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Virtual Compute Environment pitch leaves IT users cold

The Virtual Compute Environment from Cisco, VMware and EMC promises easier virtualization and private clouds but IT pros aren't sold.

IT professionals aren't sold on the value of a new Cisco-EMC-VMware coalition to sell preconfigured bundles of servers, virtualization, networking and storage for enterprises that want to build private clouds.

One IT manager said he would like to be able to buy hosted Cisco-EMC-VMware capacity in a pinch but saw little value in buying their gear from a single company.

"Unless they decided to deeply discount it, I don't know if there'd be value in it," said Tom Becchetti, a Unix and storage engineer at a large Midwestern manufacturing firm that uses VMware and EMC storage. "I'd still have to do all the legwork of deciding how many CPUs, memory, the number of data paths. The choice of vendor is secondary to me."

Cisco, EMC and VMware said that initial customer analyses placed total cost of ownership savings at 40%, but that they had not divided that up in to capital and operational savings.

The idea of the Cisco/EMC/VMware data center in a box probably makes the most sense for greenfield environments, said Doug Willoughby, the director of cloud computing strategy at IT consultancy Compuware Corp. But it might falter in organizations with legacy investments. "We are still selling millions of dollars of mainframe software a year. . . . IT shops never throw out stuff that's working," he said.

Back to lock-in or greater simplicity?
Some IT managers interpreted the Virtual Compute Environment as a step backwards for virtualization.

But some analysts were inclined to give the coalition the benefit of the doubt.

"This could be good, it could give [IT professionals] a little bit of simplicity," said Andi Mann, a senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. By and large, enterprises prefer to buy integrated offerings rather than assemble best-of-breed technologies from piece parts, he said.

And the strength of the Cisco/EMC brand will be a powerful lure to large enterprises, said Chris Wolf, a senior analyst at Burton Group, especially as they start to think about cloud computing.

"When organizations start thinking about the cloud, they don't want to go to Joe's Discount Service Provider," Wolf said. The infrastructure running Amazon EC2 [Elastic Compute Cloud], for example, "is only good because Amazon tells us it is," he said, adding that "there's a reason why enterprises aren't putting their production workloads there."

"Infrastructure I can trust -- a brand I can trust -- that's what I see as the difference here," Wolf said.

VCE pitches simplicity
Cisco, EMC and VMware said their new Virtual Compute Environment (VCE) coalition will offer reference architectures for so-called Vblock Infrastructure Packages comprising Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) servers running VMware vSphere, Cisco Ethernet and Fibre Channel networking equipment including the Nexus 1000V, and EMC storage, security and management software.

The VCE coalition partners will also offer integrated pre-sales service and post-sales support for their Vblocks.

"When it comes to sales, service and support, think of it as best-of-breed integrated technology as if we were a single company," said Shekar Ayyar, VMware's vice president of infrastructure alliances.

In addition, the companies are creating a joint venture called Acadia, a services company that customers can tap to help build, operate and eventually transfer Vblock deployments back to the customer or to a service provider.

Even though Acadia will help customers operate their Vblocks, executives insisted that they were not entering the hosting business. Acadia's mission, instead, is to "accelerate customers' journey to the private cloud," said Manjula Talreja, Cisco vice president of business development.

Talreja said Acadia might end up operating a Vblock deployment for several years but that the ultimate goal was to transfer ownership of Vblock assets back to the customer, either on premise or to a service provider, "Acadia has only a lab; it is not in the data center hosting business," she said.

Acadia is set to open its doors in the first quarter of 2010, said EMC CEO Joe Tucci and will employ 130 people initially. VMware and Intel are also listed as minority investors in Acadia, which will be headquartered in Dallas, Texas.

Vblock configurations
The VCE coalition announced small, medium and large Vblock configurations:

  • Vblock 0 is designed for configuration of 300 to 800 virtual machines and runs on the Cisco UCS and Nexus 1000V, and EMC Unified Storage.
  • Vblock 1 scales from 800 to 3,000 VMs, leveraging the Cisco UCS, Nexus 1000V and MDS switches, and EMC Clariion storage.
  • Vblock 2, designed for service providers and the largest enterprises, can host 3,000 to 6,000 VMs and utilizes EMC's high-end V-Max storage.

Vblocks do rely on any proprietary hardware and can be configured to meet customers' specific needs, said Todd Pavone, EMC's vice president of global solutions.

"The different options will have minimums and maximums, but clearly there will be a level of customization to meet unique requirements," he said. "The idea is to provide 60% to 80% of the answer, then let the customer do 20% 30% of the customization at the end."

Both the Vblock 1 and 2 designs are complete, and the Vblock 0 design will be available in the first quarter of 2010, Pavone said.

Speaking of customization, the VMware vSphere software running on Vblocks might not be the same as that running on other hardware platforms.

"We are going to add things to Vblock to see that it is differentiated," said VMware's Ayyar, for example, expanded management software. The goal, however, "is not to create any obstacles to what we do with other partners."

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