EVO:Rail – VMware enters the hyperconverged space

A very exciting announcement was made at VMworld today: EVO:Rail. I’ve known for a while about this under the codename “Marvin” (and EMC’s appliance related to this codenamed “Mystic”), now it is out there with it’s official naming. But what is it? Disclaimer: I work for EMC, but what I write here are my own opinions.

First things first: A quick intro to hyper-converged

First we had converged infrastructure. Converged infrastructure operates by grouping multiple components together into a single, optimized computing package. Components of a converged infrastructure may include servers, data-storage devices, networking equipment and software for IT infrastructure management, automation and orchestration. VCE’s Vblock is a prime example of converged infrastructure. Below that we have reference architectures like EMC’s VSPEX and NetApp’s Flexpod.

So on to even higher integration and automation: “hyper-converged”. Hyper-converged architectures consolidate and manage compute, network, and storage resources via bundled software. Often delivered as a ready-to-go appliance that can in some way or form scale-out (some solutions are truly scale-out, other are more of a federating type).

The fact that hyper-converged is controlled by software means that there is little to work on on the hardware side. You place a number of physical appliances, you hook them up and the software takes care of the rest. It is simple, starts small and depending on the solution can scale-out quite heavily.

What is VMware’s ‘EVO:Rail?’ all about?

EVO:Rail is a piece of software from VMware that will enable partners to easily create hyper-converged infrastructures. It is exactly the piece of software described above which automates deployment and configuration of underlying hardware. This automation stretches into virtualization (vSphere) and storage (VMware VSAN) in a compact but scalable solution. EVO:Rail is designed around simplicity with an intuitive user interface, pre-sized virtual machine templates, and automated management to make initial setup and day to day use a breeze.

So EVO:Rail is just the software component that enables hyper-converged solutions. Will 3rd party vendors like Nutanix and Simplivity be happy with this? I can’t imagine. In the end, these 3rd party hyper-converged infrastructures are built around (almost) standard hardware and a standard hypervisor. Not so very unique. But their power lies in their magical software layer on top of that which delivers extreme ease of use, automated scale-out and in some cases SDS and SDN. Hardware aside (as it is almost standard hardware anyway), this EVO:Rail software coming out from a company like VMware will probably be a very direct threat to them… I expect the FUD to be spread widely (once again).

In general I think this type of companies can only survive if they jump in features just before the big guys (like VMware and EMC for example) crush their home ground. Veeam is a prime example of such a company that keeps on managing to not only be ahead because of one initial brilliant thought, but keep ahead by reinventing themselves over and over again.

I can’t wait see what happens to the current hyper-converged market once EVO:Rail hits the scene. It is kind of like a music band: Some have this one monster hit and then disappear, others are around for years and years. In 2015 and early 2016 I think we’ll see which company turned put to have just that one monster hit and be a true one-trick pony, and which companies will be there to stay in the hyper-converged market.

What about VCE’s Vblock, EMC’s VSPEX and them competing with EVO:Rail?

VCE’s Vblock is incredible popular in enterprise and large mid-market accounts. Vblock is used by these customers to accelerate their journey to the hybrid cloud. EMC adds VSPEX into the mix as well, which is a solution that sits between a Vblock and a bunch of cardboard boxes you order separately and design, build and test yourself.

EMC will extend this offering even further: In the first half of 2015 EMC will introduce a hyper-converged appliance (EMC Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Appliance or HCIA) based on VMware EVO:Rail — a simple, dense, small footprint offering for mid-market, enterprise departmental and remote office use cases. EVO:Rail will even be mixed with the VSPEX portfolio over time to maximize choice and flexibility for customers.

So this HCIA works just like a lot of products within the circle of power EMC, VMware, Cisco and VCE: It will compete in some areas, but be supplemental in all others. This strategy has proven to be very successful (vRealize Operations Management versus ViPR SRM and VSAN versus ScaleIO as prime examples) and it really broadens out the offering once more giving the customer even more choice (which is a good thing I think).

EMC goes hyper-converged too

With HCIA, EMC will build a hyper-converged infrastructure. As far as I know, it will use the hardware also deployed in EMC’s ECS (Elastic Cloud Storage): Affordable servers that are built to spec. At 2U they will hold 4 small blade servers, some storage and a networking unit:

Built-to-spec EMC hardware used for their ECS solution will probably be utilized for their hyper-converged solution as well.

Built-to-spec EMC hardware used for their ECS solution will probably be utilized for their hyper-converged solution as well.

Where have I heard that alomst exact appliance setup before? So, what will differentiate this hyper-converged solution from other already in the market? These come to mind:

  1. EMC has a vast array of products. We will be seeing EMC-specific intellectual property to add unique capabilities;
  2. High product reliability which we can expect from EMC;
  3. Integration with other EMC hard- and software components;
  4. And most important of all… A true appliance support on a global basis.

Is EMC’s HCIA solution the only one to utilize VMware EVO:Rail? Definitely not. In fact, other vendors will also be delivering hyper-converged infrastructures based on EVO:Rail well before EMC’s HCIA will become available. While EMC is working hard to fill the hyper-converged gap, they also realize they should provide the expected level of EMC quality, reliability, in the product as well as integrating EMC specific functionality into the appliance. At the same time EMC must deliver to its customers a world-class seamless support experience at a global level (which a lot of start-ups lack today.

All in all exciting times once more 🙂

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