EMC SDDC Release: First Shot in a New War between Former Frenemies?

On October 9, 2014, EMC announced the release of the first fully software-defined data center, using products from the EMC Federated group of companies, these being:

  • EMC2
  • VMware
  • RSA.

This solution, the first of five planned solutions, utilises the following technologies from the four companies:

  • Management and Orchestration: vCAC, vCOPs, ITBM, EMC Storage Resource Manager
  • Hypervisor: VMware vSphere®
  • Networking: VMware NSX®
  • Storage: Designed for EMC2 ViPR®, EMC2 Storage Resource Manager, and EMC2
  • Storage Data Protection: EMC2 Avamar®, Data Domain®, RecoverPoint®, VPLEX®
  • Hybrid Cloud Deployment: VMware vCloud® Air(TM) connectivity and workload migration
  • Choice of Hardware: Built on converged infrastructure; can be deployed on a variety of hardware, including VCE Vblock Systems®* and VSPEX®
  • PaaS: Delivering Platform as a Service with Pivotal CF
  • Documented Reference Architectures.

This SDDC, jointly designed and developed by a core team from all the constituent members of the group at EMC2’s Federation Lab in Palo Alto, is a fully functioning solution that has been validated, providing a fully orchestrated workflow stack to accelerate deployment. This offering comes with a fully defined reference architecture.

According to the press release, it has been designed to enable critical infrastructure and applications to meet performance and availability expectations—an interesting concept, as we do not know the hardware on which it will be run or the environments in which it will be utilized.

Interestingly, a collaborative support model for service and support has been established. A customer will initiate a support call with any of the Federation members, and that Federation support team will assume primary responsibility for issue resolution and customer satisfaction, including managing any escalation or coordination that may be required between Federation members. This is useful—a single throat to choke is a valuable support offering—but how it will work in practice is another matter entirely. That said, there does genuinely seem to be good communication flow between the companies. At a software level, I do not think there will be issues. However, the hardware may be a different matter, as the group does not include any server or physical networking provider. Perhaps EMC2 should revisit the HP merger (wink).

To me, a couple of things stand out here. One is that it shows the level of back-room conversation in which these companies have engaged. People should not be surprised when big daddy releases this sort of product. EMC2 is a shrewd investor staffed by canny business people: it bought VMware to make money, just as with RSA. In the words of Victor Kiam, “I liked it so much I bought the company.” The same can be said for the creation of Pivotal and VCE. Obviously, the fact that a company is there to make money goes without saying, but EMC2 is a storage company. You could argue that it bought VMware to drive its storage business, and that argument could have traction. However, EMC2 also left it free to trade, sometimes to the detriment of the mother ship (VSAN, FlexPods, etc.)

The second thing that stands out is that this product has been designed with VCE in mind. Yes, and also VSPEX. But considering that VCE has openly jumped on the ACI bandwagon, could this be a step too far for Cisco in that already fractured partnership? I think it might be, judging by the drums being banged about the rumours of Cisco exiting. Yes, Cisco is refuting the rumours, but the adage “no smoke without fire” could be apt here. I just feel that VCE in its current form has run its course. EMC2 would do better with VCE fully under the shelter of the Federation, perhaps by removing UCS in favour of an HP BladeSystem solution. HP can also bring a fully functional network stack to the party, too.

What do I think personally? Well, if it works—and it should, these folks are not stupid—it would be a vast leap forward in SDDC: a fully functional SDDC in a box that is deliverable as an SKU. It will take a lot of guesswork out of delivery but give customers flexibility in their hardware layer.

All that said, this is still vapourware. It is all right announcing a product, but where are the hardware partners to provide the compute and network layers? When VMware announced EVO:RAIL, it had a gamut of vendors on hand and, further, announced HP and HDS at VMworld Europe in October. On paper, all it seems to be is an ‘X’aaS extension of the EVO:RAIL project, taking that foundation and overlaying Pivotal. And this could be the case.

One of the common complaints surrounding the Vblock and FlexPod model is that it is restrictive in hardware choice: you will have UCS and Cisco switches, and you will have either a VMAX or a NetApp 6200. Customers have investments in technology. Some are HP—or should I now say Hewlett Packard—shops, some Dell. Some like 3PAR storage; others use Nexenta or perhaps Pure or Tegile. Others employ converged hardware like Nutanix or SimpliVity. There is a great saying from where I live in the north of England: “there’s nowt as queer as folk.” But people like choice; it gives them a feeling of investment. If this works as it says it does, then it is a very nice halfway house: not quite as restricting as VCE but not as difficult a design process as roll your own. But, as I have already asked, where are the vendors?

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