VxRail hyper-converged appliances shake up traditional thinking about IT infrastructure.

Technology infrastructure tends to evolve organically, growing on a box-by-box basis with devices added as needed, configured independently and managed manually. Spoiler alert: This approach doesn’t end well.

Years of continually responding to evolving business needs by adding more gear has resulted in IT environments too complex and inefficient to properly handle today’s workloads. High maintenance costs, poor resource utilization, server sprawl, and space and energy requirements all strain IT personnel and budget limits. What’s more, much of that gear is now outdated — studies show that more than half of all business network devices are aging or obsolete.

For organizations considering a refresh, hyper-converged infrastructures have emerged as attractive alternatives to traditional server and storage architectures. These systems combine storage, compute and virtualization functions in a single box, flattening IT architectures and setting the stage for increased automation. According to research and analyst firm IDC, the worldwide hyper-converged systems market is expected to grow at a nearly 60 percent compound annual growth rate through 2019, reflecting the popularity of these solutions.

“Modern business transformation goes nowhere without agile, scalable infrastructure,” said Technology Business Research analyst Christian Perry. “Aging, complex IT environments are giving way to new breeds of infrastructure designed to ease deployment and management. Hyper-converged is leading this charge with ferocity.”

Fast Time-to-Value

EMC and VMware are taking hyper-convergence to the next level with VxRail, a family of jointly engineered appliances designed handle modern workloads with increased agility, simplified operations and lower risk. Launched by EMC’s VCE converged infrastructure division, VxRail combines EMC’s rich data services and leading systems management capabilities with VMware virtual SAN, vSphere and vCenter software running on a commodity white box server. It is the only fully integrated, preconfigured and pre-tested VMware hyper-converged appliance family on the market.

“Most organizations are already very familiar with the VMware software suite, so VxRail provides faster time-to-value than other hyper-converged systems,” said Jon Chappell, Business Development Manager, ProSys. “With this familiarity, VxRail appliances create fast-track solutions for a variety of workloads such as bringing up private clouds, deploying virtual desktop infrastructure or creating large-scale compute clusters.”

VxRail appliances are fully loaded with integrated EMC mission-critical data services including replication, backup and cloud tiering. EMC RecoverPoint for Virtual Machines provides per-VM replication and automated disaster recovery for critical workloads. Virtual SAN active-active stretch clusters provide site level, zero data loss protection. Integrated vSphere Data Protection provides backup and recovery using existing tools and can optionally backup to EMC® Data Domain® for centralized storage and management.

VxRail, which replaces the EMC Vspex Blue product launched a year ago, ships with either hybrid or all-flash storage configurations. A 2U four-node appliance can hold up to 76 TB and 112 CPU cores in an all-flash configuration and 40 TB and 80 cores in a hybrid appliance. With the power of a whole SAN in just two rack units, these appliances provide a simple, cost effective solution for a wide variety of applications and workloads.

Beyond VDI

Hyper-converged systems such as Vspex Blue initially found success due to their ability to eliminate the complexity, expense and latency often associated with SAN-based storage solutions. In particular, these attributes help ease virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) implementation by providing central management, high levels of scalability and efficient resource utilization.

While VDI projects remain the most common workload within the hyper-converged market, VxRail offers significant improvements that will allow organizations to handle far more diverse workloads. VxRail was specifically designed to be more modular and flexible, enhancing the ability to add CPU cores, cache and memory, run different storage configurations and use a wider array of hardware options.

Enhanced automation is another key feature of VxRail. Expansion is as simple as plugging in another node or appliance — VxRail will automatically discover and self-configure the new units. More than 200 wizard-based automated workflow processes help non-technical employees assign resources, restructure user pools, move workloads, build out clusters, evaluate performance, activate software updates and more.

“That level of automation and scalability has people really excited about VxRail appliances,” said Chappell. “You can see beyond VDI and cloud deployment to a greater range of data center workloads. VxRail can become a building block for the software-defined data center.”

Enabling Programmability

In traditional hardware-centric data centers, infrastructure is purchased and configured to match particular applications and workloads. Storage networks are sold separately and run on different hardware than the servers running VM hypervisors. Specialized staffing skills are required to manage everything.

Hyper-converged appliances such as VxRail introduce a high degree of automation through software while also dramatically streamlining hardware deployment. This flattened infrastructure allows IT organizations to easily match workloads with the right kinds of computing and storage resources. Networks become flexible, programmable platforms with the intelligence to allocate resources dynamically, the scale to support enormous data centers and the virtualization needed to support dynamic, highly automated and secure cloud environments.

“There’s been a lot of buzz about the software-defined data center for the past couple of years, and for good reason,” said Chappell. “There’s almost unanimous belief that the traditional model for running IT is not sustainable. We can’t keep buying and managing different appliances for server, storage, networking, virtualization, backup, disaster recovery and cloud, and we can’t expect IT staff to effectively manage all these different devices from different vendors.

“Software-defined strategies create the potential for tangible benefits such as enhanced efficiency, agility, flexibility and provisioning. VxRail provides the simplification, scalability and automation that can make that all happen.”