Dell proposes vStart for fast VMware build outs

Think of Dell vStart as a much smaller version of VCE's Vblock. These pre-configured bundles come complete with servers, storage, networking and virtualization software.

Dell’s new vStart bundle of servers, storage, networking, virtualization and management software could appeal to IT shops new to virtualization or those hoping to speed up their virtualization efforts, observers said.

In theory, the pre-configured and pre-wired bundle sounds great to IT pros like Joe Foran, director of IT at FSW Inc., a nonprofit social services agency in Bridgeport, Conn.

“I would love to just drop in a box, do some configuration work on it, and walk away,” Foran said. Heterogeneous, ‘best of breed’ systems are great “if you’re in a big company and have a lot of money to throw around and need top-of-the-line performance.” Most everyone else, meanwhile, can benefit from the simplified setup and management of a pre-configured bundle, he said.

Specifically, the Dell vStart 100v consists of a single PowerEdge R610 for management, three PowerEdge R710s running VMware vSphere, a Dell EqualLogic PS6000XV storage array, four PowerConnect 6248 switches, all pre-configured, racked and cabled in a 42U rack complete with a power distribution unit, keyboard-video-mouse and uninterruptible power supplies.

Its big brother, the Dell vStart 200v includes those same components plus six PowerEdge R710s and two EqualLogic disk arrays.

That gear is all pre-wired and pre-configured, and arrives on the customer’s doorstep with a Dell service engineer, ready to plug it in and turn it on.

And, vStart’s relatively low price—compared to that of the VCE company’s Vblocks—intrigues some shops.

Bite-sized virtual infrastructure
Foran said FSW is expanding its server and storage hardware, but has shied away from pre-integrated offerings such as VCE’s Vblock, whose entry level model is designed for 300 to 800 virtual machines (VMs), and is overkill for his shop.

Indeed, compared to competitive “private cloud in a box” like the aforementioned Vblock, NetApp’s FlexPod, or Hewlett-Packard’s BladeSystem Matrix, Dell vStart comes in relatively digestible packages: VStart configurations are available for environments with either up to 100 or 200 VMs.

The vStart 100v and 200v have list prices of $99,900 and $169,000, respectively, which, according to Colin Fletcher, Dell senior enterprise solutions manager, works out to “just a touch less” than purchasing all the components individually. The lowest-end Vblock 0 starts at $100,000 while the bigger, more mainstream Vblock 1 and 2 models list for $1 million to $6 million, at least according to the pricing announced at launch in 2009.

Keeping vStart small may be a smart move by Dell, said Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

“Our research shows that 50% of organizations have less than 250 VMs in production, and more than half of organizations are less than 50% virtualized,” he said. For all of virtualization’s hype, “people are just getting started.” For them, vStart’s form factor “makes a little bit more sense” than offerings targeted at large enteprises and service providers.

At the same time, Dell expects vStart will be adopted by some larger customers as well, even those with significant experience deploying virtualization, according to Fletcher.

“We’ve been surprised at some of the market opportunities,” Fletcher said, citing healthcare and other “highly mature” IT organizations. “I think they see [vStart] as a rapid and easy way to add capacity or expand into remote locations,” he said.

VStart just the beginning
Bowker also commended Dell for its apparent willingness to work with customers to scale out their vStart purchases.

Other virtualization-bundle vendors make such incremental additions difficult. “If I buy a system sized for a 100 VMs, when I go to install my 101st VM, don’t tell me I have to go buy a whole other vStart,” Bowker said. Instead, Dell allows vStarts to be scaled in small increments, allowing for the purchase of additional disk, compute or network resources.

Bowker believes Dell could do well by offering both smaller and larger vStart models, as well as a version designed for Microsoft Hyper-V. As part of today’s announcement, Dell and Microsoft entered into a three-year agreement to integrate management offerings including the Dell Virtual Integrated System, Dell Advanced Infrastructure Manager and Microsoft System Center, running on Hyper-V.

Dell’s Fletcher said additional vStart configurations may come. Right now, vStart “is what it is,” he said, “but we’re considering a number of options for the future, along a number of dimensions.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director at abarrett@techtarget.com, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.

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