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New Dell VxRail systems improve speed, resource management

Dell VxRail hardware and software updates improve performance and ease deployment and management, while enabling discrete compute and storage scaling for demanding workloads.

Dell Technologies updated its VxRail hyper-converged infrastructure with the latest PowerEdge servers to boost performance, automated self-deployment tools, and new dynamic nodes to help customers scale storage and compute separately.

Dell claimed its customer count grew from more than 8,000 to more than 12,400 during the past year for the VxRail hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) appliances that combine compute, storage and networking resources to simplify operations.

Dell EMC VxRail packages VMware vSAN, vSphere and vCenter software and VxRail HCI System Software on PowerEdge hardware to pool and manage local and direct-attached storage across virtual server clusters.

The New VxRail E, P and V series systems, which are due to ship in July, will add support for the latest 15th-generation PowerEdge servers and third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors, code-named Ice Lake, to enable up to 40 cores per CPU, compared to 28 with the prior Xeon processors. The third-generation Intel processors also support performance-doubling PCIe 4.0 to give users 33% more PCIe lanes to speed data processing in VxRail systems with NVMe-based flash solid-state drives (SSDs).

"Customers would typically choose NVMe for their most demanding workloads like AI and mission-critical databases," said Rick Reddy, senior director of product management at Dell. "With the ongoing price reductions that put them at price parity with SAS [SSDs], customers are starting to select them more for their general-purpose workloads."

VxRail customers that want an additional performance boost beyond flash SSDs have the option for Intel Optane persistent memory 200 series modules that can increase bandwidth by 32% on average, according to Dell.

Users that prefer VxRail's AMD-based PowerEdge server options will gain access this month to new higher performing third-generation Epyc processors in the E665 and P675 models. Like the second generation, the third-generation Epyc processors support 64 cores per CPU and PCIe 4.0 to target workloads such as databases, analytics and virtual data infrastructure (VDI). Dell added AMD support in June 2020 for the VxRail E series and in January 2021 for the P series.

Dell EMC VxRail.
New Dell EMC VxRail appliances will become available in June and July.

Reddy said Dell began offering Epyc options on VxRail last year after customers started asking about AMD for the 64 cores per CPU, the ability to run workloads that used to demand dual CPUs, and the PCIe 4.0 support.

New VxRail E series models give customers 50% more PCIe slots per server, and the updated P series offers up to 20% more capacity. New Nvidia GPU options will also be available to VxRail V series customers that have especially demanding AI and machine learning workloads. The V series adds choices for Nvidia A40 and A100 Tensor Core GPUs.

VxRail software updates

Although the new VxRail hardware options may hold appeal for customers with especially demanding workloads, industry analysts said the VxRail software updates could provide more important new capabilities for many users.

To this end, Dell is introducing new compute-only VxRail dynamic nodes that support VMware vSAN HCI Mesh technology to let customers scale storage and compute independently and share vSAN storage capacity across clusters.

"The biggest knock on hyper-converged has been that, at least at the very beginning, you couldn't scale compute and storage separately," said Dave Raffo, a senior analyst at Evaluator Group. "If you only needed more processing, you still had to add the capacity. If you only needed more storage, you had to add CPU and get vSAN and vSphere licenses. You had to scale everything together."

The new dynamic nodes have no storage component and combine VMware ESXi hosts with VxRail HCI System Software. They use the VMware HCI Mesh technology to allow customers to pool unused vSAN storage. Dell is also enabling users to configure the dynamic nodes to use Dell EMC PowerStore, PowerMax or Unity XT storage arrays through VMware Cloud Foundation on VxRail.

Expanded use cases for HCI

Lucas Mearian, a research manager at IDC, said the dynamic nodes would enable VxRail to expand beyond typical HCI use cases, such as VDI, to address more compute-intensive analytics workloads. Support for cloud-based predictive analytics is becoming critical for converged infrastructure providers and enterprise storage providers, Mearian said.

"Since HCI first came into existence, there were some high-compute workloads that were considered a bad match for it and therefore must always be on a traditional SAN array," Mearian said, noting the new VxRail would help to change that perception.

Mearian added that the newly improved VxRail also would offer IT generalists the ability to deploy HCI at the edge through user-friendly APIs. "This is particularly important when you consider the types of environments HCI can be deployed, such as large enterprises with dozens or hundreds of remote office, branch office or retail locations," he said.

New HCI self-service tools

Meanwhile, new VxRail HCI System Software enhancements provide self-service tools for users to remotely validate node images and automate cluster deployment on their own schedules, so long as a staffer is ready to rack and plug in the new hardware.

Dell expanded the system software's lifecycle management capabilities to enable customers to update VMware Tanzu and NSX-T in a single upgrade cycle. Lifecycle management also now extends to the Nvidia AI Enterprise and VMware installation bundle to ease deployment.

VxRail HCI System Software updates will be available globally in July, and the dynamic nodes will follow in August. The self-deployment options will also start to roll out in August, first in North America.

Many of the new software capabilities are based on vSAN 7.2 release that VMware announced in March, Evaluator Group's Raffo noted. He said VxRail often trailed vSAN updates by six months or more in the past, so the latest VxRail updates will catch up sooner, perhaps related to Dell's April spin-off of its VMware division into a standalone company.

"They want everybody to know that even now that VMware is spun off from Dell that they're still working very closely, especially on VxRail, where they rely so much on VMware technology," Raffo said. "I guess they want to assure everybody that that relationship will remain going forward."

HCI market share

Dell EMC dominated the branded HCI hardware system market share, at 32.6%, in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to IDC. Mearian said Dell posted $801.8 million in revenue, an increase of 11% compared to the prior year, to hold a substantial lead over Hewlett Packard Enterprise, at $331.7 million, and Nutanix, at $254.1 million. But he noted that Nutanix has been shifting to a software-based subscription model and using partners for hardware rather than its own branded appliances.

ESG analyst Paul Nashawaty said HCI customers are no longer looking just for simplicity and cost savings. He said they're also prioritizing performance, scalability and reliability in recognition that cloud and software-defined storage would be less complex and more cost-effective than traditional siloed approaches for compute and storage.

The top HCI deployment drivers for respondents to a recent ESG research study were improved scalability (31%), total cost of ownership (28%), ease of deployment (26%) and simplified systems management (24%), Nashawaty said.

Carol Sliwa is a TechTarget senior writer covering hyper-converged infrastructure, storage arrays and drives, flash and memory technologies, and enterprise architecture.

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