This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Dell Technologies World 2019 news and analysis

Dell EMC VxRail at heart of vendor's cloud strategy

Dell EMC wants to turn its hyper-converged infrastructure market-leading VxRail appliance into the leading hybrid cloud building block with the help of VMware Cloud Foundation.

LAS VEGAS -- While Dell EMC made few enhancements to its hyper-converged platform at its annual user conference, it did greatly expand the importance of its flagship HCI product.

Dell EMC VxRail is at the center of the hybrid cloud and multi-cloud push at Dell Technologies World. VxRail is the key infrastructure piece of the VMware Cloud on Dell EMC service rolled out at the show. It follows VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) on Dell EMC VxRail, which launched in late 2018.  The VCF service added NSX software-defined networking and software-defined data center to VxRail.

Dell EMC unveiled an early access of VxRail Analytical Consulting Engine (ACE) at the conference. ACE is cloud-based predictive analytics that uses machine learning to help manage appliances. The service works in a similar fashion to other predictive analytics engines in the industry, including Dell EMC's CloudIQ for primary storage.

ACE looks at historical data from VxRail appliances in production. It informs customers of potential capacity bottlenecks and when they need to apply software updates across the hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) stack.

Dell EMC also changed the name of VxRack FLEX to VxFlex integrated rack and updated the operating system for its VxFlex HCI system. VxFlex, formerly ScaleIO, is a Dell EMC HCI system for customers who want flexibility to run more than VMware. VxFlex supports VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, KVM and other hypervisors, as well as bare-metal deployments. Dell EMC did not upgrade its XC Series platform that runs Nutanix HCI software.

An emphasis on hybrid and multi-cloud

Most of the HCI focus at Dell Technologies World centered on VxRail and the vendor's hybrid and multi-cloud strategy.

"VxRail is becoming the ultimate platform for the VMware hybrid cloud," said Jon Siegal, Dell EMC's vice president of product marketing for converged platforms and solutions.

Hyper-converged infrastructure, in general, tends to be well-suited for on-premises private cloud hosting.
Krista MacomberAnalyst, Storage Switzerland

Storage Switzerland analyst Krista Macomber said Dell EMC owns the key technologies for HCI with EMC storage, Dell PowerEdge servers and VMware virtualization. The VCF integration enhances its value for private cloud deployments.

"Hyper-converged infrastructure, in general, tends to be well-suited for on-premises private cloud hosting, and it can serve both core and data center use cases," she said. "Also, Dell has done quite a bit of work around automating deployment and management."

Whether used as part of a cloud or not, Dell EMC VxRail is increasingly serving as a storage option for VMware customers who want to rely less on SAN arrays.

Steve Athanas, associate CIO of system architecture at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and president of the VMware User Group, said his university uses VMware vSAN HCI software on Dell PowerEdge servers in a vSAN Ready Node configuration. While he also has a Dell EMC Storage Center SAN array, he said he finds HCI a quicker way to provision storage.

"I don't like having my staff spend time whiteboarding our solutions and building a storage network and figuring out how they're going to provision storage, connect all the networking and sizing the compute," Athanas said. "For me, that is a ton of labor for something I can just buy off the shelf and turn it on. I think the trend is going to HCI, because it requires less effort and labor to get off and running."

Athanas said he chose Ready Nodes because Dell EMC VxRail was new and not as mature at the time. He said he is more interested in VxRail now that it supports NVMe flash, and he will consider VxRail when he upgrades his virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

"VDI is all about latency, all about I/O," he said. "So, if I can get faster I/O and lower latency, my users see significantly better experience without me having to buy a bunch of drives to do it."

HCI isn't for everyone

But not everyone is jumping to HCI. Bob Bender, CTO of Founders Federal Credit Union, based in Lancaster, S.C., said he has petabytes of data on a Dell EMC Unity SAN array, but hasn't seen a need for HCI.

"We don't want to create a use case for it," he said. "We want the use case to come to us."

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