BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
LAS VEGAS -- Dell EMC is pushing ahead with its competing hyper-converged platforms, upgrading its homegrown VxRail Appliance, as well as the XC Series it sells in partnership with Nutanix.
While the XC Series was not born to Dell EMC, the vendor is treating it as one of the family. Dell EMC World 2017 featured a series of enhancements to its hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) platforms, and the XC Series received feature parity with the homegrown VxRail Appliance.
While that's good news for Nutanix, Dell EMC customers may wonder why the vendor has two competing products. Dell EMC executives said the answer is in the hypervisor. VxRail incorporates Dell EMC's VMware vSAN software and is used with VMware hypervisors. The XC Series uses an HCI software stack from Nutanix through an OEM deal signed by Dell before the EMC acquisition. Dell EMC aims XC at organizations running non-VMware hypervisors. The XC Series supports Microsoft Hyper-V, as well as Nutanix's KVM-based Acropolis hypervisor.
Both VxRail and XC will ship on 14th-generation (14G) Dell EMC PowerEdge servers beginning in September, with configurations starting at $25,000 and a new cloudlike pricing model. Dell EMC is adding support for its Avamar Virtual Edition, Data Domain and Data Domain Virtual Edition data protection software to XC, matching support already available on VxRail Appliances. XC is also available in a reference architecture with Dell EMC's Pivotal Cloud Foundry, just as VxRail is.
"And that's just the beginning," said Alan Atkinson, Dell EMC's general manager of the XC Series. "You'll see us incorporate more of our IP [intellectual property] into XC."
Dell EMC World 2017: Expanded HCI options
When Dell disclosed plans to acquire EMC, many in the industry wondered what that would mean for the Dell-Nutanix partnership. The thinking was that Dell EMC would not want to sell an HCI system that competes with vSAN and VxRail. But months after the merger closed last fall, the combined vendor said it would stick by its Nutanix-based HCI and EMC's long-standing partnership to sell Cisco servers and networking that compete with Dell products.
Alan Atkinsongeneral manager of the XC Series at Dell EMC
Atkinson and Gil Shneorson, general manager for VxRail, said there is no contention between the products' groups or sales teams. The sales strategy is defined by the potential customer's hypervisor plans.
"First of all, it's the same sales team," Atkinson said. "We [Dell EMC] just want to be the default choice for hyper-convergence. It's absolutely eating traditional compute, and it's absolutely eating traditional storage."
VxRail 4.5 will be available as a software upgrade with vSAN 6.6 for existing customers on current PowerEdge servers in June, and it will ship on 14G PowerEdge boxes when they launch later this year.
The $25,000 starting price is for a three-node cluster, with 480 GB of solid-state drive capacity ad 6 TB of hard disk drive capacity per node. That is available for XC and VxRail.
The vendor also introduced Cloud Flex pricing for HCI at Dell EMC World 2017, allowing customers to purchase VxRail or XC appliances with no upfront cost. They make monthly payments and can return the equipment after 12 months. After a year, payments decline by 30% annually.
Cloud-style pricing is likely to become a big part of HCI pricing throughout the industry, as vendors push hyper-convergence as an enterprise cloud building block. Nutanix implemented cloudlike pricing this month, with a six-month minimum commitment.
"VxRail is effectively a cloud in a box, now with no money down," said Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Technologies, during his Dell EMC World 2017 keynote Monday.
Who's No. 1 in hyper-converged?
Dell EMC would seem to have motivation to curtail XC sales in favor of VxRail. Its margins are better with VxRail because it uses all Dell EMC technology. Also, the vendor is trying to supplant Nutanix as the HCI market leader.
Dell EMC CMO Jeremy Burton said Monday at Dell EMC World 2017 that the vendor is already No. 1 in hyper-converged, although IDC shows Nutanix as the leader. Atkinson said Dell EMC counts all VxRail, XC Series and most of what IDC puts in the "others" category, because the "others" usually include vSAN software that customers use to build their own HCI.
Shneorson said HCI is rapidly gaining in popularity, as customers want to converge their storage, compute and virtualization in a single box.
"It's becoming mainstream, and it's happening a lot faster than I thought it would," he said.
Shneorson said the one big impediment to buying hyper-converged is when customers have misaligned refresh cycles. If they recently purchased storage or compute and are now looking to refresh the other part, they are not likely to buy hyper-converged.
But that's not the only reason for sticking with traditional SANs. Ted Newman, head of cloud services for Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), said he considered HCI, but decided it did not fit his infrastructure because he has mainframe servers and tens of thousands of virtual machines. RBS runs Dell EMC Vblock converged infrastructure arrays in its data centers to support platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service applications. But Newman said HCI could be in his future.
"I considered hyper-converged, but not for our scale," Newman said. "Our first step was to consolidate and standardize from a lot of different platforms. Next, we could diversify on VxRail or VxRack. Now that we've gotten our people used to a buy rather than build model, it may be easier to get them onto hyper-converged."
Matthew Brisse, research vice president for data center storage at Gartner, said HCI is becoming a good fit for modern data centers.
"The next-generation data center won't be the center for your data," he said. "It's becoming a center of control. It's not the traditional data center that we've seen since the 1990s. We're seeing a lot of cases where a SAN won't cut it."
Storage layer is at the heart of converged vs. hyper-converged debate
E-Handbook: Approaching hyper-converged vendor lock-in
Be careful about costs of hyper-converged infrastructure