Sources: EMC's New VSPEX Reference Architecture Set To Battle NetApp, VCE

EMC is poised to announce next week VSPEX, a private cloud reference architecture that will compete not only against rival NetApp's FlexPod architecture, but the VCE Vblock offering which has been backed by EMC, according to sources close to the storage giant.

Both EMC and VCE declined to respond to comment.

[Related: EMC, NetApp Present Competing Visions For Storage-Server Infrastructure ]

VSPEX is based on EMC's enterprise-class VMAX storage system, which has an advanced parallel processing technology based on the latest Intel processors, sources said. That gives VSPEX the potential power of a high-performance computing (HPC) server when married to an embedded hypervisor like VMware or Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor.

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The VMAX advanced parallel processing technology, sources said, opens the door for VSPEX to do battle with Cisco’s Unified Compute System server which is at the center of the VCE partnership between EMC, Cisco and EMC’s VMware subsidiary. EMC holds the majority stake in that partnership with about a 60 percent ownership with Cisco, which has partnered closely with NetApp on FlexPod, holding about 35 percent of the company.

VSPEX sets up an enterprise battle directly between VCE and EMC’s own VSPEX, said Keith Norbie, vice president at Nexus Information Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider and EMC partner.

"VSPEX surely will compete with Vblock," Norbie said. "But it furthers the process of EMC realizing they're not so focused on the storage side, and are now more focused on the cloud side."

EMC is already in the server business, Norbie said, who noted that EMC's Isilon and Data Domain storage appliances are essentially Intel-based white box servers with the company's software inside.

Adopting a reference architecture like VSPEX is not a technology issue, but rather a political issue, Norbie said. "The tech layer is not the issue. That part is a snap," he said. "Of more concern is the political layer, or what they should be doing. As EMC advances further into the hybrid cloud, the individual components become less important while the political ramifications become more important. The first question is, how will we do this? The second question is, should we do this? The 'how' is easy. The 'should' is harder. It disrupts alliances."

Norbie said that he is wondering when EMC will carry this move a step further by offering cloud storage gateways like those offered by Nirvanix.

"For a cloud public storage play, VSPEX doesn't seem to be the answer," he said. "VSPEX is a private cloud. I want to see EMC make a public cloud play."

Next: Building On The VSPEX

Jamie Shepard, executive vice president of technology solutions at ICI, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider and partner to both EMC and VCE, said he could see VSPEX competing with VCE Vblocks for customers who want flexibility.

"Everything being said about VSPEX is, it's the processor, the storage, the networking," Shepard said. "And it's open. VSPEX is offering choice. VCE is about raw virtual provisioning and compute power, not choice. To me, VSPEX is a VCE competitor."

Shepard said VSPEX seems to be similar to his company's Virtual Cloud Cube (vCcube) offering, which he described as am Infrastructure-as-a-Service virtualized private cloud which provides flexibility, choice, and best-of-breed technology.

The big difference, he said, is that ICI's vCcube is powered by ICI's nCubed methodology of infrastructure assessment, consulting, and enablement for planning, designing, and building clouds. "EMC doesn't have the nCubed Methodology," he said. "But it is offering customers choice. "

While channel sources expect EMC to take advantage of its architecture to move more towards the server business, it would not necessarily be to offer stand-alone servers, particularly in the commodity server market. Instead, VSPEX would be a strong platform on which customers could build private clouds.

VSPEX will likely fill a gap in between EMC's current storage-focused products and the Vblock unified storage-server-networking platform from VCE, sources said.

VCE develops solutions based on EMC storage arrays, including EMC's entry-level VNX array and its enterprise-class VMAX. That storage is married to Cisco's UCS server technology and Cisco's networking technology, and to VMware's virtualization technology in VCE's Vblocks, which are configured and built by VCE in relatively rigid configurations before being shipped to customers.

VCE is also expected to offer entry-level Vblocks based on EMC's VNXe SMB storage line, although neither VCE nor EMC has confirmed such a move.

EMC in January reported that VCE currently has an annualized run rate of about $800 million in revenue, and could soon reach the $1 billion mark.

EMC's primary storage competitor, NetApp, also works with Cisco and VMware as well as with Microsoft to develop a Vblock competitor called FlexPod. Unlike the fixed-configuration Vblock offering.

However, FlexPod is a reference architecture which provides a blueprint for solution providers to build their own converged infrastructure offerings based on specific customer requirements.

Next: VSPEX As A Reference Architecture

Channel sources say that VSPEX will be a reference architecture that gives customers a choice of hypervisor and networking architecture, making it much more flexible than VCE's Vblocks and enabling EMC to compete on a new level with NetApp. Management will likely be provided by EMC's Ionix virtualized IT management technology.

The move to build a reference architecture is in line with what many in the channel expect is a move by Pat Gelsinger, president and COO of EMC's information infrastructure products, to take advantage of EMC storage platform's underlying server architecture. Gelsinger joined EMC in 2009 from Intel, where he served as the senior vice president and co-general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group. Gelsinger was often cited as a potential heir to the CEO position at Intel.

To prepare for the VSPEX launch, EMC in February filed for a trademark on the term "VSPEX," as originally reported by The Register.

The company made an interesting choice with the term "VSPEX." It is similar to the VSP line of virtual storage products from rival storage vendor Hitachi Data Systems. VSPEX is also the web address for a joint Taiwan and China shipping company, Wei Shibo International Express Co., Ltd.