Dell EMC Saying Goodbye To Vblock In Favor Of VxBlock And Non-Cisco Network Options

In a move that underscores the complicated nature of Dell EMC's relationship with Cisco Systems, Dell EMC is saying goodbye to its Vblock converged infrastructure platform in favor of the much more popular VxBlock.

One of the only significant differences between the two platforms is in switching. The Vblock uses Cisco's Nexus 1000v virtual switch software, while VxBlock uses the VMware's vSphere Distributed Switch. Dell EMC Global Systems Engineering President Chad Sakac said that in the last year, 90 percent of customers had chosen the VxBlock over Vblock, "indicating a clear preference to have a choice with software-defined networking options."

Sakac explained the move in a recent post to his influential Virtual Geek blog. In short, keeping two similar platforms meant Dell EMC did a mountain of engineering, support, and maintenance work while one of those platforms drew few customers.

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"While it would be disingenuous [to say] that some partnerships (with Cisco and Nutanix in particular) don't have a 'new dynamic' to them – our focus and our partners' focus [is] on the customer and giving choices has guided us well, and we're continuing to see it reflected in the results," Sakac wrote.

Vblock was co-developed by VMware, Cisco and EMC's VCE project in 2009, and it was based on VMware virtualization, Cisco compute and networking and EMC storage sold as a pre-packaged, converged platform.

Dell's $58 billion acquisition of EMC last September put EMC's deep relationship with Dell compute rival Cisco in doubt, however, and Dell EMC has been putting a significant effort behind the development of its open networking solutions. Still, Dell and Cisco have longstanding partnerships, too, and Dell EMC has a strong presence at the Cisco Live conference this week in Las Vegas.

There's another interesting wrinkle: While the Vblock and its Cisco Nexus switch had clearly not been winning with customers, both the Vblock and the VxBlock are based on Cisco UCS compute power, and VxBlock supports software-defined networking from both VMware NSX and Cisco ACI.

It's no surprise that Dell EMC would do away with the Vblock platform, said Michael Thomaschewski, CTO of hybrid infrastructure at Long View Systems, a Denver, Colo.-based solution provider that works with Dell EMC. And it could be a step toward cutting Cisco technology out of Dell EMC solutions entirely, he said.

"Most customers never really knew the difference between the Vblock and VxBlock; and most had more of a brand awareness with Vblock to the point where most VxBlock customers referred to their systems as a Vblock," Thomaschewski said, adding that Long View has seen customers moving from Nexus to vSphere networking solutions.

Thomaschewski keyed in on a line from Sakac's blog, in which he points out that "VxBlock systems have all the functionality of a Vblock system, including today using the same UCS platform and the same Cisco Nexus network switches."

"The words, 'including today,' makes it sound like leveraging Cisco components may not be the case in the future," Thomaschewski said. "The future may not include any Cisco components in the stack."

Michael Tanenhaus, principal at Mavenspire, an Annapolis, Maryland, solution provider that works with Dell EMC, said the decision to do away with Vblock serves Dell EMC's desire to make configuring and purchasing solutions simpler for customers but is unlikely to lead to a complete split between Dell EMC and Cisco.

"There will be Cisco options on go-forward projects," Tanenhaus said. "It gives them the flexibility of choice. They're trying to simplify the selling message, and it seems like it makes sense. There's a very strong population of people who are extremely loyal to Cisco, and it wouldn't make sense to mess with that, but if you think about how the cloud works, people care a lot less about the plumbing and guts. People don't care as much about networking as long as it does what it's supposed to do, and I think Cisco understands that too."

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