Dell EMC Commits To Exclusive Use Of Cisco UCS Servers In Vblocks, VxBlocks

A couple of key Dell EMC server and storage executives have stated unequivocally that the company would continue to use Cisco UCS servers, and not Dell servers, in the company's Vblock converged infrastructure solutions.

Channel partners close to both Dell and Cisco had mixed reactions to the Dell EMC move – some see it as an example of the vendor's commitment to offering flexible solutions to customers, and others see it as a way to keep existing customers satisfied until they move to Dell-centric servers.

Chad Sakac, president of Dell EMC's converged platforms and solutions division, said in a December video blog that customers see servers a critical part of how they build their IT infrastructures.

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Dell EMC will continue to build its Vblock and VxBlock pre-integrated converged infrastructure solutions using Cisco UCS servers while building its VxRack hyper-converged rack-scale solutions and its VxRail-based and Nutanix-based hyper-converged infrastructure appliances using Dell's R630, R730, and R730xd server platforms with software-defined storage, SSDs, and NVMe storage, Sakac said.

Vblock and VxBlock are similar, but VxBlock includes built-in software-defined networking using VMware NSX or Cisco ACI technology.

When it comes to enterprise-class Vblock and VxBlock solutions, customers still want to know the specific components or "ingredients" even though they are primarily concerned with the functionality of the solution as a whole, Sakac said.

"Customers worry about the ingredients, when they don't really understand that, when they're buying [converged infrastructure], they're not buying the ingredient," he said. "The thing that they're evaluating is everything inside [the solution]. But again, customers start their journey by thinking the ingredients really, really matter. So we say, 'OK, fine.'"

Unlike the rack-scale-based and appliance-based hyper-converged infrastructure solutions, in which the storage is tightly integrated with the server, the VCE Vblock platforms feature an external storage array tied to the server, Sakac said. That array could be either a VMAX, XtremIO, XC-series, or Unity, he said.

For both the Vblock and the VxRack solutions, Dell EMC has standardized on the Cisco Nexus network technology because of enterprise customer demand, Sakac said. And when VCE Vblocks were first unveiled, they were built using Cisco UCS servers, he said.

Both Sakac and Ravi Pendekanti, senior vice president of product management and marketing for Dell PowerEdge servers, said Dell servers compete very well in terms of capabilities with those of Cisco. However, Pendekanti said, Cisco UCS will remain the server platform of choice for Vblocks and VxBlocks.

"Since we said we're going to be completely transparent between [the Dell and EMC] organizations, our intention is not to change the current portfolio," Pendekanti said. "We're going to remain as it is, and will continue with the success we have gained over the last few years by using Cisco UCS."

Sakac explained that the Vblock business had been a success in the seven years since VCE was first introduced, with revenue of about $3.4 billion with a 20-percent cumulative annual growth rate. "That's fantastic," he said. "Customers are voting with their feet that [they like the Dell EMC] formula."

Given that, it would not make sense for Dell EMC to abandon UCS servers, Sakac said. "Why would we change a successful formula to swap out one ingredient for another," he said. "There's no business reason to do it. There's no pressure and no project and no plan and no intent to do it."

Pendekanti echoed Sakac's statement that Dell EMC will not take UCS out of VCE. "When it comes to the [converged infrastructure] blocks, there is no intention to change anything that's in place today," he said.

Looking forward, Sakac said it is important to realize that the hyper-converged infrastructure part of the market is growing faster than the converged infrastructure part, with Dell EMC sometimes seeing quarter-over-quarter growth rates for hyper-converged infrastructure solutions of over 100 percent.

Dell EMC has a 60-plus-percent market share in the converged infrastructure market, but maybe 30 percent to 40 percent of the hyper-converged infrastructure market, Sakac said.

"It's a market that is emerging, hotly contested, and a place where [Dell and EMC] are going to innovate together over the next few years … But in the C.I. category, there's no plan, no intent to change out anything that is involved with the Cisco UCS partnership, which is working great," he said.

Dell EMC's commitment to UCS servers in its Vblocks and VxBlocks is not marketing fluff, said Jamie Shepard, senior vice president for healthcare and strategy at Lumenate, a Dallas-based solution provider and long-time Cisco and EMC channel partner.

"Dell is smart," Shepard told CRN. "It's not saying it is just taking care of existing customers by keeping Cisco UCS. It is responding to customer demands for flexibility."

Vblocks and VxBlocks are very important for Dell EMC's future, Shepard said.

"They allow Dell EMC to go into enterprise customers and have a stronger conversation about their needs," Shepard said. "When we talk about converged infrastructure, we can ask customers if they want help with building and deploying solutions. They always say 'yes.' We can use UCS to have that conversation. Keeping UCS is a very strategic move for Dell to keep the conversation moving forward."

While Cisco was able to use its early investment in the VCE Vblock platform to quickly expand what was then its first foray into the server business, UCS has since become a staple in data centers, making it important that Vblocks and VxBlocks remain tied to UCS servers, Shepard said. "Customers know that bringing UCS servers in is very smart," he said. "If a customer has a Vblock, they can easily tie in new UCS servers to expand the compute part."

Another solution provider close to both Dell EMC and Cisco said the decision to continue focusing Vblock and VxBlock solutions on Cisco UCS servers is less about committing to future-facing requirements and more about managing specific business needs.

"It ain't broke, so don't break it," the solution provider told CRN under condition of anonymity. "Dell EMC and Cisco seem to have officially agreed to point their joint guns at Hewlett Packard Enterprise."

There is no need for Dell to bring its own servers into the Vblock and VxBlock solutions because those solutions are based on technology that is already starting to see a shrinking market, the solution provider said.

"Vblocks are not growing," the solution provider said. "They're based on traditional storage arrays. So there's no reason to add Dell servers to Vblocks. Vblocks use external arrays, and that business is not growing.

However, the solution provider said, Dell MC's VxRack and VxRail business is growing, and are based on Dell servers. "Dell is saying, if you want new infrastructures, go with converged and hyper-converged infrastructure on Dell," the solution provider said. "But if you want to use antiquated storage, stay with Vblock. Dell with VCE is looking at where the puck was, not where it is going."

Large enterprises who have already bought into the Vblock solutions will not be moving the Vblock workloads to VxRack or VxRail for a long time, the solution provider said. "So it's important to Dell and Cisco to say Vblock with UCS is not going away. There's no need to break the money tree."

Executives from Dell EMC and Cisco were not able to provide more information other than to state that the two vendors' relationships would remain the same going forward.