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The new Cisco/EMC/Vmware alliance – the vBlock

Details were released a short time ago thanks to The Register on the vBlock systems coming from the new alliance of Cisco and EMC, who dragged along Vmware(kicking and screaming I'm sure). The basic gist of it is to be able to order a vBlock and have it be a completely integrated set of infrastructure ready to go, servers and networking from Cisco, storage from EMC, and Hypervisor from VMware.

vBlock0 consists of rack mount servers from Cisco, and unknown EMC storage, price not determined yet

vBlock1 consists 16-32 blade servers from Cisco and EMC CX4-480 storage system. Price ranges from $1M - 2.8M

vBlock2 consists of 32-64 blade servers from Cisco and an EMC V-MAX. Starting price $6M.

Sort of like FCoE, sounds nice in concept but the details fall flat on their face.

First off is the lack of choice. That is Cisco's blades are based entirely on the Xeon 5500s, which are, you guessed it limited to two sockets. And at least at the moment limited to four cores. I haven't seen word yet on compatibility with the upcoming 8-core cpus if they are socket/chip set compatible with existing systems or not(if so, wonderful for them..). Myself I prefer more raw cores, and AMD is the one that has them today(Istanbul with 6 cores, Q1 2010 with 12 cores). But maybe not everyone wants that so it's nice to have choice. In my view HP blades win out here for having the broadest selection of offerings from both Intel and AMD. Combine that with their dense memory capacity(16 or 18 DIMM slots on a half height blade), allows you up to 1TB of memory in a blade chassis in an afforadable confiugration using 4GB DIMMs. Yes Cisco has their memory extender technology but again IMO at least with a dual socket Xeon 5500 that it is linked to the CPU core:memory density is way outta whack. It may make more sense when we have 16, 24, or even 32 cores on a system using this technology. I'm sure there are niche applications that can take advantage of it on a dual socket/quad core configuration, but the current Xeon 5500 is really holding them back with this technology.

Networking, it's all FCoE based, I've already written a blog entry on that, you can read about my thoughts on FCoE here.

Storage, you can see how even with the V-MAX EMC hasn't been able to come up with a storage system that can start on the smaller end of the scale, something that is not insanely unaffordable to 90%+ of the organizations out there. So on the more affordable end they offer you a CX4. If you are an organization that is growing you may find yourself outliving this array pretty quickly. You can add another vBlock, or you can rip and replace it with a V-MAX which will scale much better, but of course the entry level pricing for such a system makes it unsuitable for almost everyone to try to start out with even on the low end.

I am biased towards 3PAR of course as both of the readers of the blog know, so do yourself a favor and check out their F and T series systems, if you really think you want to scale high go for a 2-node T800, the price isn't that huge, the only difference between a T400 and a T800 is the backplane. They use "blocks" to some extent, blocks being controllers(in pairs, up to four pairs), disk chassis(40 disks per chassis, up to 8 per controller pair I think). Certainly you can't go on forever, or can you? If you don't imagine you will scale to really massive levels go for a T400 or even a F400.  In all cases you can start out with only two controllers the additional cost to give you the option of an online upgrade to four controllers is really trivial, and offers nice peace of mind. You can even go from a T400 to a T800 if you wanted, just need to switch out the back plane (downtime involved). The parts are the same! the OS is the same! How much does it cost? Not as much as you would expect. When 3PAR announced their first generation 8-node system 7 years ago, entry level price started at $100k. You also get nice things like their thin built in technology which will allow you to run those eager zeroed VMs for fault tolerance and not consume any disk space or I/O for the zeros. You can also get multi level synchronous/asynchronous replication for a fraction of the cost of others. I could go on all day but you get the idea. There are so many fiber ports on the 3PAR arrays that you don't need a big SAN infrastructure just hook your blade enclosures directly to the array.

And as for networking hook your 10GbE Virtual Connect switches on your c Class enclosures to your existing infrastructure. I am hoping/expecting HP to support 10GbaseT soon, and drop the CX4 passive copper cabling. The Extreme Networks Summit X650 stands alone as the best 1U 10GbE (10GbaseT or SFP+) switch on the market. Whether it is line rate, or full layer 3, or high speed stacking, or lower power consuming 10GbaseT vs fiber optics,  or advanced layer 3 networking protocols to simplify management,  price and ease of use -- nobody else comes close. If you want bigger check out the Black Diamond 8900 series.

Second you can see with their designs that after the first block or two the whole idea of a vBlock sort of falls apart. That is pretty quickly your likely to just be adding more blades(especially if you have a V-MAX), rather than adding more storage and more blades.

Third you get the sense that these aren't really blocks at all. The first tier is composed of rack mount systems, the second tier is blade systems with CX4, the third tier is blade systems with V-MAX. Each tier has something unique which hardly makes it a solution you can build as a "block" as you might expect from something called a vBlock. Given the prices here I am honestly shocked that the first tier is using rack mount systems. Blade chassis do not cost much, I would of expected them to simply use a blade chassis with just one or two blades in it. Really shows that they didn't spend much time thinking about this.

I suppose if you treated these as blocks in their strictest sense and said yes we won't add more than 64 blades to a V-MAX, and add it like that you could get true blocks, but I can imagine the amount of waste doing something like that is astronomical.

I didn't touch on Vmware at all, I think their solution is solid, and they have quite a bit of choices. I'm certain with this vBlock they will pimp the enterprise plus version of software, but I really don't see a big advantage of that version with such a small number of physical systems(a good chunk of the reason to go to that is improved management with things like host profiles and distributed switches). As another blogger recently noted, Vmware has everything to lose out of this alliance, I'm sure they have been fighting hard to maintain their independence and openness, this reeks of the opposite, they will have to stay on their toes for a while when dealing with their other partners like HP, IBM, NetApp, and others..

TechOps Guy: Nate

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