This content is part of the Essential Guide: VMworld 2015 conference coverage

VMware looks to take EVO:RAIL higher

Looking to boost sales and attract new users, VMware is beefing up its hyper-converged infrastructure offering EVO:RAIL.

With the slow acceptance of its EVO:RAIL hyper-converged infrastructure offering, VMware continues to add some muscle to the product to make it more appealing to enterprises.

Last month the company delivered new configuration options for hardware partners selling EVO:RAIL, including the ability to support 1,600 generic virtual machines and 2,400 virtual desktops in a 32-node cluster, up from 800 virtual machines and 2,000 virtual desktops.

VMware will continue on this path with an all flash version of EVO:RAIL later this year which will add significantly more performance, according to sources.

"An all flash version of [EVO:RAIL] is a logical progression, given they delivered all flash versions of [Virtual SAN 6.0] earlier this year," according to one source familiar with the company's plans. "It should drive more interest among users and the hardware partners."

Some users and consultants view EVO:RAIL as underpowered for their computing needs, especially when compared to the company's EVO:RACK configuration. They also see it as more expensive than competing hyper-converged products.  The first shipments of EVO:RAIL from partners were made in late 2014 or early this year. EVO:RACK, seen as the big brother of EVO:RAIL, is not expected to ship until sometime in 2016.

The majority of complaints centered around EVO:RAIL's lack of features and flexibility. The initial release came in a four-node appliance and was limited to 16 nodes, although VMware revised the offering in May and raised the maximums to 32 nodes.

The inflexibility of needing to buy a four-node appliance to scale up, then being limited to 32 nodes made it less than appealing to larger businesses. Using Virtual SAN (VSAN) for software-defined storage meant that only ESXi hypervisors could run on EVO:RAIL; VSAN also lacks deduplication functionality to further reduce storage usage.

In contrast, EVO:Rack is designed as a cluster appliance that will span multiple racks of nodes, particularly  for enterprises with large VDI needs, platform or infrastructure as a service scenarios and big data requirements.

To tie the racks together, EVO:RACK will use network virtualization product NSX and integrated physical networking. In addition to NSX, EVO:RACK was to include vCloud Suite, VSAN and EVO:RACK management software.

"While there are obvious differences between the two, most clients I have still see [EVO:RAIL] as a cut-down or lobotomized version of EVO:RACK," said one Washington, D.C.-based consultant who works with a number of large federal government agencies. "They wonder why they [VMware] doesn't start off conversations with them about EVO:RACK first."

VMware counters these claims saying higher-end mid-size companies and large departments of Fortune 1000 accounts have expressed interest in EVO:RAIL; they want some autonomy with their infrastructure or the ability to deploy smaller building blocks, like a hyper-converged appliance. These companies care more about specific uses for the product than its ability to scale relative to EVO:RACK, according to Bryan Evans, director of product management and partner integration for VMware.

Other users complained about vSphere licensing on EVO:RAIL, where a license needed to be bought with each appliance. The company recently amended this policy by announcing its vSphere Loyalty Program that allows customers that had acquired vSphere Enterprise Plus licenses through Enterprise Licensing Agreements, OEM partners, distribution, or resale channels to apply those licenses to EVO:RAIL.

Pricing and an expanding number of new competitors entering the hyper-converged  market could continue to work against EVO:RAIL establishing traction among both small and large IT shops, some analysts believe. Many hyper-converged systems are "pure plays" with components designed to work hand in glove.

"Many new competitive offerings are built from the ground up to be hyper- converged," said Christian Perry, practice manager and principal analyst with Technology Business Research, Inc. in Hampton, N.H. "VMware's [EVO:RAIL] is more a culling together of existing technologies."

EVO:RAIL could still achieve a certain level of success, Perry believes, but that will largely depend on the value its hardware partners can add that will distinguish it from competitors.

While VMware competitors Nutanix and Simplivity have dominated the fledgling hyper-converged infrastructure market so far – Nutanix holds a 52% share as of last year based on IDC's data – another analyst says it is still early days for both EVO:RAIL and the market as a whole. IDC believes the market  grew from $42.3 million in 2013 to $373.2 million last year and is on track to more than double this year to $806.8 million.

"Things are just starting to kick off for EVO:RAIL," said Eric Sheppard, research director, worldwide storage software at IDC in Framingham, Mass. "It has taken them time to prime the pump in terms of educating the channel, get the sales force ready and build the products. We think tier one OEMs should have a good second half of this year."

Users have complained about the cost of EVO:RAIL and the capabilities they get in the base offering. They have pointed out that key capabilities available as part of the basic offering in some competitors' products must be purchased separately at an added cost with EVO:RAIL.

"We looked at the features they were pitching us [with EVO:RAIL] and there were a few optional capabilities, mostly around performance monitoring and cloud connection things that were bundled into other products," said another VMware user. "We'll wait to see if they change their minds about that at some point."

While beefing up EVO:RAIL could strengthen its appeal, some caution going too far could bring its competitive positioning too close to that of EVO:RACK.

"It's becoming clear VMware is putting EVO:RAIL on a development path to attract higher end enterprise and government clients. They have to be careful not to go too far otherwise they could be targeting two products at the same set of customers," said one consultant.

Next Steps

VMware EVO:RAIL attracts lots of tire kickers, few drivers

Is it time to roll EVO:RACK into your business?

Dig Deeper on VMware virtualization