Making 2 go to 1: Choosing simplification in Vblock/VxBlock.

With Cisco Live! next week in Las Vegas (June 25-29th) it’s a good time to provide a quick, but important update on what we’re doing around CI.    Our Dell EMC team will be there in force – and for all of us, I hope it cools down 🙂

Now, on to the topic of the post.   I deeply, personally believe that transparency is good. When you know what people are doing, and why – particularly when they do what they say over time – you build trust and based on trust you can partner deeply.

Since the merger of Dell and EMC we’ve continued to maintain our Converged Infrastructure leadership while dramatically accelerating our strategy and execution on the Hyper-Converged market with VxRail, VxRack, and XC. 

While it would be disingenuous that some partnerships (with Cisco and Nutanix in particular) don’t have a “new dynamic” to them  – our focus and our partners’ focus on the customer and giving choices has guided us well, and we’re continuing to see it reflect in the results.

So – all good, and and cooking fast! 

That said, I’ve been learning fast and hard in this new role of mine about the importance for leaders to keep pruning/focusing/simplifying.

Where there is a chance to simplify that we think is in our customer’s interests, we’re going to take it.   Where we think choice is in the customer interest, we’re going to offer it.

Here, there’s a chance to simplify our CI offers from two to one – and we’re going to take it.

Today we have two CI platforms called Vblock and VxBlock. They sound similar, and tend to create confusion for our customers…when they really shouldn’t.

The distinction  between the two is whether or not they use the Nexus 1000v software 3rd party distributed switch(Vblock) or the VMware Distributed Switch (VxBlock).

Let me be clear, and not bury the lead:

We will simplify our CI platform strategy is going forward, we’ve decided to bring Vblock and VxBlock together. Starting on July 1st, we will only offer VxBlock Systems going forward as our CI offer.

When you turn to your Dell EMC team, when people want the “easy button” to effectively stop wasting time and money trying to build, integrate and sustain their infrastructure – we can now offer a clear and simplified CI/HCI portfolio of VxBlock, VxRack, VxRail and XC, and datacenter fabrics to bind them together.

To understand what is driving this, what it means to customers, and what to expect next, read on!

First: Customers Have Spoken

Back in 2008, at VMworld, Cisco announced the Nexus 1000v – which was a milestone in making the virtual switch “Enterprise class”, which was really needed at the time.

I don’t say this lightly – I was there, and the Internet never forgets, so I have evidence.  Wow, I had bad hair and I was in worse shape then – but that said… I did have less gray hairs, and more hair in total 🙂   See Ed Bugnion (Cisco), Scott Davis (VMware) and I co-present a session on what we were doing together here:

BTW – it’s fun to look at all the videos in that series to get a peek into what we were doing then…

I remember vSphere at the time (was the release window for vSphere 4.0) – and the networking functionality of the native distributed virtual switch was still immature.

Time has moved on, the vSphere native distributed virtual switch has matured.

Furthermore – customers have voted. I don’t know about the stats of vSphere and 3rd party virtual switches overall, but I do see it very directly in the Vblock/VxBlock customer base that I see.

In the past year, you’ve all voted for VxBlock and the native vSphere Distributed Virtual Switch with your wallets.

A full 90 percent of our customers have chosen VxBlock Systems over Vblock, indicating a clear preference to have a choice with Software Defined Networking (SDN) options.

Beyond the difference in the virtual switch, what else is different between Vblock and VxBlock?

Not much – but we had a massive effort in maintaining two different Release Certification Matrix (RCM) paths.

People who understand the value of CI and HCI understand that the big difference between bundles, reference architectures, of DIY approach is all about LIFECYCLE.

With CI and HCI systems – someone (namely Dell EMC) is picking up the responsibility for the full lifecycle – that is a huge responsibility we lift from the customer.

With CI – it’s held together with deep investments in systems engineering, process, and people. HCI done as it should be, it’s held together with software/automation (though systems level engineering, process, and people still matter immensely).

To put it in perspective – on all our CI and HCI appliances and systems – we commit to maintain the full system-level lifecycle for the full life of the system, every patch, every fix, every configuration – for YEARS. That’s a huge difference from DIY approaches, from reference architectures, and from bundles – and it’s a BIG burden for us, but a BIG value for our customers.

That means that even something “simple” (but fundamental) like maintaining two Release Certification Matrix (RCM) “branches” – one for the VDS and one for the N1Kv doubles the work/variation.  It doubles the errors that can be made.   It doubles the sustaining engineering.   It doubles the support complexity.   Variation in infrastructure is increasingly bad.  

In the spirit of “keep things simple”. When you add “huge work” to “few customers” – this makes the go-forward direction obvious.

There’s another reason the go-forward direction is obvious. VxBlock Systems have all the functionality of a Vblock System, including today using the same Unified Computing System (UCS) platform and the same Cisco Nexus network switches.

Interestingly, VxBlocks offer a superset of SDN choices over Vblock. VxBlocks support BOTH the SDN choices we see in our customer base – both the VMware NSX stack and Cisco ACI (see this post here). Also, VxBlocks support our curated VMware Hybrid Cloud stack – the Enterprise Hybrid Cloud, Vblock does not.

So, as we decide the path forward is VxBlock – that decision has implications for our customers – all of them great. Our customers gain:

  • Choice: the flexibility of VMware NSX or Cisco ACI
  • Simplicity: a single standard CI building block for Enterprise Hybrid Cloud (EHC) along with our HCI options of VxRack and VxRail.
  • Innovation: latest Cisco and VMware technology coupled with all-flash storage solutions from Dell EMC Unity, VMAX, XtremIO, and Isilon
  • Time to Market: innovations will be brought to market even faster by shortening the qualification process thanks to streamlining with fewer portfolio models.

Q: So – what about our existing Vblock customers?

A: We’ve got you covered – and won’t let you down.

Existing Vblock customers are supported for the full service life – period.  That was our commitment to you, and we don’t waver from our commitments.    If you want to expand your Vblock – we will continue to sell additional Vblock System expansions (e.g. adding more drives/UCS systems) and supported Converged Technology Extensions (e.g. adding a Technology Extension for Isilon to a Vblock System) and minor enhancements through June 30, 2020. We also will continue to offer service and security patches through June 30, 2022.

Q: If you’re sick and tired of building my own stacks, and want the simplification of CI, aka “if you’re starting now”, what do you do?

A: Simple – if you need CI – then the answer is VxBlock.  

BTW – if you want HCI, then the answer is also simple: it’s VxRail, VxRack, and XC – and those choices come down to 2 simple questions: 1) “are you all about VMware?”; 2) “do you need + 10 appliances, and are you ready for network transformation?” – this 2 x 2 set of questions steers you to 1 of 4 HCI paths.

It’s also notable for existing customers that there won’t be Vblock RCM updates that incorporate beyond vSphere 6.0u3 for Vblocks – so for customers who plan to go to the vSphere 6.5 u1 (and later) release train, they should move to VxBlocks.

Moving from Vblock to VxBlock is not hard. We have a simple service that will migrate Vblocks to the VxBlock RCM path (in essence removing the Nexus 1000v and moving to the VDS – which is a non-disruptive change).

This decision and how we’re doing it follows a business rule I always strive for: don’t punch your customers in the face.

Second: What’s the latest with our partnership with Cisco?

The partnership continues – and not just around VxBlock. It’s clear that on some topics, we disagree – for example, when it comes to Hyper-Converged Infrastructure.  We see huge interest in SDN that is very decoupled from the physical network (NSX), and we also see a clear market for open networking hardware platforms – a place where Dell EMC Networking has led the market, and we’re starting to see others follow that lead.

But – there are areas where we partner as strongly as ever.

Due to our joint collaboration and engineering efforts, and thanks to the amazing investments we have been making in the Dell EMC Vscale Architecture, we’re extending the ability to manage IT from “the block” to the beyond, with nearly 80% of our Vscale customers choosing Cisco ACI (in some cases together with NSX – these can very much be an “and” choice) to handle the demands of data center automation.

Compute, storage, data protection and network resources can be pooled across the datacenter and beyond.

Furthermore this is another “customers are voting” example.   We saw this at some of our largest CI customers as the matured, and we’re seeing it enough places that it’s proving the market for Data Center Fabrics as part of a “full lifecycle, Data Center scale CI/HCI approach”

Who uses Vscale?   Vscale has been a huge hit at massive customers with many VxBlocks as well as providing the ability to add compute-only, storage only technology extensions, and even a path forward to start using VxRack systems.

Tim Rod, who has responsibility for Converged Infrastructure partners in Cisco’s Global and Strategic Partner Organization, says:

“Vscale customers are some of Cisco’s largest ACI and Converged Infrastructure customers and we are excited to continue the real success we have had together with Dell EMC. Our mutual customers are the real beneficiaries of this innovation.”

Check out our CTO, Trey Layton’s blog here for more details about our Cisco partnership and Vscale innovations. To drive that latter point home, here’s a short list of the latest new Vscale innovations we’re adding to the platform:

  • Single Point of orchestration for compute, network, and storage: UCS Director in conjunction with Cisco ACI automation reduces the risk and time to onboard services associated with manual provisioning and configuration
  • Vscale Border Technology Connect: Cisco Nexus, ASA and Firepower, ISR and ASR communications and security services between the Vscale Fabric and external networks
  • Vscale Open Technology Connect: Cisco Nexus and MDS service for third-party equipment integration and resource-sharing
  • Vscale Fabric Technology Connect for storage: All-flash Dell EMC Unity, XtremIO and VMAX storage and Isilon Network-attached storage
  • Cisco Advanced Services for UCS Director and ACI deployment

We’re immensely proud of the category we’ve created with Vblock as a platform and everything that we have collectively accomplished together with our partners and customers – and we continue with VxBlock, VxRack, VxRail, and Vscale.

I (and the whole Converged Platform and Solutions team) value each and every customer relationship.

As technology advances, markets change – we’re confident we’re making the right decision on your behalf and I want to be as transparent as possible about the thinking that went into this decision. It was not taken lightly.

That all, said, however, we couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds for our VxBlock customers, and we continue to invest and innovate – stay tuned for even more!)

Would love your thoughts!