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VxBlock clocks Vblock, as Dell EMC advances CI plans

Converged infrastructure mainstay Vblock has reached its end of life, as Dell EMC's partnership with Cisco shifts to VxBlock and the more popular VMware switch.

Voila! The Vblock has vanished.

Dell EMC has phased out its Vblock product line, the converged infrastructure (CI) system that launched a new category eight years ago, in favor of VxBlock. The move reflects strong customer preference, but also the company's attempt to evolve its own technologies alongside -- or instead of -- those from longtime partners.

The main difference between Vblock and the newer VxBlock, which was introduced in 2015, is the switches: Vblock uses Cisco Nexus 1000V virtual switch software, and VxBlock uses the VMware vSphere Distributed Switch. Vblock also lacks support of Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure and VMware NSX. Beyond that, the functions are the same. The move helps Dell EMC to simplify its development paths and focus on the product with greater capabilities and popularity, said Greg Schulz, founder and analyst at StorageIO in Stillwater, Minn.

The timing of the disclosure -- the Friday before Cisco's largest customer event, Cisco Live -- aims to reassure customers that Dell EMC still supports other converged products that include Cisco hardware, and to calm any worries of a schism. "It is not the rumored, speculated departure of Dell EMC from Cisco -- in some ways, it is as assurance that VxBlock is still alive," Schulz said.

Vblock was a quintessential example of converged infrastructure in 2009, as it was the first to combine what many saw as best-in-class technology from competing companies: VMware virtualization, compute from Cisco Unified Computing System, networking from Cisco and EMC storage. Some have argued that early minicomputer vendors, such as IBM, Digital Equipment Corp., Wang, Data General and HP, offered converged bundles. Customers purchased Vblock through VCE, a partnership between VMware, Cisco and EMC that is now Dell EMC's converged platforms and solution division (CPSD).

Today, most customers -- 90% -- choose VxBlock over Vblock, according to Chad Sakac, president of CPSD, in a blog post explaining the decision.

That split seems overly large, and it may not reflect actual customer demand, but instead a change in strategy for how the systems were sold, according to Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research in Westminster, Mass. "I'm not sure many customers care about all the components inside as much as they want a turnkey system."

I'm not sure many customers care about all the components inside as much as they want a turnkey system.
Zeus Kerravalafounder and principal analyst, ZK Research

Vblock's fate may have been sealed in March when VMware decided to cease support for any virtual switch except its own, Kerravala added.

Customers that still rely on Vblock to run production workloads in their data center should evaluate if they can migrate to a hyper-converged infrastructure that offers more capacity and functionality than older models of Vblock, Schulz said. If they moved from three-tier architecture to CI a few years ago, they can probably "squeeze down" from a Vblock to an HCI appliance, he said.

For newer Vblock customers that want to get four to five more years out of it, swapping out the virtual switch would essentially turn the Vblock into a VxBlock, he said.

Current Vblock customers are supported for the life of the Vblock, Sakac said in his blog. And Dell EMC will sell system expansions and extensions until June 2020, as well as will provide service and security patches until June 2022, he added.

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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