Seriously… DIY HCI or HCI Systems –are you SURE?

I want to be clear – I see REAL cases where customers cover the full spectrum for real reasons – from DIY to turnkey systems.    I know that we as Dell Technologies need to provide great choices for builders of IT, and consumers of IT.

That said – I see some bad examples of self-inflicted pain by customers, and by us (not just Dell EMC, or VMware, but the whole vendor ecosystem).

I see customers who hurt themselves by not being honest about how much time, money, brains they waste on silly low level things… because they LIKE to, for masochistic reasons I don’t understand.  

I’ll give you two examples from last week: 1) a mid-sized enterprise customer wanting to build their own vSAN cluster using open compute hardware (does anyone think that will help them be a better business???); 2) a customer who absolutely, desperately needs an system operating model – but someone said “if it doesn’t have this specific RAM configuration, I’m going to build it myself” (even though it’s not what the leadership in the customer is asking to prioritize).

I see vendors (including us) acting as enablers, because we’re USED to just saying yes, just quoting what we’re asked to quote, running a basic server/network/storage/software sales motion – because it’s what we’re used to.  

In each of the cases above – both VMware and Dell EMC teams are, in effect “enabling” this (because we are trying to respond to customer’s requests vs. challenging and asking “why?”…  and also because it’s what we’re used to with best-of-breed approaches).

Let me make this clear with a simple picture and analogy.

I love building my own PC systems for fun (I do this over the holidays because it’s like meditation for me) – and that means I get Newegg Canada email promos all the time.   Every email promo has a “DIY corner” with bundles – just like the below.


The link/picture on the left is for a bundle.   Bundles are validated, can be ordered together.   While you can sort of expect that because of open systems standards and multi-vendor support models the parts of the bundle will work together over time, there is no explicit promise of “working together” that over years and updates.   What about the economic value?   The components of the bundle are packaged, and in exchange, you generally pay a discount versus the sum of the parts of the bundle.  

The link/picture on the right is for a system – in this case a Dell Alienware Aurora R6.  It’s one thing.  from one place.   It’s integrated.  The vendor is responsible for how it works – for the life of the system.   What about the economic value?   The components of the system are integrated, often with additional software that ties them all together.   This means in exchange, you generally pay a premium over the sum of the parts – and that degree of premium is about the degree of integration, value add in all parts of the offer, inclusive of other software.

Think of the picture on the left as a vSAN + vSAN Ready Node for DIY HCI, or a buying VMware, Server, Storage network in more traditional DIY infrastructure.   These are examples of bundles.

Think of the picture on the right as VxRail (HCI system) or a VxBlock (CI system).   these are examples of systems.

There are other loads of examples of bundles and system analogs.   Think Dell EMC XC (system), or Nutanix software + PowerEdge (bundle), or VMware Cloud Foundation + PowerEdge (bundle) or VxRack SDDC (system).   That said, based on volume, the vSAN + vSAN Ready Node (bundle) and VxRail example is the largest volume example that plays out every day.

Now – there’s more to it than packaging.  There are critical product/product differences that result in a materially different decision.


The “DIY” decision represents THIS choice: “I’m going to keep doing what you’re used to – which feels familiar.  I recognize that I’m not freeing up a single ounce of time, or resources – I’m choosing to simply  just getting a more  fresh set of ingredients than I have now”.  

The “System” decision represents THIS choice: “I’m going consciously STOP doing what I’m used to doing and redirect that time, effort, neurons to other activities – and that feels strange.  I recognize that I’m making a conscious choice to free up time, resources – but that in exchange I’m not going to be able to tweak everything, and there is incremental value I will pay for”.

I want to be clear – vSAN and the vSAN Ready Node HCL program is a great thing.   We embrace vSAN Ready Nodes – and in fact, Dell EMC PowerEdge is the leading server platform attached to vSAN when customers choose the DIY route.

I want to be clear – VxRail is a very different thing.

Even if I drop things like integrated data protection, remote replication, cloud storage, NAS, etc that make them different, they are still two totally different offers.

Answer these questions “YES” or “NO” – and it will help you navigate the right choice for you:

Lifecycle Management:

  • Do you expect that there is away to do a cluster-wide upgrade/update from soup to nuts, and versioning is done as a whole?
  • Do you expect that lifecycle – from soup to nuts – has a nice simple REST API so you can scale?
  • Do you expect a simple internet based update that automatically gets everything in a nice package – hardware, software, everything?
  • Do you expect that BEFORE you add a node, update a node, remove a node (or a cluster) – that the software will check to make sure not only that the hardware/software is in a known good config, but also that the user hasn’t made configuration changes that are known to cause failures?
  • Do you expect that AFTER you add a node, update a node, remove a node (or a cluster) – that the software will check to make sure not only that everything is healthy?
  • Do you expect that everything needed for a lifecycle update – not just controller (which is in vSAN 6.6.1 via VUM), but BIOS, integrated systems management, NIC firmware, drive/SSD firmware, power supply, everything?


  • Does the local image get checked before install?
  • Does the network get checked for readiness before install?
  • Does the hardware configuration get checked for readiness before install?
  • Is there an ability to stage a multisite standard via config/reposistory?
  • Is there an ability to batch deployments and cluster scaling?


  • Do you expect that your vendor gets telemetry for support and isn’t connecting dots when the chips are down?
  • Do you need the ability to open a vendor support chat directly from the infrastructure?
  • Do you need a simple way when you do a field/customer replacement part?
  • Do you want someone to be tracking the SSD endurance/lifespan for you, and replacing when you need to?
  • Do you want a simple way to shutdown a node with a single click?
  • Do you expect that your partner has a simple mechanism for log collection for everything soup to nuts?

If you said “YES” more than “NO” = you are a VxRail customer.

If you said “NO” more than “YES” = you are a vSAN + vSAN Ready Node DIY customer.