dell EMC remains the converged infrastructure market leader, but its CI sales have been choppy over the past year. Overall, the CI market is flat, as customers look for alternatives to array-based storage, including hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) and software-defined storage.

CI's value examined

In the most recent figures from IDC, the certified reference systems and integrated infrastructure market grew just 1.5% year over year to $1.44 billion in the third quarter of 2017. Dell EMC remained the market leader, with $697.2 million and 48.3% share.

However, Dell EMC revenue shrunk 4.4% from the previous year, while No. 2 Cisco-NetApp grew 56.4% to $485.5 million and 33.6% share in the quarter. Dell EMC's market share lead over Cisco-NetApp slipped from 51.2% to 21.8% in the third quarter of 2016 and 48.3% to 33.6% in the third quarter of 2017.

In the same quarter, HCI grew 6% year over year. Dell -- the market leader in hyper-converged, as well -- increased HCI revenue by 158%. HCI includes storage, networking and virtualization in a single chassis instead of as separate products.

Dell EMC's Layton said CI and HCI address separate needs.

We believe converged infrastructure has an opportunity to grow at a greater clip than it is now.
Trey Laytonsenior vice president of engineering, converged at Dell EMC

"We believe converged infrastructure has an opportunity to grow at a greater clip than it is now," he said. "We're seeing an interesting dynamic in the market. We've been through a hype cycle associated with hyper-converged, but customers are becoming more educated. They see that hyper-converged is great for running applications that do not rely on data services resident in storage arrays. By that I mean real-time replication, the ability to ensure that data tables and databases are confirmed and not corrupted, the ability to pool an enormous number of drives to achieve performance thresholds, and large-scale deduplication and compression."

IDC's Sheppard said converged infrastructures can form a building block for hybrid cloud implementations.

"We're in the early stages of that, but that's where it's going," Sheppard said. "Converged infrastructure can be the on-premises cloud component of hybrid cloud environments."

From VCE to Dell EMC, Vblocks to VxBlocks

EMC and Cisco began selling converged infrastructure bundles in 2009 under the banner of VCE, or Virtual Computing Environment, a combined venture started by those two vendors and VMware. VCE branded its CI systems as Vblocks, which were discontinued in 2017 in favor of VxBlocks. VxBlocks include VMware virtual switching instead of Cisco switching software that was in Vblocks.

The EMC-Cisco-VMware combination survived Dell's 2016 acquisition of EMC and its VMware division, and bad blood between Cisco and its partners over VMware's move into virtual networking. VxBlock's main competition comes from Cisco CI offerings with other storage vendors, including NetApp FlexPod, IBM VersaStack and Pure FlashStack.

Dell's $60 billion-plus acquisition of EMC raised questions about the CI arrangement with Cisco, which is a server rival of Dell. But Dell EMC executives maintained from the start that they would continue the partnership with Cisco just as Dell continues its hyper-converged partnership with rival Nutanix.

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