The Stack Market: Vblock, FlexPod, VSPEX (and me)
I’ve written several times on this blog about converged infrastructure and a few recent events have compelled me to revisit the topic. These events include the launch of EMC’s VSPEX solution along with my decision to accept a new position with a NetApp/FlexPod partner.
I’ve spoken very favorably in the past about the Vblock and even interviewed EMC’s Chad Sakac on this blog about the Vblock, the value proposition, and how it compares to other “stacks”. Have my opinions changed? And what does the introduction of VSPEX mean for the market? Let’s start by looking at stacks using a car analogy.
THE SPORTS CAR ANALOGY
Imagine that you are a sports car enthusiast and you have three different choices for obtaining a vehicle. One option is to pick out the best individual components and build your shiny new custom sports car from the ground up. You get exactly what you want from whomever you want, but you have to incur the engineering burden of figuring out how best to get all those parts to work together — and if you change a part or two in the future you’ll have to re-engineer it then as well. This build-your-own approach is the traditional way of doing things, but it requires good amounts of both engineering expertise and time.
Now there’s one company out there who has selected best-of-breed components from multiple vendors — the best chassis, tires, engine, transmission, and more — all engineered to work together to form one fantastic sports car. This car can then be purchased and supported as a single product. Simply select the size and model you want and you’ve got one great sports car ready to burn some rubber.
But what if you had a favorite gearbox or set of tires that you wanted to use in order to change your ratios or to achieve some other specific goal? You’re kinda stuck. Now depending on your goals that might not be such a bad thing, but some might want a more middle-of-the road solution that offers more flexibility.
Fortunately, there is a second company that has put together a reference architecture. In this model, the company has selected a finite list of best-of-breed solutions and has certified these solutions to work together to achieve the desired results. Like the first solution, the engineering burden is removed from you the customer, and you’re getting a solution that was designed to work together. In addition you have a bit more freedom to pick best-of-breed components, but you are forgoing some of the benefits of the single product model such as procurement and support. In short, you gain more flexibility while taking a step back from the “pure product” concept.
THE STACK MARKET
The Vblock is of course the “product” solution in the example above. It’s an excellent solution comprised of EMC Storage, VMware vSphere, Cisco server (UCS) and networking hardware, and Unified Infrastructure Manager for orchestration across these components. The FlexPod uses Cisco UCS and Nexus (as does the Vblock) but offers a choice of hypervisor and leverages NetApp storage solutions. FlexPod customers can also select from a variety of orchestration solutions ranging from Cloupia, CA Automation Suite, Cisco IA, and many more.
For a variety of reasons the FlexPod has been catching on as of late enjoying more than 400% growth in customer adoption in the past year. While the Vblock has experienced a measure of success, it has become clear that for reasons ranging from the technical to the political, there will be a market need for more “flexible” solutions –as opposed to the single product model — for some time. EMC reacted to this and the success of the FlexPod by launching their own reference architecture called VSPEX to fill this gap in their portfolio.
SO WHICH IS BEST?
There are certainly some for which the product approach is a good fit, and others will opt for the relative flexibility of the reference architecture model. Now everyone with an agenda will try to give their own spin on why reference architecture X or storage solution Y is better so here’s my opinion/spin: they are all great solutions — you need to find the right fit for your business and technical goals.
We can split hairs and compare EMC Storage to NetApp storage and I’m sure each will find what they believe to be relative advantages. As for VSPEX, yes it does seem to cover a broader array of hardware than the FlexPod, but I happen to be very comfortable with Cisco UCS blades just like the Vblock solution is. And with so many strong management solutions available (Cloupia, CA, BMC, Cisco IA, etc.) it becomes easier to tailor the solution to your needs either as a solutions provider or a IT organization.
In several ways I believe that EMC’s decision to introduce the VSPEX is a validation of the success of the FlexPod solution which has been extremely well received in the channel. Some will of course espouse that the VSPEX is somehow superior because it includes more vendors and components, but I think that at a certain point the value of a solution can be diluted. The components of the FlexPod are certainly best-of -breed including Cisco UCS, VMware vSphere (or Hyper-V), NetApp storage and then customers can select the orchestration and management elements that best align with their needs and goals. In fact, I really don’t need to state that I think that the FlexPod is a great solution — the clear market success combined with EMC’s decision to attempt to emulate this with their own reference architecture (VSPEX) speaks for itself I think.
When we take our propeller-hats off and take a step back we see that the real value here to the customer isn’t component X, Y or Z, but rather the sum of all of parts in being able to provide private cloud and IaaS solutions which provide captial, operational and strategic benefits to the organization (see “What is Cloud Computing?“). I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity to work with NetApp and FlexPod solutions that have been proven to be remarkably successful and have delivered phenominal value to their customers.
Your business has a new initiative which requires a web farm of 10 servers, plus an additional 12 servers supporting databases and middleware. How long would it take to design, purchase, engineer and then provision the resources for this new initiative? Using the traditional “build-your-own” approach this could take months, significantly impacting the success and trajectory of your business initiatives. A well designed converged infrastructure such as a FlexPod solution can provide the technical foundation for vastly reducing your “mean time to provision” and improving your business and profitability as a result.
How is it possible that companies like Instagram and DropBox had only 13 and 89 employees respectively at last count? Who maintains the datacenter, the cooling, the cabling, the halon system, and everything else that goes along with a datacenter? The answer is that they leverage the cloud. In this same manner, mid-to-large companies can leverage IaaS using solutions like the FlexPod in a variety of cloud scenarios to achieve the same type of success. The FlexPod is an outstanding platform towards this end and I’m very excited about working with it, in a variety of cloud scenarios to help customers achieve these benefits. More to come.