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

VMware on Wednesday unveiled a major upgrade to its hyper-converged infrastructure software stack, and in the process signaled the possible end of its EVO:Rail product.

The new edition, Virtual SAN 6.2, is also expected to be part of the software stack for a new hyper-converged infrastructure appliance slated to be introduced next week by VMware parent VCE. VCE and VMware are sister organizations in the EMC Federation.

Gaetan Castelein, senior director of storage and availability product marketing at VMware, said that EVO:Rail is still available, but acknowledged that the "focus going forward will be on VSAN Ready Nodes and on VCE appliances."

[Related: VMware EVO Channel Not Seeing It, But Expects Changes At VMworld]

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Virtual SAN, commonly referred to as VSAN, is VMware's software-defined storage solution. VSAN combined with VMware vSphere and VMware vCenter Server forms VMware's complete hyper-converged infrastructure software stack, which the vendor terms VMware HCS.

VMware now offers two hyper-converged infrastructure software stacks, both with the same software applications. The VMware HCS solution is designed to deploy on industry-standard servers by server vendors, said Castelein.

EVO:Rail, which includes the same software applications, is packaged specifically for deployment as part of an integrated appliance by OEM partners, Castelein told CRN.

By all accounts, the VMware EVO:Rail stack, which counts more than a dozen server and storage OEMs as partners committed to building integrated appliances based on the software, has not lived up to expectations

One of VMware's major server partners, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, in August admitted to CRN that it discontinued its EVO:Rail solution.

Channel sources working with different OEM partners told CRN they have seen limited use of the EVO:Rail software stack by their vendors, and expect the solution to disappear.

VSAN 6.2 is a huge step over the earlier versions, said Jamie Shepard, senior vice president for health care and strategy at Lumenate, a Dallas-based solution provider and longtime EMC and VMware channel partner.

Shepard said that he has seen EVO:Rail slowly dying, and that VMware's HCS is a better solution. "EVO:Rail wasn't really doing much," he said. "And VSPEX Blue, EMC's prebuilt EVO:Rail solution, hasn't been doing anything."

EMC did not respond to requests about more information related to VSPEX Blue sales by publication time. However, an EMC spokesperson told CRN via email that EMC and VMware have partnered closely on developing a new next-generation, hyper-converged appliance family that leverages EMC, VMware and VCE technology.

VSAN in the past was not optimized to meet modern business workloads, Shepard told CRN.

"It was missing key features like deduplication and erasure coding," he said. "That meant customers needed double the actual capacity or more of workloads. If a customer had a 25-Gbyte virtual machine and needed fault-tolerance, it might require up to 75 Gbytes of actual capacity. If you add up all those virtual machines, that gets expensive. So erasure coding is a huge deal."

VSAN 6.2's ability to do deduplication on VMDK (Virtual Machine Disk) bases is also important for a lot of workloads, Shepard said.

"With all-flash arrays like EMC's XtremIO, workloads like VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] don't compress well. It's important to control capacity on a disk group basis. This gets people thinking about applications."

With the updated VMware HCS featuring the new VSAN 6.2, VMware plans to offer it via three different target routes to market.

The first is the Virtual SAN Ready Nodes, which in the past was a program for precertified solutions but has now been extended to server OEMs that can preinstall the software, bundle all the necessary licenses and offer their own support, Castelein said.

"Server OEMs can pick and choose how they deploy Virtual SAN Ready Nodes," he said. "We provide them with flexibility. They get the same software, but can take different approaches to market."

Virtual SAN Ready Nodes has been certified to run on x86-based servers from several vendors including HPE, Dell, Fujitsu, Cisco, Lenovo, Hitachi, Supermicro and Huawei, Castelein said. Three of those partners -- Dell, Fujitsu and Supermicro -- will likely be first to market, he said.

The VSAN Ready Nodes previously met customer pain points, but required customers to download and deploy the software, said Sim Upadhyayula, director of solutions enablement for San Jose, Calif.-based system builder Supermicro.

"With our new partnership with VMware, when customers buy the solution, all the software is preinstalled at the Supermicro factory," Upadhyayula told CRN. "They can bring it in, hook it up and do the last bit of deployment. And they have the option of purchasing service and support from Supermicro. So if they have any hardware or software issues, they call Supermicro."

The VSAN Ready Nodes offers more flexibility than VMware's EVO:Rail solution does, and is suited for a much wider range of high-performance workloads, Upadhyayula said. "Supermicro has about 20 different configurations of VSAN Ready Nodes," he said. "Each customer need is unique. It's not one size fits all. We let customers right-size the solution."

The second target market for VMware HCS is via engineered appliances via the EMC Federation. Castelein said this includes integrated appliances that will be announced soon from sister company VCE.

Castelein declined to provide details about planned VCE releases based on VMware HCS. However, EMC has for some time been building buzz about a Feb. 16 unveiling of a new hyper-converged infrastructure offering combining VMware and EMC technology under the VCE banner.

The third target route to market is the EVO SDDC (software-defined data center) integrated system, which combines VMware HCS, VMware vRealize cloud management, VMware NSX software-defined networking and the EVO SDDC manager as an integrated system in limited availability.

VSAN 6.2 is the first version of VSAN that includes deduplication and compression technologies at the disk group level for significantly reducing the amount of capacity required for storing data, Castelein said.

It also introduces erasure coding as a way of protecting against data loss. Castelein said erasure coding is available with both RAID-5, which ties the data across a minimum of four hosts to ensure uptime if one host is down, and RAID-6, which ties the data across at least six hosts to ensure uptime if two hosts are lost.

The new deduplication, compression and erasure coding are targeted primarily at hyper-converged infrastructure solutions based on all-flash storage systems, Castelein said.

"Virtual SAN 6.2 supports hybrid flash arrays," he said. "But the focus on space efficiency is really for all-flash storage solutions. We see adoption of all-flash storage picking up quickly in 2016. The use of dedupe, compression, and erasure coding must be done carefully in hybrid solutions depending on the application. It makes sense to support them in all-flash solutions."

VSAN 6.2 also includes new performance and capacity monitoring tools, he said. Also new are support for pure IPv6 networking environments, and the availability of end-to-end checksum capabilities to detect and resolve disk errors.