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President: We're moving VCE converged infrastructure up the stack

IT pros increasingly want to buy infrastructure and not build it, says president of VCE Chad Sakac, as he outlines plans for the company's converged infrastructure products.

VCE President Chad Sakac plans to take VCE converged infrastructure offerings wider and deeper, including introducing Dell hardware into its VxRack product and a new hyper-converged appliance in partnership with VMware.

Sakac was named the president at VCE, EMC's converged platform division, in early January, taking over for Praveen Akkiraju, who had been at the helm of VCE since 2012.

Sakac spoke with SearchDataCenter about the future of VCE, and the state of its relationship going forward with Cisco.

How do you see VCE's role within the EMC Federation, given the Dell-EMC-VMware merger?

Chad Sakac: VCE converged infrastructure and hyper-converged infrastructure, more and more, is a story of how users want to buy and consume infrastructure. It is also a story of users increasingly wanting to buy versus build.

While we are doing well in the converged [infrastructure] market, there are portions we don't serve. Vblocks are great if you need 2,000 VMs or more, but you can't buy a Vblock in size small.

VCE President Chad SakacChad Sakac

But to address the hyper-converged market, we needed to do certain things a bit differently. First, we needed to transition VCE from being a single product company into a portfolio company. We also extended out from Vblock to include VxRack, which are rack-scaled hyper-converged systems. And we will have a major launch in the hyper-converged appliance category later this month. But to do that, we needed a server choice, which was a low-cost, industry-standard, rack-mount modular server. That is very different from the value proposition of, say, the Cisco UCS B-Series.

What is the primary difference between your offering and theirs?

Sakac: We are able to start with a very small footprint -- a 2U footprint with disk, compute and storage that are industry standard server components. That is the base building block for all hyper-configured offerings. VxRack is built on that, and users can scale that to a 500-node system.

To build different converged and hyper-converged systems, we needed different server ingredients, and we couldn't do that inside the structure of the joint venture agreement [between EMC and VMware]. EMC felt the JV was constrained, because it was committed to just using [Cisco] UCS for compute and EMC for storage. That formula is successful with Vblock -- which, by the way, is not going to change. But that formula doesn't work with VxRack systems, where a low-cost, rack-mount modular server is needed.

Does VCE's role become that of an internal OEM for the EMC Federation, delivering customized servers?

Sakac: VCE will be the place that delivers the whole platform for everything we have. When I say platform, that is why the name changed to the Converged Platform Business unit. As I said, users want to buy versus build more, and customers' definition of where that buy-build boundary is, is shifting northward. When users today say they want converged or hyper-converged, they mean compute, storage and network. But, increasingly, users are defining that buy boundary as existing at the IaaS [infrastructure as a service] layer of the stack. In other words, they want the buy boundary to include vSphere, vRealize Suite and everything that, to them, is a self-service portal. In some cases, they go a step further and want everything all the way up to the [platform as a service] layer, which means including Cloud Foundry. Increasingly, users want choice, but they also want a strong opinion.

What do you mean by opinion?

Sakac: It means they want extreme clarity. In a confusing time, users resist lock-in furiously. One good thing about the Federation's model is it's always been rooted in user choice. It will also always be true even as Dell and EMC come together, because that has been Dell's model as well. This is in stark opposition to other players in the business who say, 'It is our way or the highway' for the whole stack.

Users like choice, but increasingly, they tell me that they need to go fast, and so they are asking for a firm opinion. For example, what that means for things like component choices, if a user wants VSAN as a component, they are in essence saying they want to build, not buy. Conversely, when they say they want a hyper-converged appliance, they are saying they are OK with an integrated system, because they are acknowledging the need to go faster.

Can you do all the testing required now to integrate all of these different components you are throwing together for converged and hyper-converged solutions?

Sakac: Yes. We have 2,500 employees and will be adding additional employees throughout 2016. Half of that workforce is core engineering and testing. When we release a product like VxRack, a Vblock refresh, or an IaaS solution stack for hybrid cloud -- all of them are fully engineered stacks built and maintained by the core VCE team.

Dell has strength among midsize and small accounts, and a few larger accounts, but its reputation among the larger accounts is not as good for reliability with its Intel-based servers as its competitors -- environments where the hardware is really taxed. Will it be stressed for higher-performance apps?

Sakac: That isn't my experience. I think your statement about brand identity and success in [small and medium-sized business] SMB, and in federal and state government business -- that is the strength of Dell's go to market. Their capability inside Power Edge and the FX2 platforms is very strong inside the enterprise, as well as SMBs. Historically, some of their server competitors would go into an enterprise with more of an enterprise salesforce and a portfolio with not just servers, but storage platforms and things like that. And that would give them strength in the enterprise.

What is the state of the relationship with Cisco?

Sakac: Nothing changes there. VCE is still Cisco's single largest route to market for UCS and Nexus. The largest percentage of UCS that arrives in the world has been built, engineered and delivered by VCE.

What will be your relationship with Dell, and how much will they influence the direction you will be taking?

What you can count on is if the Dell-EMC merger happens, we will leverage the hell out of Dell's supply chain to drive down the whole system's cost and give users more flexibility in the process.
Chad Sakacpresident of VCE

Sakac: People in the press said, 'If the Dell-EMC deal comes together, that must mean VCE will not do anything with Cisco.' I can see why people might jump to that conclusion, but the reality is, when a user buys a system, the components aren't as relevant as the whole system.

What you can count on is if the Dell-EMC merger happens, we will leverage the hell out of Dell's supply chain to drive down the whole system's cost and give users more flexibility in the process.

Given VCE's new role, how does it change things with VMware?

Sakac: I can't speak for VMware, but they have always had this wild, open ecosystem and they will continue to have that. But what EMC and VMware will be doing in the hyper-converged appliance space will be talked about later this month. 

It sounds like Dell's relationship is basically supplanting what is currently a commodity ODM server through the VxRack, but the Cisco relationship remains through the Vblock?

Sakac: The relationship with Cisco and the architectural components that go inside of Vblock are sacrosanct. That said, if you think about where is Dell really strong, it is strong in composable systems, rack-mounted modular systems, rack-mount systems in general -- and those are the types of system ingredients that go into hyper-converged stacks.

Ed Scannell is a senior executive editor with TechTarget. Contact him at [email protected].

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at [email protected].

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