Dell EMC VxRail HCI builds on VMware Cloud Foundation

Dell EMC is tying its converged storage systems more closely around VMware.

Dell EMC and VMware — both subsidiaries of Dell Technologies — introduced the fruits of joint engineering projects this week at VMworld 2018 Europe. The vendors previewed an addition to Dell EMC VxRail hyper-converged infrastructure and enhancements to the Dell EMC VxBlock converged infrastructure.

The VMware Cloud Foundation on VxRail appliances is scheduled for general availability in 2019. Storage enhancements include automated network configuration with Dell EMC SmartFabric Services, which allows VxRail to directly communicate with VMware NSX.

For VxBlock 1000 converged systems, Dell EMC added tools to build infrastructure as a service, giving customers the ability to launch vRealize management packs directly from the VxBlock Central interface.

Dell EMC also expanded its open networking with the S5200 family of 25 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) switches. VMware shops can use the top-of-rack switches to create 100 GbE data fabrics for NSX-virtualized traffic moving across racks.

The companies launched a beta program to extend VMware Cloud on Amazon Web Services to on-premises Dell EMC VxRail environments.

Dell EMC: Steady demand for converged, hyper-converged

Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is defined as computing, networking, storage and virtualization, packaged on an integrated appliance. The initial use cases centered on virtual desktop infrastructure and backup, but vendors are starting to position HCI for hybrid clouds.

Dell EMC VxRack HCI appliances are turnkey, rack-scale systems that package Dell EMC PowerEdge servers and VMware vSAN storage software. VMware Cloud Foundation also includes vSphere, NSX software-defined networking and software-defined data center (SDDC) in an integrated software package.

Dell EMC VxRail 4.7 marks a tighter product cadence with VMware, said Jon Siegal, a Dell EMC vice president of product marketing.

“With this version, we will [integrate] the latest vSAN vSphere features in VxRail within 30 days of the latest vSAN vSphere release. Customers will get new functionality more quickly,” Siegal said.

VMware partners with all large server vendors to sell vSAN as part of hyper-converged infrastructure, and Dell EMC sells other HCI products that don’t include vSAN. For instance, the Dell EMC XC Series uses software from VMware’s HCI rival, Nutanix. But Dell EMC VxRail is the main HCI focus for Dell and VMware.

Rich Gagnon, CIO of the city of Amarillo, Texas, identified the tight integration between VMware and Dell EMC as a major factor in Amarillo’s picking VxRail for its primary infrastructure platform. Amarillo currently has three VxRail clusters, with another one planned for its airport IT upgrade.

Gagnon said he also evaluated Nutanix before implementing VxRail earlier this year.

“A lot of it had to do with the fact that Dell EMC and VMware are one company, and they’re not going away,” he said of his decision to pick VxRail.

In a move aimed at edge environments, Siegal said two-node Dell EMC VxRail entry deployments with flexible vSAN licensing will be available in 2019.

Converged infrastructure is sold as individual hardware components from validated OEM partners. Dell EMC VxBlock is based on Cisco servers and networking with VMware software, with the flexibility to match Dell EMC PowerMax, Unity, XtremIO and Isilon NAS.

“We still see a world where customers continue to use converged and hyper-converged infrastructure in their data centers. We made it easier to manage both [forms of convergence] from a single lens,” Siegal said.

Dell EMC SmartFabric network automation

We still see a world where customers continue to use converged and hyper-converged infrastructure in their data centers.
Jon Siegalvice president of product marketing, Dell EMC

VMware Cloud Foundation on VxRail embeds Dell EMC SmartFabric Services to automate configuration of storage networking. SmartFabric automatically creates VxRail clusters and allows VxRail Manager to manage them with the vCenter client.

Current Dell EMC VxRail customers can get VxRail 4.7 as a free download. New node deployments or expanding VxRail environments will have to wait until December.

Adding network automation to Dell EMC VxRail addresses issues common to hyper-convergence, said Eric Hanselman, a chief analyst at 451 Research.

“Networking is like the Rodney Dangerfield of the data center. It’s been the hardest piece to automate, right up there with storage in terms of risk aversion. Being able to bind the Dell EMC operational pieces to the vRealize orchestration [can have] significant operational benefits,” Hanselman said.

The Dell EMC S5200 top-of-rack switch was designed for VMware SDDC. It provides a physical network underlay to support NSX clients and services. Hanselman said Dell EMC’s 25 GbE switch is a natural progression, as “people march toward more cost-effective 100 GbE” storage networking in hyper-scale environments.

“There are a whole set of capabilities the switch offers for greater configurability and manageability, but the big thing is getting to 25 [GbE] lanes.”

VMware executives touched on Project Dimension at Dell Technologies World in May, laying out plans to deliver SDDC as an on-premises managed service on physical storage infrastructure. Customers can sign up for the beta project, which is expected to be available in 2019.

Storage Media Group Editorial Director Dave Raffo contributed to this story.