Partners See VCE's VxRail Hyper-Converged Appliance As 'Awesome' Competitor To Nutanix, SimpliVity

Partners are praising VCE's new VxRail appliance as an all-in-one solution that takes serious competitive aim at Nutanix and SimpliVity, the start-up darlings of the burgeoning hyper-converged market.

VxRail, a hyper-converged appliance based on white box servers and new software from VMware, was introduced today and will begin shipping next month. The list price on the entry-level appliance is about $60,000, according to Todd Pavone, Chief Operating Office of VCE, the EMC Platforms Division. VCE, an EMC company, was recently renamed the EMC Converged Platforms Unit.

"VxRail is an awesome offering from VCE, one that easily targets the hyper-converged infrastructure market currently served by Nutanix and SimpliVity," said Jamie Shepard, senior vice president for healthcare and strategy at Lumenate, a Dallas-based solution provider and partner to both VCE and VMware.

Related: VMware Launches New Hyper-Converged Stack, EVO:Rail On The Rocks

Pavone hesitates to pit VxRail against Nutanix or SimpliVity directly, saying instead that VxRail is intended for bigger, better things. "If I'm running SAP, I'm not going to put it on one of the start-ups' appliances," he said.

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Pavone also said VxRail isn't intended as a direct competitor with public cloud powerhouses like Amazon Web Services. "We can burst out of the appliance to Virtustream or vCloud Air [EMC and VMware platforms, respectively] or to the public cloud, it's not a complete competitive approach against the public cloud. We see CIOs as the broker of workloads."

The appliance also makes sense in light of the pending acquisition of EMC by Dell in a $67 billion deal expected to close between May and October, said Geoff Woollacott, an analyst at Technology Business Research, Inc.

"Now they can pump that through the Dell supply chain to keep costs down," Woollacott said. "We know Dell allows for easy plug-and-play configuration of servers and laptops, and this can cascade down to CI and HCI [converged and hyper-converged infrastructure] boxes. They can also push this new capability through the existing EMC enterprise sales force for IT customers wanting to consume infrastructure rather than build it, and this will accelerate as the power of these converged boxes become more real and more proven."

"With VxRail, VCE intends to use the technology capabilities it's gained through its tight collaboration with Cisco to pivot to a broader set of use cases beyond Cisco-EMC boxes," Woollacott said. "They're able to do plug-and-play integrations from reference architectures and allow for workload-specific optimization."

Unlike EVO:Rail, EMC's previous hyper-converged infrastructure appliance based on VMware software, the VCE VxRail integrates several key storage services, Shepard told CRN.

"It comes integrated with EMC RecoverPoint," he said. "This lets us use RecoverPoint to replicate individual virtual machines, and not just an entire storage pool or volume. The target can be any storage device, which opens a whole new world for disaster recovery and the cloud."

VCE VxRail also includes EMC's Avamar data protection software for backup and recovery with de-duplication at the source, Shepard said.

VxRail is also a huge step above EMC's VSPEX Blue, a poor-selling hyper-converged appliance based on the EVO:Rail software, Shepard said. "VSPEX Blue was a test bed for EMC, which wanted to get something out to market to see what it needed to do," he said.

Pavone acknowledged that EVO:Rail had been a disappointment, but said VxRail represents "a quantum leap forward."

"EVO:Rail, you learn from your experiences," Pavone said. "We would like to say that from day one we did everything right, but in real life you don't. What's most important for us is having an offering that leverages the value proposition of VCE."

VxRail, Pavone said, gives customers flexibility, configurability and simplicity where EVO:Rail attempted to offer a one-size-fits-all solution. "It was a great effort, good technology with a lot of loyal customers, but there was a major differentiation needed. We needed to help customers have an answer for all their applications regardless of where they reside."

In that regard, VxRail is a natural for the channel, Pavone said, adding that partners will be critical to the VxRail sales strategy.

Scott Miller, director of data center at EMC partner World Wide Technology, agreed. More and more, WWT's role is educating and advising customers on the appropriate use cases for hyper-converged solution, and the VxRail appliance will fit nicely into that conversation, especially around VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) and ROBO (remote and branch office) deployments, he said.

"This fits well into our overall go-to-market strategy and what we're doing with EMC and VCE. Before it was a piece-part approach," Miller said.

"We're constantly educating customers on what the right use case is for hyper-converged. There's a lot of confusion. If you talk to an exclusive hyper-convergence player, hyper-convergence is the answer to everything. We're spending a lot of our time broadly educating our customer base on what's the appropriate use case," Miller said.

"That's what they come to us for, especially on the data center side. We've become a trusted advisor because we're not an OEM. They talk to Nutanix or SimpliVity, and it seems like hyper-convergence could be a potential solution, and it could be. But sometimes it's not. We need to make sure they get the right answer for their needs."

Also important is the fact that VCE VxRail can be integrated with VCE Vblock solutions if desired, Shepard said. "Customers can put VxRails in regional offices of any size and replicate to Vblocks at the core," he said. "They can manage it all from VMware vCenter and other VMware tools. This takes over from where Vblock left off."

VxRail can also take advantage of customers' existing VMware enterprise license agreements, Shepard said.

"Customers with VMware ELAs [enterprise license agreements] can get the VxRail for a low cost, with no need to purchase new licenses," he said.

The hardware side of the VxRail consists of Quanta-manufactured, industry-standard servers, according to a channel source.

On the software side, VxRail is based primarily on the VMware hyper-converged software, or VMware HCS. VMware HCS combines the latest version 6.2 of VMware's Virtual SAN, or VSAN, software-defined storage application with VMware vSphere and VMware vCenter Server in an integrated software stack.

VSAN 6.2, unveiled last week, was a significant upgrade over previous editions of VSAN with new de-duplication and compression capabilities and erasure coding.

Also integrated in the appliance is the VxRail Software. Most common customer management tasks are performed though VMware tools. The VxRail management software provides system maintenance through real time notifications on the state of apps, virtual machines, and the appliance via VMware Log Insight integration. It non-disruptively automates maintenance, hardware upgrades, and software updates. It also provides direct access to online chat and support, knowledge base articles, and the VxRail Community.

VxRail appliances pack four separate nodes in a single 2U rack-mount format. They are available in six different models which vary according to number of processor cores and amount of memory and storage capacity available. All-flash models are available with up to 19.6 TBs of capacity and hybrid flash-hard drive models available with up to 10 TBs of capacity per node.

Customers can order as few as a single four-node appliance, suitable for up to 200 virtual machines. VxRail scales up to 16 appliances with 64 nodes, which VCE said is suitable for up to 3,200 virtual machines.