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Dell EMC hyper-converged infrastructure power-up stirs new uses, users

Adding Dell servers to its hyper-converged infrastructure lineup boosts scalability and reliability for more use cases, says Dell EMC, but some customers may not be easily swayed.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Dell EMC is casting a wider net with its HCI offerings. But for some IT shops, it's not about what's new under the hood.

Dell EMC has moved quickly to find a home for Dell servers in its hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) in a bid to increase scalability and widen the appeal to more businesses. Among changes to the company's HCI lineup, Dell PowerEdge servers will now be part of the VxRail appliances and VxRack System 1000 offerings. The company also will offer a new, lower-priced, entry-level model.

But to many IT pros, what's inside HCI isn't all that important, whether it is servers from Dell or Quanta Computer, an original design manufacturer (ODM) that had provided the servers in VxRail since it was introduced in February.

"That doesn't really make a difference, because we haven't used PowerEdge before," said Ramy Khaled, systems engineer at Copart Inc., an online vehicle auction company in Dallas, which is currently using BladeSystem c7000 from Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Khaled buys infrastructure "piece by piece" and was familiar with HCI, but was just hearing some of the details about VxRail unveiled at Dell EMC World here this week, and he said he was impressed by the power it provides in 3U.

"That stood out because we are trying to downsize our data center and save space," he said, noting it might be a good place for the company's SAP workloads. "It's the density that makes the biggest difference."

Khaled is among the majority of Dell EMC's customers, 80% of whom still buy servers and storage to build their own systems, and the company is "still fully committed" to those products, said David Goulden, president of the infrastructure solutions group at Dell EMC.

The company will also continue selling the Dell XC Series hyper-converged infrastructure, which uses PowerEdge servers and software from Nutanix Inc., in addition to its own appliances, which use ODM servers from Super Micro Computer Inc.

VxRail, which will come in five series, each targeted at specific use cases, will be based on PowerEdge R630, R730 and 730XD servers, Chad Sakac, president of the converged platform division at Dell EMC, told Dell EMC World attendees. (His keynote session, titled "The Dark IT Knight: Let the (IT) Transformation Begin," staged a fight against a villain, with Sakac as fully costumed superhero -- "Captain Canada.")

Adding PowerEdge servers will give VxRack and VxRail "massively enhanced configurability," said Krista Macomber, senior analyst at Technology Business Research in Hampton, N.H.

New use cases will also emerge, including downstream, which will expand HCI's appeal to smaller companies. Also, enhanced scalability is a top capability required by hyper-converged platform customers to ensure a future purchase, she said, so it is a way to introduce HCI to new users and give them a way to scale up with it.

Incorporating PowerEdge into VxRail and VxRack also leverages Dell's supply chain -- a core strength of the company since it started selling custom-built PCs -- to deliver these more configurable and customizable hyper-converged appliances faster and at a lower cost, Macomber said.

Appealing to customers' hearts, or minds?

Some enterprise IT shops have concerns about ODM hardware: availability of replacement parts, corporate policies that only permit buying from certain vendors, or they don't trust ODM hardware's reliability, said Paul Delory, research director for data center infrastructure at Gartner.

Including PowerEdge for VxRail could be attractive to users who want to standardize with one hardware vendor, either for common management tools for their entire infrastructure or because they have an existing relationship with Dell, he said.

For some IT pros, however, the inclusion of PowerEdge servers may appeal more to their heart than their head.

Many Dell customers are loyal and will only buy Dell hardware, so this may be a new way for Dell EMC to win new customers -- more of a sales consideration than a technology decision, said Stephen Spann, systems specialist at Ensco PLC, an offshore drilling contractor based in London.

"That may be comforting to some people -- they may think it is great hardware, or they like the support," he said.

Inside, VxRail will still run on VSAN 6.2, and Spann said he sees it as mostly the same product with different hardware, almost all of it based on processors from Broadcom Corp. and Intel.

It's all commodity hardware. As far as the brand on the box, it really comes down to how good the support is, or what your personal preference is.
Stephen Spannsystems specialist, Ensco

"It's all commodity hardware," he said. "As far as the brand on the box, it really comes down to how good the support is or what your personal preference is."

Dell EMC's continued focus on HCI is part of an architectural shift from converged to hyper-converged infrastructure, Goulden said. This shift is based on the availability of super-high-performance CPUs to run applications and storage controllers on the same system; dense, high-performance flash storage directly connected to servers; and high-speed Ethernet to allow systems to scale out.

"We think the way the world is going, in terms of how people will deploy infrastructure, is going toward converged," he said, pointing to market data that shows converged is fastest-growing segment of the infrastructure industry.

Daun Johnson, data center supervisor at the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority in Shiprock in New Mexico, is "just starting to think about" HCI for the group's small staff currently managing a traditional infrastructure, but "I need to look at it a little more," he said.

The addition of PowerEdge servers to Dell EMC's HCI products, however, probably won't play into his decision-making: "It doesn't really matter," he said.

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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