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'Software-defined' Dell EMC HCI gets hardware boost

Dell EMC VxRail customers discuss their use of the HCI platform inside and outside the data center; platform moves to faster 14th gen PowerEdge servers powered by NVMe flash.

LAS VEGAS -- Although a Dell executive held up VxRail as the epitome of "software-defined everything," the underlying hardware was the new piece of the hyper-converged infrastructure products launched at Dell Technologies World.

Dell EMC upgraded its VxRail appliances and VxRack SDDC software-defined data center systems this week at its user conference, moving to the 14th generation PowerEdge servers. The software from Dell Technologies subsidiary VMware that powers the Dell EMC HCI rail and rack systems has not changed.

"We have no better example than what we mean by software-defined everything than your VxRail with a 14G (PowerEdge) running NVMe and our management stack running (VMware vSAN)," said Jeff Clarke, Dell vice chairman of products and operations, during his Tuesday keynote.

Ashley Gorakhpurwalla, president and general manager of Dell EMC server and infrastructure systems, called the Dell EMC HCI rollout a "relaunch" of VxRail and VxRack SDDC.

"We saw customers bring in hyper-convergence for DevOps, software-defined infrastructure and VDI first," he said. "Now it's going into production and we're changing the performance characteristics to really accelerate that growth."

Upgrading to 14th generation PowerEdge servers gives VxRail 800 GB and 1.6 TB NVMe cache drive options for more speed. Dell EMC also added Intel Xeon Scalable Processors that support 1.5 TB of RAM per CPU socket for 3 TB per node, Nvidia Tesla P40 GPU accelerators and 25-Gigabit Ethernet networking.

VxRack SDDC is also using the VxRail chassis. Previously, the rack and rail products used different PowerEdge models.

We saw customers bring in hyper-convergence for DevOps, software-defined infrastructure and VDI first.
Ashley Gorakhpurwallapresident and general manager, Dell EMC

Both heavily rely on VMware software. VxRail uses VMware vSAN and vSphere and VxRack is powered by VMware Cloud Foundation (vSphere, vSAN, NSX and SDDC Manager).

Eric Slack, senior analyst at Evaluator Group, said the new Dell EMC HCI appliances have "a lot of juice" with two 28-core CPUs in each server. But while that's enough power to bring HCI into the enterprise, Slack said organizations will use it wherever they can, but they can't use it everywhere.

"Is it going to replace everything in the data center? No. Are people going to use it every chance they get? Yeah," Slack said. "If you can put in something that goes in easy, it's easy to manage and easy to scale, I would use it. We're seeing people drop it in wherever they can."

Albertsons uses Dell EMC HCI for store storage

For grocery store chain Albertsons, that means dropping in VxRail clusters inside stores to serve as quickly deployed IT infrastructure. Vince Spina, Albertsons' group vice president of infrastructure, said hyper-convergence helps Albertsons keep its IT costs down by making it simpler.

"When I started at Albertsons two years ago, our infrastructure was complex and costly," Spina said. "And it was costly because it was complex. Now we virtualize as much infrastructure as we can."

Albertsons owns 2,300 stores in 35 states with more than 250,000 employees. Spina said Albertsons runs VxBlock converged infrastructure for data center storage, with VMware, NSX network virtualization and vRealize Suite cloud management. But he sees VxRail as the right fit for individual stores, which each have several distinct needs.

"As we modernize stores, we implement hyper-converged nodes," he said. "In this physical construct called a store, there might be anywhere from three to seven different businesses. We're not just a grocery store. We're a floral shop, we're a pharmacy, we're a gas station, et cetera. And all of those have their own needs, requirements, and in many cases, regulations. By using hyper-converged, we get the right footprint."

Albertsons has a history of growing through acquisitions. Spina said VxRail hyper-converged systems help integrate new companies "from day zero, and that gives us the economies of scale quickly that we look for in mergers and acquisitions."

He said an implementation in stores that would have taken three or four months with traditional three-tier architecture takes 40 minutes with HCI.

Madison utility firm puts Dell EMC HCI on the grid

While Albertsons uses hyper-convergence across many locations, Madison Gas and Electric in Madison, Wisc., picked VxRail for its data center infrastructure.

Max Babler, the utility firm's director of security, infrastructure and operations, said he has 14 VxRail P Series all-flash nodes in his data center. He is looking to expand that with denser and even faster systems as part of his plan to move all primary workloads onto the VxRail platform.

Babler said Madison G&E switched to VxRail last year. He wanted a single source of support, and he found hyper-convergence more cost effective than converged systems and moving everything to the cloud. His company was already heavily virtualized on VMware and he liked that Dell EMC HCI offered him "unified support for everything from the hypervisor on down."

During a Dell Technologies World breakout session, Babler strongly recommended that other Dell customers explore all-flash if they want hyper-convergence.

"I encourage you to go all-flash," he said. "Since putting in all flash, this is the first time in my 20-year career that I had people come up to me randomly and said 'What did you do to the systems? They're awesome today.' And that was just the difference from flash. The processing cycle for everything speeds up."

Babler had another tip for would-be VxRail customers.

"Keep the node configurations consistent," he said. "VxRail is one of those things where you really have to watch the config. We had one little random setting on one rail device on one cluster that was set just a little different, and it created a lot of headaches."

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