Today we will be talking about VCE’s cloud infrastructure product, the Vblock. Gartner’s recent study that through next year 60% of enterprises will embrace some form of cloud adoption, has enlightened the competitive cloud vendor market. But at the same time, does the cloud industry need to be driven by vendor competition or vendor collaboration? Archie Hendryx of VCE Technology Solutions discusses this very matter.
EM360°: Could you tell us about VCE and why cloud has played a big part in your company’s solutions?
Archie: VCE is a unique start up company formed via joint investments from EMC, Cisco, VMware and Intel that has been operating for just over three years. Its focus is solely on building the world's most advanced converged infrastructure, the Vblock. The Vblock is a pretested, prevalidated and preconfigured and more importantly pre-integrated infrastructure solution of storage, compute, networking and hypervisor; so in other words it ships out as a single SKU and product to the customer.
Personally I like to equate VCE as a revolutionary that has changed the way we view infrastructure as it’s manufacturing and selling infrastructure as a product much in the way like you buy a car such as an Audi. When you buy an Audi you may have different components from different vendors that make up that car but what the end user is purchasing is a single product. Similarly with the Vblock while we may use different components from our investors Cisco, EMC, VMware and Intel the end user is acquiring a product. Because it’s a standardized product, the Vblock models are exactly the same regardless of geographical location, which completely radicalizes and simplifies the customer experience of infrastructure and consequently mitigates the typical risk associated with it.
As for how the cloud has played a big part in VCE’s success, one of the major criticisms of private clouds is that the end user still has to build, manage and maintain the infrastructure to the extent that they are continuing the ‘keeping the lights on’ approach of IT. Ultimately this lacks the economic benefit that makes cloud computing such an intriguing concept. Hence what we and our customers quickly realized is that a private cloud’s success ultimately depends on the stability, reliability, scalability and performance of its infrastructure. By going the Vblock route our customers immediately attain that stability, reliability, scalability and performance and consequently accelerate their private cloud initiatives. For example with support issues, VCE alone are the owner of the ticket because the Vblock is their product. Once the Vblock has been shipped out problems that might potentially be faced by a customer in Glasgow can easily be tested on a like-for-like standard Vblock in our labs. This rapidly resolves performance issues or trouble tickets.
The other distinctive feature of the Vblock is its accelerated deployment. We ship to the customer a ready assembled logically configured product and solution in only 30-45 working days, from procurement to production. This has an immediate effect in terms of the reduction in cost of ownership, especially when the businesses demand that instant platform for their new projects.
EM360°: Your latest cloud infrastructure solution sees your components from the Vblock, integrating with VMware’s new cloud solutions system. Can you tell me why industry collaboration is seen to be prominent in today's market?
Archie: What I think has driven this is a change in mindset of customers which has been initiated by the concept of cloud computing. Customers are reassessing the way they procure IT and they want a simplified and accelerated experience that doesn't require having to go to multiple vendors and solutions. I think vendors that are still only focused on storage or servers and have not looked at expanding their offerings via alliances or acquisitions are either going to fold or be swallowed up by the big fishes as they look to add to their portfolios. This is one of the reasons why the latest announcement from VMware and their vCloud suite is so exciting and of course VCE’s support and integration for it.
If VCE and the Vblock are responsible for accelerating your journey to the private cloud you could say that adding this vCloud suite would pretty much give it a major turbo boost.
EM360°: Are copyright factors, or other vendors sussing out each other’s strengths and weaknesses, a problem when you encounter a project like this?
Archie: That's a really interesting question and certainly I have experienced that in previous roles, especially when I was with initiatives such as Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) when they had SMI-S compliancy. We were always promised that SMI-S compliancy would allow us to have the utopia of a single pane of glass for heterogeneous storage arrays, regardless of whether the storage array was from HDS, HP or EMC. Sadly this was never the case. As none of the vendors opened up fully and you only ended up with around 60% functionality, which ultimately meant that you went back to the native tools and multiple management panes of glass that you had anyway. You could not really blame the vendors as it would be naive to think that one vendor would allow its competitor to dissect their micro-code. This mindset is not going to change. So that is why you will see vendors deciding to procure their own server companies or storage vendors to provide this end-to-end stack.
At VCE we are in a very unique position where our investors are not competing with each other, and for us they are ultimately the component providers to our product. We don't necessarily support or include all of our investors’ products or portfolios as components, only those we feel really best integrate with our single end user product. Once we have our specific components defined from our investors based on our standards we then pre-integrate and manufacture our product as a comprehensive solution. While our competitors and even our investors have such a large portfolio of products and offerings, VCE only do Vblocks and hence only focus on improving and optimizing Vblocks, enabling us to do things which others in the industry have only dreamed of, and this will be announced very soon.
EM360°: Today's enterprise market is obviously rather confused and what some other analysts are also thinking. I don’t think some companies know what they want for their departments, whether to embrace public, open, private or a bit of both — hybrid functions. A lot of vendors are doing their own spin on cloud, particularly the niche players. Is the industry doing enough to simplify the product offering?
Archie: In a nutshell no. There is still a lot of confusion out there and smoke screen marketing from various vendors and this hasn't helped the end user decide or make the distinction between the various offerings and what is best for them. What we have found most recently with a lot of our enterprise clients is that they initially look at us as part of a storage server or datacenter refresh. While they may have some cloud initiatives, they really have little or no idea on how to achieve them, certainly in terms of the traditional model of IT procurement and deployment.
Once they understand the concept of the Vblock and how VCE can provide them a productized, risk free infrastructure we immediately see them come to the realisation of how this could be aligned to a Private Cloud model that in turn could develop to a Hybrid cloud. Once the customer realizes how agile and quick the deployment of their infrastructure could be with a Vblock , we nearly always find them talking and feeling freer to think higher up the stack with strategic discussions and plans on how they can deploy a management and orchestration solution and service portal. Ultimately if you want people to really understand the Cloud and what’s best for them you’ve got to show them how you take away the risk from their traditional IT and infrastructure challenges.
EM360°: Have we seen innovation thrive in the cloud infrastructure management market, and what kinds of developments and developments have really caught your eye today?
Archie: There are a lot great products and suites out there. Every day we are seeing improvements in the look and the feel of such products as they come closer to providing that public cloud experience to the private cloud. I think the challenge of all of these solutions up to now is that they have to be integrating with all of the components of the infrastructure as separate entities, especially when it comes to designing and deploying orchestration. Without trying to reveal too much what VCE will be bringing out, I can certainly say that it will completely revolutionize and simplify this, where the product will now be managed, monitored and orchestrated as exactly that, a single Vblock product. When this development comes it will really excite many and completely transform the private cloud infrastructure model going forward.
EM360°: Are there any final thoughts you would like to leave our readers with as to how the cloud infrastructure market will play out in the future, what kind of systems we could be using and how enterprises should look to plan ahead?
Archie: The industry is at an inflection point. The approach to IT is changing and is affecting the way customers and vendors approach and procure infrastructure, specifically with regards to the mission critical applications that they ultimately depend on. This is going to lead to more converged infrastructure offerings that are eventually going to pretty much get to the point where VCE are, which is a standardized product offering, or as we like to call it an x86 mainframe. One CTO of a customer recently said to me that if I do not look at purchasing the components of the power and cooling of my datacenter, why should I do that with my infrastructure? That kind of summed it up for me because there is going to come a time when people will look back at the way open systems IT was purchased and deployed as ludicrous as someone today buying all of the components of a laptop, putting it all together, somehow expecting it to work perfectly and then be supported seamlessly by all of the vendors of the components.
To take that laptop analogy further what we will eventually see with infrastructure viewed and built as a product, is a new way to manage, monitor and update it as a product. For example when you update your laptop you are automatically notified of the patches and it’s a single click of the button for the single product. You don’t receive an update for your keyboard, followed by an update for your screen only for a week later to be sent another update for your CD-ROM. Concurrently when it comes to support you don’t log a call with the manufacturer of the CD-ROM component of your laptop you go directly to the manufacturer of the product. Imagine that same experience with your Cloud infrastructure where it alerts you of a single seamless update for the whole product? Where it has a true single management pane and presents itself to the end user as a single entity? Imagine how that would simplify the configuration, orchestration and management of the Private Cloud. That’s where the future lies and to be honest it might not be that far away.
Excerpt from interview & live podcast with Enterprise Management 360 Magazine