EMC Vspex reference architecture stacks storage, networking, compute

EMC’s Vspex reference architecture gives channel partners a preconfigured bundle of storage, networking, compute and software; partners include Brocade, Cisco, VMware, Microsoft.

EMC today launched its Vspex reference architecture, which represents the latest step in the trend of vendors providing channel partners with integrated stacks that bundle storage, networking, computing and software.

There are 14 Vspex architectures at launch, all using EMC storage in validated best-of-breed configurations. EMC’s major technology partners are Cisco Systems Inc. and Intel Corp. for servers; Cisco and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. for networking; and VMware Inc., Microsoft and Citrix Systems Inc. for virtual servers and desktops. The systems will be sold by EMC channel partners through large distributors, including Arrow Enterprise Computing Solutions, Avnet Technology Solutions, Ingram Micro Inc. and Tech Data Corp.

EMC first got into integrated stacks in 2009 by forming VCE in alliance with Cisco and VMware to sell preconfigured Vblocks consisting of EMC storage, Cisco computing and networking and VMware software. EMC rival NetApp countered with its FlexPod reference architecture, also in partnership with Cisco and VMware. Now EMC is offering its own reference architecture platform that competes directly with FlexPod.

Other vendors also have added converged infrastructures, including Hewlett-Packard Co. with VirtualSystem, Dell Inc. with vStart, Hitachi Data Systems Corp. with Unified Compute Platform and IBM with its brand-new PureSystems.

EMC is careful to avoid positioning Vspex as competitive to VCE, pointing out Vblocks are mostly higher-end systems that use VMAX, VMAXe and higher-end VNX storage. Vspex uses two of the smaller midrange VNX models -- 5300 and 5500 -- and entry-level VNXe storage arrays. Vspex also has a broader range of technology options than Vblocks, which aren’t available with products that compete with Cisco and VMware.

 Josh Kahn, EMC’s vice president of solutions marketing, described Vspex as “additive to Vblock business. Vspex is targeted at a different set of customers who aren’t buying Vblocks today. We designed Vspex to go down-market and to have more flexibility than the Vblock has.”

Kahn said EMC enterprise customers have three options for buying storage systems for private clouds or virtualized environments. They can build their own by buying all of the products from various vendors, buy a preintegrated Vblock or buy one of the Vspex reference architectures. He said the build-your-own model is the most flexible and complex, while Vblock is simpler but less flexible because there are few products to choose from.

“We realized there’s a third option that we need that fits in the middle,” he said. “Vspex is flexible in terms of components, but there’s a degree of simplicity as far as building your own cloud infrastructures.”

Kahn said the Vspex architectures are designed either for private cloud or end-user computing. There are VMware private cloud architectures for 50, 100, 125 and 250 virtual machines; Microsoft private cloud architectures for 50 and 100 virtual machines; and VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop virtual desktop architectures for 250, 500, 1,000 and 2,000 users.

With Intel as a server partner, Vspex systems can use any Intel x86 server, even those from EMC competitors IBM, HP or Dell, Kahn said.

Vspex bundles can also include EMC’s DataDomain disk libraries and Avamar and NetWorker software for data protection.

Channel partners can put their own badges along with EMC’s name on the Vspex arrays. The reseller who makes the sale will be the first point of contact for support.

Steve Duplessie, Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst, said the rise of integrated stacks and reference architectures is driven by increased complexity in enterprise storage.

“No matter who sells it, the customer is accepting packaged solutions because it is ridiculously complicated stuff,” Duplessie said. “The market is trying to make it easier and provide it in an ecosystem the customer wants. Customers don’t have time to put it together.”

Some of the Vspex distribution partners, such as Avnet, also sell Vblocks and FlexPods.

Scott Look, vice president of Avnet’s Technology Infrastructure Solutions Group, said he thinks customer choice will come down mainly to which vendors’ technology they favor across the stack.

“I don’t think the target user is different [from one stack to another],” he said. “The difference could be driven by end-user familiarity with the other partners EMC has built Vspex around.”

Ingram Micro sells Vblock but not NetApp’s FlexPod. Don Hoppock, director of Ingram Micro's Advanced Computing Division, said integrated stacks make it easier for channel partners to deliver systems that fit customers’ needs.

“Vspex is similar to Vblock. Take off a few bells and whistles and one number to call for support [for Vblocks], but that [support] is something our partners provide,” Hoppock said. “A reference architecture makes it easier when you think of how end users want to solve problems. It’s ‘How do I build a car?” versus “What do I need out of a car?’ They should be focused on what they need out of that car rather than trying to build it out over time.”

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