Diggin' technology every day


NetApp Flash ray ships… with one controller

TechOps Guy: Nate

Well I suppose it is finally out, or at least in a "limited" way. NetApp apparently is releasing their ground-up rewrite all Flash product Flash Ray, based on a new "MARS" operating system (not related to Ontap).

When I first heard about MARS I heard some promising things, I suppose all of those things were just part of the vision, obviously not where the product is today on launch day. NetApp has been carefully walking back expectations all year. Which turned out to be a smart move, but it seems they didn't go far enough.

To me it is obvious that they felt severe market pressures and could no longer risk not going to market without their next gen platform available. It's also obvious that Ontap doesn't cut it for flash or they wouldn't of built Flash Ray to begin with.

But shipping a system that only supports a single controller I don't care if it's a controlled release or not - giving any customer such a system under any circumstance other than alpha-quality testing just seems absurd.

The "vision" they have is still a good one, on paper anyway -- I'm really curious how long it takes them to execute on that vision -- given the time it took to integrate the Spinmaker stuff into Ontap. Will it take several years?

In the meantime while your waiting for this vision to come out I wonder what NetApp will offer to get people to want to use this product vs any one of the competing solutions out there. Perhaps by the time this vision is complete this first or second generation of systems will be obsolete anyway.

Current FlashRay system seems to ship with less than 10TB of usable flash (in one system).

On a side note there was some chatter recently about a upcoming EMC XtremIO software update that apparently requires total data loss (or backup & restore) to perform. I suppose that is a sign that the platform is 1) not mature and 2) not designed right(not fully virtualized).

I told 3PAR management back at HP Discover - three years ago they could of counted me as among the people who did not believe 3PAR architecture would be able to adapt to this new era of all flash. I really didn't have confidence at that time. What they've managed to accomplish over the past two years though has just blown me away, and gives me confidence their architecture has many years of life left to it. The main bit missing still is compression - though that is coming.

My new all flash array is of course a 7450 - to start with 4 controllers and ~27TB raw flash (16x1.92TB SSDs), a pair of disk shelves so I can go to as much as ~180TB raw flash (in 8U) without adding any shelves (before compression/dedupe of course). Cost per GB is obviously low(relative to their competition), performance is high(~105k IOPS @ 90% write in RAID 10 @ sub 1ms latency - roughly 20 fold faster than our existing 3PAR F200 with 80x15k RPM in RAID 5 -- yes my workloads are over 90% write from a storage perspective), and they have the mature, battle hardened 3PAR OS (used to be named InformOS) running on it.

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EMC and their quad core processors

TechOps Guy: Nate

I first heard that Fujitsu had storage maybe one and a half years ago, someone told me that Fujitsu was one company that was seriously interested in buying Exanet at the time, which caused me to go look at their storage, I had no idea they had storage systems. Even today I really never see anyone mention them anywhere, my 3PAR reps say they never encounter Fujitsu in the field(at least in these territories they suspect over in Europe they go head to head more often).

Anyways, EMC folks seem to be trying to attack the high end Fujitsu system, saying it's not "enterprise", in the end the main leg that EMC has trying to hold on to what in their eyes is "enterprise" is mainframe connectivity, which Fujitsu rightly tries to debunk that myth since there are a lot of organizations that are consider themselves "enterprise" that don't have any mainframes. It's just stupid, but EMC doesn't really have any other excuses.

What prompted me to write this, more than anything else was this

One can scale from one to eight engines (or even beyond in a short timeframe), from 16 to 128 four-core CPUs, from two to 16 backend- and front-end directors, all with up to 16 ports.

The four core CPUs is what gets me. What a waste! I have no doubt that in EMC's  (short time frame)  they will be migrating to quad socket 10 core CPUs right? After all, unlike someone like 3PAR who can benefit from a purpose built ASIC to accelerate their storage, EMC has to rely entirely on software. After seeing SPC-1 results for HDS's VSP, I suspect the numbers for VMAX wouldn't be much more impressive.

My main point is, and this just drives me mad. These big manufacturers touting the Intel CPU drum and then not exploiting the platform to it's fullest extent. Quad core CPUs came out in 2007. When EMC released the VMAX in 2009, apparently Intel's latest and greatest was still quad core. But here we are, practically 2012 and they're still not onto at LEAST hex core yet? This is Intel architecture, it's not that complicated. I'm not sure what quad core CPUs specifically are in the VMAX, but the upgrade from Xeon 5500 to Xeon 5600 for the most part was

  1. Flash bios (if needed to support new CPU)
  2. Turn box off
  3. Pull out old CPU(s)
  4. Put in new CPU(s)
  5. Turn box on
  6. Get back to work

That's the point of using general purpose CPUs!! You don't need to pour 3 years of R&D into something to upgrade the processor.

What I'd like to see, something I mentioned in a comment recently is a quad socket design for these storage systems. Modern CPUs have had integrated memory controllers for a long time now (well only available on Intel since the Xeon 5500). So as you add more processors you add more memory too. (Side note: the documentation for VMAX seems to imply a quad socket design for a VMAX engine but I suspect it is two dual socket systems since the Intel CPUs EMC is likely using are not quad-socket capable). This page claims the VMAX uses the ancient Intel 5400 processors, which if I remember right was the first generation quad cores I had in my HP DL380 G5s many eons ago. If true, it's even more obsolete than I thought!

Why not 8 socket? or more? Well cost mainly. The R&D involved in an 8-socket design I believe is quite a bit higher, and the amount of physical space required is high as well. With quad socket blades common place, and even some vendors having quad socket 1U systems, the price point and physical size related to quad socket designs is well within reach of storage systems.

So the point is on these high end storage systems you start out with a single socket populated on a quad socket board with associated memory. Want to go faster? add another CPU and associated memory? Go faster still? add two more CPUs and associated memory (though I think it's technically possible to run 3 CPUs, well there have been 3 CPU systems in the past, it seems common/standard to add them in pairs). Your spending probably at LEAST a quarter million for this system initially, probably more than that, the incremental cost of R&D to go quad socket given this is Intel after all is minimal.

Currently VMAX goes to 8 engines, they say they will expand that to more. 3PAR took the opposite approach, saying while their system is not as clustered as a VMAX is (not their words), they feel such a tightly integrated system (theirs included) becomes more vulnerable to "something bad happening" that impacts the system as a whole, more controllers is more complexity. Which makes some sense. EMC's design is even more vulnerable being that it's so tightly integrated with the shared memory and stuff.

3PAR V-Class Cluster Architecture with low cost high speed passive backplane with point to point connections totalling 96 Gigabytes/second of throughput

3PAR goes even further in their design to isolate things - like completely separating control cache which is used for the operating system that powers the controllers and for the control data on top of it, with the data cache, which as you can see in the diagram below is only connected to the ASICs, not to the Intel CPUs. On top of that they separate the control data flow from the regular data flow as well.

One reason I have never been a fan of "stacking" or "virtual chassis" on switches is the very same reason, I'd rather have independent components that are not tightly integrated in the event "something bad" takes down the entire "stack". Now if your running with two independent stacks, so that one full stack can fail without an issue then that works around that issue, but most people don't seem to do that. The chances of such a failure happening are low, but they are higher than something causing all of the switches to fail if the switches were not stacked.

One exception might be some problems related to STP which some people may feel they need when operating multiple switches. I'll answer that by saying I haven't used STP in more than 8 years, so there have been ways to build a network with lots of devices without using STP for a very long time now. The networking industry recently has made it sound like this is something new.

Same with storage.

So back to 3PAR. 3PAR changed their approach in their V-series of arrays, for the first time in the company's history they decided to include TWO ASICs in each controller, effectively doubling the I/O processing abilities of the controller. Fewer, more powerful controllers. A 4-node V400 will likely outperform an 8-node T800. Given the system's age, I suspect a 2-node V400 would probably be on par with an 8-node S800 (released around 2003 if I remember right).

3PAR V-Series ASIC/CPU/PCI/Memory Architecture

EMC is not alone, and not the worst abuser here though. I can cut them maybe a LITTLE slack given the VMAX was released in 2009. I can't cut any slack to NetApp though. They recently released some new SPEC SFS results, which among other things, disclosed that their high end 6240 storage system is using quad core Intel E5540 processors. So basically a dual proc quad core system. And their lower end system is -- wait for it -- dual proc dual core.

Oh I can't describe how frustrated that makes me, these companies touting using general purpose CPUs and then going out of their way to cripple their systems. It would cost NetApp all of maybe what $1200 to upgrade their low end box to quad cores? Maybe $2500 for both controllers? But no they rather you spend an extra, what $50,000-$100,000  to get that functionality?

I have to knock NetApp more to some extent since these storage systems are significantly newer than the VMAX, but I knock them less because they don't champion the Intel CPUs as much as EMC does, that I have seen at least.

3PAR is not a golden child either, their latest V800 storage system uses -- wait for it -- quad core processors as well. Which is just as disgraceful. I can cut 3PAR more slack because their ASIC is what provides the horsepower on their boxes, not the Intel processors, but still that is no excuse for not using at LEAST 6 core processors. While I cannot determine precisely which Intel CPUs 3PAR is using, I know they are not using Intel CPUs because they are ultra low power since the clock speeds are 2.8Ghz.

Storage companies aren't alone here, load balancing companies like F5 Networks and Citrix do the same thing. Citrix is better than F5 in their offering software "upgrades" on their platform that unlock additional throughput. Without the upgrade you have full reign of all of the CPU cores on the box which allow you to run more expensive software features that would normally otherwise impact CPU performance. To do this on F5 you have to buy the next bigger box.

Back to Fujitsu storage for a moment, their high end box certainly seems like a very respectable system with regards to paper numbers anyways. I found it very interesting the comment on the original article that mentioned Fujitsu can run the system's maximum capacity behind a single pair of controllers if the customer wanted to, of course the controllers couldn't drive all the I/O but it is nice to see the capacity not so tightly integrated to the controllers like it is on the VMAX or even on the 3PAR platform. Especially when it comes to SATA drives which aren't known for high amounts of I/O, higher end storage systems such as the recently mentioned HDS, 3PAR and even VMAX tap out in "maximum capacity" long before they tap out in I/O if your loading the system with tons of SATA disks. It looks like Fujitsu can get up to 4.2PB of space leaving, again HDS, 3PAR and EMC in the dust. (Capacity utilization is another story of course).

With Fujitsu's ability to scale the DX8700 to 8 controllers, 128 fibre channel interfaces, 2,700 drives and 512GB of cache that is quite a force to be reckoned with. No sub-disk distributed RAID, no ASIC acceleration, but I can certainly see how someone would be willing to put the DX8700 up against a VMAX.

EMC was way late to the 2+ controller hybrid modular/purpose built game and is still playing catch up. As I said to Dell last year, put your money where your mouth is and publish SPC-1 results for your VMAX, EMC.

With EMC so in love with Intel I have to wonder how hard they had to fight off Intel from encouraging EMC to use the Itanium processor in their arrays instead of Xeons. Or has Intel given up completely on Itanium now (which, again we have to thank AMD for - without AMD's x86-64 extensions the Xeon processor line would of been dead and buried many years ago).

For insight to what a 128-CPU core Intel-based storage system may perform in SPC-1, you can look to this system from China.

(I added a couple diagrams, I don't have enough graphics on this site)

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EMC’s Server strategy: use our arrays?

TechOps Guy: Nate

I just read this from our friends at The Register. I just have one question after reading it


Why would anyone want to use extremely premium CPU/Memory resources on a high end enterprise storage system to run virtual servers on? What's the advantage? You could probably buy a mostly populated blade enclosure from almost everyone for the cost of a VMAX controller.

If EMC wants in on the server-based flash market they should just release some products of their own or go buy one of the suppliers out there.

If EMC wants to get in on the server business they should just do it, don't waste people's time on this kinda stuff. Stupid.


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Compellent gets Hyper efficient storage tiering

TechOps Guy: Nate

So according to this article from our friends at The Register, Compellent is considering going to absurdly efficient storage tiering taking the size of data being migrated to 32kB from their currently insanely efficient 512kB.

That's just insane!

For reference, as far as I know:

  • 3PAR moves data around in 128MB chunks
  • IBM moves data around in 1GB chunks (someone mentioned that XIV uses 1MB)
  • EMC moves data around in 1GB chunks
  • Hitachi moves data around in 42MB chunks (I believe this is the same data size they use for allocating storage to thin provisioned volumes)
  • NetApp has no automagic storage tiering functionality though they do have PAM cards which they claim is better.

I have to admit I do like Compellent's approach the best here, hopefully 3PAR can follow. I know 3PAR allocates data to think provisioned volumes in 16kB chunks, what I don't know is whether or not their system is adjustable to get down to a more granular level of storage tiering.

There's just no excuse for the inefficient IBM and EMC systems though, really, none.

Time will tell if Compellent actually follows through with going as granular as 32kB, I can't help but suspect the CPU overhead of monitoring so many things will be too much for the system to bear.

Maybe if they had purpose built ASIC...



Chicken and the egg

TechOps Guy: Nate

Random thought time! --  came across an interesting headline on Chuck's Blog - Attack of the Vblock Clones.

Now I'm the first to admit I didn't read the whole thing but the basic gist he is saying if you want a fully tested integrated stack (of course you know I don't like these stacks they restrict you too much, the point of open systems is you can connect many different types of systems together and have them work but anyways), then you should go with their VBlock because it's there now, and tested, deployed etc. Others recently announced initiatives are responses to the VBlock and VCE, Arcadia(sp?) etc.

I've brought up 3cV before, something that 3PAR coined back almost 3 years ago now. Which is, in their words "Validated Blueprint of 3PAR, HP, and VMware Products Can Halve Costs and Floor Space".

And for those that don't know what 3cV is, a brief recap -

The Elements of 3cV
3cV combines the following products from 3PAR, HP, and VMware to deliver the virtual data center:

  • 3PAR InServ Storage Server featuring Virtual Domains and thin technologies—The leading utility storage platform, the 3PAR InServ is a highly virtualized tiered-storage array built for utility computing. Organizations creating virtualized IT infrastructures for workload consolidation use the 3PAR InServ to reduce the cost of allocated storage capacity, storage administration, and the SAN infrastructure.
  • HP BladeSystem c-Class—The No. 1 blade infrastructure on the market for datacenters of all sizes, the HP BladeSystem c-Class minimizes energy and space requirements and increases administrative productivity through advantages in I/O virtualization, power and cooling, and manageability. (1)
  • VMware Infrastructure—Infrastructure virtualization suite for industry-standard servers. VMware Infrastructure delivers the production-proven efficiency, availability, and dynamic management needed to build the responsive data center.

Sounds to me that 3cV beat VBlock to the punch by quite a ways. It would have been interesting to see how Dell would of handled the 3cV solution had they managed to win the bidding war, given they don't have anything that competes effectively with c-Class. But fortunately HP won out so 3cV can be just that much more official.

It's not sold as a pre-packaged product I guess you could say, but I mean how hard is it to say I need this much CPU, this much ram, this much storage HP go get it for me. Really it's not hard. The hard part is all the testing and certification. Even if 3cV never existed you can bet your ass that it would work regardless. It's not that complicated, really. Even if Dell managed to buy 3PAR and kill off the 3cV program because they wouldn't want to directly promote HP's products, you could still buy the 3PAR from Dell and the blades from HP and have it work. But of course you know that.

The only thing missing from 3cV is I'd like a more powerful networking stack, or at least sFlow support. I'll take Flex10 (or Flexfabric) over Cisco any day of the week but I'd still like more.

I don't know why this thought didn't pop into my head until I read that headline, but it gave me something to write about.

But whatever, that's my random thought of the day/week.


Intel or ASIC

TechOps Guy: Nate

Just another one of my random thoughts I have been having recently.

Chuck wrote a blog not too long ago how he believes everyone is going to go to Intel (or x86 at least) processors in their systems and move away from ASICs.

He illustrated his point by saying some recent SPEC NFS results showed the Intel based system outperforming everything else. The results were impressive, the only flaw in them is that the costs are not disclosed for SPEC. An EMC VMAX with 96 EFDs isn't cheap. And the better your disk subsystem is the faster your front end can be.

Back when Exanet was still around they showed me some results from one of their customers testing SPEC SFS on the Exanet LSI (IBM OEM'd) back end storage vs 3PAR storage, and for the same number of disks the SPEC SFS results were twice as high on 3PAR.

But that's not my point here or question. A couple of years ago NetApp posted some pretty dismal results for the CX-3 with snapshots enabled. EMC doesn't do SPC-1 so NetApp did it for them. Interesting.

After writing up that Pillar article where I illustrated the massive efficiency gains on the 3PAR architecture(which is in part driven by their own custom ASICs), it got me thinking again, because as far as I can tell Pillar uses x86 CPUs.

Pillar offers multiple series of storage controllers to best meet the needs of your business and applications. The Axiom 600 Series 1 has dual-core processors and supports up to 24GB cache. The Axiom 600 Slammer Series 2 has quad-core processors and double the cache providing an increase in IOPS and throughput over the Slammer Series 1.

Now I can only assume they are using x86 processors, for all I know I suppose they could be using Power, or SPARC, but I doubt they are using ARM :)

Anyways back to the 3PAR architecture and their micro RAID design. I have written in the past about how you can have tens to hundreds of thousands of mini RAID arrays on a 3PAR system depending on the amount of space that you have. This is, of course to maximize distribution of data over all resources to maximize performance and predictability. When running RAID 5 or RAID 6, there are of course parity calculations involved. I can't help but wonder what sort of chances in hell a bunch of x86 CPU cores have in calculating RAID in real time for 100,000+ RAID arrays, with 3 and 4TB drives not too far out, you can take that 100,000+ and make it 500,000.

Taking the 3PAR F400 SPC-1 results as an example, here is my estimate on the number of RAID arrays on the system, fortunately it's mirrored so math is easier:

  • Usable capacity = 27,053 GB (27,702,272 MB)
  • Chunklet size = 256MB
  • Total Number of RAID-1 arrays = ~ 108,212
  • Total Number of data chunklets = ~216,424
  • Number of data chunklets per disk = ~563
  • Total data size per disk = ~144,128 MB (140.75 GB)

For legacy RAID designs it's probably not a big deal, but as disk drives grow ever bigger I have no doubt that everyone will have to move to a distributed RAID architecture, to reduce disk rebuild times and lower the chances of a double/triple disk failure wiping out your data. It is unfortunate (for them) that Hitachi could not pull that off in their latest system.

3PAR does use Intel CPUs in their systems as well, though they aren't used too heavily, on the systems I have had even at peak spindle load I never really saw CPU usage above 10%.

I think ASICs are here to stay for some time, on the low end you will be able to get by with generic CPU stuff, but on the higher end it will be worth the investment to do it in silicon.

Another place to look for generic CPUs vs ASICs is in the networking space. Network devices are still heavily dominated by ASICs because generic CPUs just can't keep up. Now of course generic CPUs are used for what I guess could be called "control data", but the heavy lifting is done by silicon. ASICs often draw a fraction of the power that generic CPUs do.

Yet another place to look for generic CPUs vs ASICs is in the HPC space - the rise of GPU-assisted HPC allowing them to scale to what was (to me anyways) unimaginable heights.

Generic CPUs are of course great to have and they have come a long way, but there is a lot of cruft in them, so it all depends on what your trying to accomplish.

The fastest NAS in the world is still BlueArc, which is powered by FPGAs, though their early cost structures put them out of reach for most folks, their new mid range looks nice, my only long time complaint about them has been their back end storage - either LSI or HDS, take it or leave it. So I leave it.

The only SPEC SFS results posted by BlueArc are for the mid range, nothing for their high end (which they tested on the last version of SFS, nothing yet for the current version).



EMC and IBM’s Thick chunks for automagic storage tiering

TechOps Guy: Nate

If you recall not long ago IBM released some SPC-1 numbers with their automagic storage tiering technology Easy Tier. It was noted that they are using 1GB blocks of data to move between the tiers. To me that seemed like a lot.

Well EMC announced the availability of FAST v2 (aka sub volume automagic storage tiering) and they too are using 1GB blocks of data to move between tiers according to our friends at The Register.

Still seems like a lot. I was pretty happy when 3PAR said they use 128MB blocks, which is half the size of their chunklets. I thought to myself when I first heard of this sub LUN tiering that you may want a block size as small as, I don't know 8-16MB. At the time 128MB still seemed kind of big(before I had learned of IBM's 1GB size).

Just think of how much time it takes to read 1GB of data off a SATA disk (since the big target for automagic storage tiering seems to be SATA + SSD).

Anyone know what size Compellent uses for automagic storage tiering?


The new Cisco/EMC/Vmware alliance – the vBlock

TechOps Guy: Nate

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..