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EMC Vspex Blue EVO: RAIL appliance unveiled

EMC combines VMware's VSAN hyper-converged software with its internal data protection and cloud features for its Vspex Blue appliance.

EMC will move into the EVO: RAIL market in two weeks when it begins selling Vspex Blue, an appliance running VMware's Virtual SAN hyper-converged software.

EVO: RAIL is VMware's OEM program for Virtual SAN (VSAN). EMC said last August it would sell an EVO: RAIL system, but waited nearly six months to unveil its appliance. Meanwhile, storage rivals HP, Dell and Netapp all beat EMC to the punch with EVO: RAIL appliance announcements. That was a surprise, considering EMC owns 80% of VMware and was expected to lead the pack for EVO: RAIL.

"I know everybody's saying, 'Hey EMC, what's taking you so long?'" said Chad Dunn, EMC's senior director of Vspex product management. "The reason we took so long is we didn't want to go out with an off-the-shelf version of EVO: RAIL. We wanted some differentiation."

VSAN runs inside the vSphere kernel and pools resources across x86 hardware. The EMC Vspex Blue launch comes a day after VMware said VSAN 6 will ship this quarter with support for all-flash appliances, 64 nodes per cluster and up to 32 snapshots per virtual machine (VM). However, VSAN 6 will not be available to EVO: RAIL partners until the second half of the year.

Vspex Blue: What's inside the box?

Like other hyper-converged products, Vspex Blue contains storage, compute, memory, networking and hypervisors in one box. EMC said Vspex Blue can be provisioned in less than 15 minutes.

Each Vspex Blue appliance has four independent nodes with dual Intel Ivy Bridge processors and 14.4 TB of hard disk drive and solid-state drive (SSD) storage. Each node includes four channels of native DDR3 memory and up to eight DDR ECC R-DIMMs. The nodes also include a dual Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) standard with optional QDR or FDR InfiniBand or 10 GbE connectivity. The appliances also include PCI Express HBA slots. Each appliance has redundant power supplies. Each appliance will have four drives, include a 200 GB SSD and three 1.2 TB SAS hard drives.

Customers can scale to four appliances (16 nodes) in a cluster. Dunn said EMC plans to extend that to 32 nodes later in 2015.

What else does EMC bring?

Dunn said the main differentiators of his company's EVO: RAIL system are the Vspex Blue Market and Manager features. Vspex Blue Market lets customers download applications from EMC that are validated for Vspex Blue. The first release includes EMC RecoverPoint for Virtual Machines (15 VM licenses included), VMware Data Protection Advanced backup and deduplication, and the EMC CloudArray Gateway. CloudArray Gateway is built on technology EMC acquired from TwinStrata. It caches data locally and moves less frequently accessed data of public clouds such as Amazon, Google, Rackspace, AT&T or clouds built on EMC Atmos.

Vspex Blue Manager works similarly to management systems in EMC's VMAX and VNX storage arrays. Vspex Blue Manager includes call-home support, allows customers to chat directly with EMC support, and delivers patch and software update notifications that can be installed automatically without downtime.

Vspex Blue will be available Feb. 17. EMC Vspex is a portfolio of converged infrastructure products from EMC and partners usually sold as reference architectures. The "Blue" label denotes the hyper-converged technology all comes from EMC federation companies.

Dunn said target use cases include storage for virtual desktop infrastructure, small organizations with limited IT resources, or departments and remote offices in large enterprises.

Despite all the hype around hyper-convergence, Dunn said he does not expect these appliances to replace larger legacy storage arrays.

"I don't think you'll see hyper-converged infrastructures in large-scale environments," he said. "If you need more compute or storage, you buy new appliances, and that brings storage or compute whether you want it or not -- plus the power supplies and everything that comes with it. It's not an economical way to build large environments. I expect to see a lot of smaller cluster sizes."

David Russell, Gartner distinguished analyst for storage, said EMC can further differentiate Vspex Blue by integrating its ViPR software-defined storage application and other IP down the road. But all EVO: RAIL systems are built around VSAN, which limits differentiation. Also, EVO: RAIL partners are at a disadvantage because the most recent VSAN software won't be available to them until later this year. EVO: RAIL systems are limited to hybrid configurations rather than all-flash, 32 nodes per cluster and two snapshots per VM, while the version of VSAN VMware sells directly will support all-flash and scale twice as high.

"VSAN 6 won't go into EVO: RAIL until around August," Russell said. "Here's a case where it's over half a year for anticipated improvements of VSAN to hit EVO: RAIL. During that time, EVO: RAIL will be an older version of the software."

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