Basically, VCE announced today the beginning of a new era for the project, one with more choice. I’ve been fascinated with VCE and the Vblock concept since it launched, largely because a decade earlier Microsoft had presented the concept of a data center in a box as the future. A lot of us had wondered if it would ever work. The core values of the concept were very high-speed deployment, unusually high reliability and performance, and all of the other benefits you’d get if your data center was designed from the ground up as a mass-produced product designed to work together. In effect, the data center became the computer, harking back to the benefits of the original mainframe era, when you got an Apple-like experience, but for the entire data center.
VCE not only worked, it worked unbelievably well.
Refresh: Why VCE Is Different
Since VCE launched, the customers I’ve spoken with that have deployed it have had one consistent and unusual story to tell. No one seems to believe it will work — until it does. I don’t get that. Why would no one believe something that was purpose built would work at least as well as the slammed together mismatch of parts most data centers are today?
It would be as if the folks who were building the hand-built cars before the Model-T looked at Ford’s then amazing new process to build better, faster and cheaper, and said “nah, that’ll never work.” It just seems weird.
In any case, there is another similarity to Ford’s first car, tied to the platform, and not in a good way. The lack of choice. Well, just like the auto industry matured, VCE took its first major step and today announced that it is beginning to provide choice. I think this is the first small step to expanding that choice broadly.
Vblocks were tightly defined, in that the networking and server components came from Cisco, the storage came from EMC, and the virtualization software came from VMware. But as we move toward more software-defined components and approach the concept of a software-defined data center, it will be likely that the firms that will be the best at software-defined anything will be software companies like VMware. Customers anticipating this future did and will want that choice.
Now to be clear, the Vblock remains as it always did in this regard, but VCE is announcing that if you want the software-defined network alternative, you now can get VMware’s NSX and the vRealize cloud management platform, which may be better for firms focused on providing cloud public, private and hybrid solutions.
These are connected to VMware’s Software Defined Data Center Division, and you should anticipate that other related technologies from VMware will be offered as options or as core offerings as they mature.
On top of these options, ViPR, EMC’s software-defined storage technology, is being offered as anticipated to further push the platform toward its software-defined data center in a box future. Software-defined storage is still a relatively new concept, but ViPR is now a mature product, having been in market for some time (it was announced back in 2013) and thus ready to be added to the product.
At the time of the announcement, one of the big concerns with ViPR wasn’t that it wouldn’t work, it was that it might not work in heterogeneous environments due to a lack of cooperation by competitors. This isn’t an issue with VCE, which is a homogeneous built-to-order system, so it can provide its full capability without any need for third-party cooperation. Interestingly, this showcases one of the advantages of VCE’s approach: Because it is so consistent, the typical impediments surrounding the lack of competing vendor cooperation don’t come into play and this speaks to one of its design benefits.
Wrapping Up: Believe: It Will Work
I’m still struck by how few people seem to believe this approach will work, given our history with purpose-built products in volume. As we enter the birth of the second machine age, you’d think we’d have accepted the learnings of the first and that is that high consistency works out far better for everyone. However, much like the automotive industry discovered that it could have both choice and consistency (eventually), VCE is making that same step today, and it won’t be the last. With the partnership with Lenovo and IBM’s old x86 server division, I expect additional choices coming in the future.
In the end, I find it fascinating that it has taken us so long to apply the learnings from the first machine age to the data center as a whole and that this happened right as we move into the second machine age.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+