Solution Providers: VMware EVO: RAIL Great First Software-Defined Solution

Jamie Shepard

While hyper-converged infrastructure appliances based on VMware's EVO: RAIL software stack are currently available from only a handful of early providers, at least one solution provider has been testing the new solution and found it a good first step toward developing a software-defined world.

However, that solution provider and one of his peers agree that EVO: RAIL still needs time to mature into the kind of solution that can go head-to-head with more established hyper-converged infrastructure solutions from companies such as Nutanix.

Jamie Shepard, regional and health systems senior vice president at Lumenate, a Dallas-based solution provider and longtime VMware channel partner, said Lumenate has been beta-testing the VMware EVO: RAIL software stack on Cisco servers starting last month.

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VMware EVO: RAIL, introduced at the August VMworld conference, is a scalable software-defined data center software stack that includes VMware vSphere Enterprise Plus and ESXi, vCenter Server, VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN) for storage, and VMware vRealize Log Insight, the real-time log management application formerly known as vCenter Log Insight.

The VMware EVO: RAIL software stack is expected to be bundled with servers from a variety of systems vendors as a hyper-converged infrastructure appliance to compete in the same space as market leaders Nutanix and SimpliVity.

Hewlett-Packard Tuesday officially unveiled one such appliance, the HP ConvergedSystem 200 HC EVO: RAIL, which ties the VMware software to a ProLiant server. It is slated to be released early next year.

Dell this week said it is preparing to ship an appliance, the Dell Engineered Solution for VMware EVO: RAIL, with additional services from software-defined storage partner Nexenta.

Shepard told CRN that Lumenate is testing the VMware EVO: RAIL software on Cisco servers featuring 192 GB of memory, three 1-TB hard drives, one 4-GB SSD, and two Gigabit Ethernet ports per server node.

Lumenate tested the EVO: RAIL software using Cisco servers despite the fact that Cisco, which is both a partner and archrival of VMware, is not expected to adopt the EVO: RAIL stack.

Shepard said the fact that Lumenate is testing the software on the Cisco platform shows the software can be used with any server that currently supports VMware, and that VMware has come up with a true software-defined solution.

In an email to CRN, Shepard emphasized that the requirements for EVO: RAIL are hardware-agnostic.

NEXT: VMware EVO: RAIL On Cisco Proof Of Software-Defined Capabilities

"The requirements are CPU, memory, 10 GB, etc., that is true open software-defined. EVO: RAIL is providing us with the requirements to run certain workloads, my architects are the ones that build the components and then release to customers. You don't need to 'test' hardware vendors, as long as they can match requirements. ... That is what I love about this whole software-defined. It's really allowing software to dictate the underlying components requirements. Not the other way around. This is the way it should be," he wrote.

A single VMware EVO: RAIL appliance requires a minimum of four nodes to run, according to Shepard and to a VMware data sheet that went live last month on the VMware website.

Such a configuration allows up to 100 server virtual machines or 250 VMware Horizon View virtual desktops per four-node appliance, or 400 virtual servers or 1,000 virtual desktops across a four-appliance cluster, according to the VMware data sheet. Those virtual machines or desktops can access a VSAN data store of up to 13.1 TB per node, or 52.4 TB across a four-node cluster.

Shepard, however, told CRN that EVO: RAIL can actually easily scale to 350 virtual desktops per appliance, based on Lumenate's tests.

VMware has come up with a good solution for the coming software-defined world with its EVO: RAIL, Shepard said.

"VMware is going after the entry-level part of this market, where customers often have difficulty managing their storage," he said. "It's how Nutanix and everyone else started. At the entry level, with easy deployment and easy management, and no need to hire expensive administrators."

Despite how well the EVO: RAIL software stack works, it still faces strong competition from companies such as Nutanix that provide integrated hyper-converged infrastructure appliances, Shepard said.

"It's tough going after Nutanix," he said. "Nutanix owns VMworld, and has an amazing relationship with VMware."

Steve Kaplan, vice president of channel and strategic sales at Nutanix, told CRN via email that the Nutanix solution can handle 440 Horizon View-based virtual desktops in a 2U appliance vs. 250 using EVO: RAIL. At the maximum 16-node configuration for EVO: RAIL using four 2U appliances, EVO: RAIL supports 1,000 virtual desktops vs. 1,760 desktops for Nutanix, Kaplan wrote.

"Just as important, Nutanix provides full feature support for VDI desktops, including data locality for long-term high performance, compression, de-duplication, VAAI support, native snapshots, backup to public cloud, and more. Additionally, the number of nodes cited for EVO: RAIL correspond to maximum scale (16 nodes). In contrast, Nutanix has no upper limit on scale," he wrote.

VMware was unable to comment for this story.

NEXT: Solution Provider Says EVO: RAIL Not A Nutanix Killer Yet

Another solution provider that has been closely watching VMware EVO: RAIL told CRN under condition of anonymity that the software is a valid first solution.

"VMware claims that, minutes from out of the box, you can ship the first virtual machine," the solution provider said. "And the VMware management framework allows a new virtual machine to be created via the Web-based portal with just three clicks."

VMware EVO: RAIL also takes advantage of the popular VMware vSphere platform, the solution provider said. "It uses VMware Log Insight, my favorite application of all time," the solution provider said. "It provides beautiful data virtualization and search. It's crazy fast."

However, the solution provider said, Nutanix for now is still a preferred solution, if for no other reason than maturity. For instance, Nutanix is much more efficient in terms of how much disk capacity is required compared with VMware VSAN.

Furthermore, the solution provider said, because the different server vendors planning to bundle the VMware EVO: RAIL software will all be using the same application, it will be hard for them to differentiate themselves in the market.

"The software seems to be locked down," the solution provider said. "It's a case of, 'Build it this way, and ship it.' The management capabilities are all the same. Just the hardware is different."