The Next Generation of HCI: Intelligent Management and Multi-Cloud Support

Dell Technologies World Hyperconverged Infrastructure Briefing Note

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is quickly spreading across core and edge data center environments. As it moves beyond the point use cases like virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) hosting, greater solution flexibility is needed because one specific architecture may not always meet all needs. HCI will need to be able to integrate and coexist with off-premises cloud services, and it will need to scale to adapt to growing capacity requirements. Additionally, more intelligent and streamlined management will go a long way in enabling IT managers to more efficiently manage heterogeneous environments, to optimize uptime, and to become more predictive.

Dell Technologies VxRail

For its part, Dell Technologies is consolidating its myriad of HCI offerings into two brands: VxRail-branded offerings for VMware environments, and VxFlex-branded offerings for bare metal and non-VMware virtualized environments.

The VxRail architecture integrates a number of VMware software platforms, including vSAN software-defined storage, vSphere server virtualization, and vCenter server management, with Dell EMC PowerEdge servers, and with Dell EMC RecoverPoint software and VMware replication for data protection. It also includes the VxRail Manager software, which provides deployment and element management as well as call home functionality and other tools.

Using the VxRail manager software was a baseline, Dell Technologies has built its new VxRail HCI System Software, to provide more comprehensive hardware and software lifecycle management. The VxRail HCI System Software provides a number of additional capabilities such as downstream connectors to system networking to automate deployments. Most significantly, its VxRail Manager includes early access to the VxRail Analytical Consulting Engine (ACE), which applies machine learning to system telemetry data to generate insights into capacity, performance and system health. These insights can be applied to better plan for system upgrades, and to more easily and quickly identify and resolve issues (and in fact identify issues before they impact the system).

Dell Technologies has previously integrated VxRail with the VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) hybrid cloud infrastructure and management software stack, to accelerate the path to private or hybrid cloud infrastructure. VCF on VxRail provides the foundation of the new Dell Technologies Cloud Platform, which lays a common infrastructure and management foundation for multi-cloud environments and opens up consumption-based payment and managed service options. Access Storage Switzerland’s previous briefing note on Dell Technologies’ cloud-related announcements at Dell Technologies World for more detail on this offering.

Dell Technologies VxFlex

Whereas VxRail supports VMware environments exclusively, the VxFlex portfolio supports a variety of hypervisors and bare metal infrastructures, as well as multiple deployment models. The VxFlex architecture is built around the scale-out VxFlex operating system (OS), which can create not only HCI nodes but also a block storage area network (SAN) for customers that want to adopt software-defined infrastructure but still manage compute and storage separately to avoid changing their operational model structure.

Dell Technologies has introduced the new VxFlex OS 3.0, which increases storage efficiency through the addition of inline compression and a Fine Granularity (FG) data layout. It also adds the ability to migrate storage volumes between pools non-disruptively, as well as more refined snapshot policy management that can be based on specific time retention mechanisms. It also adds a Kubernetes CSI plugin to make persistent storage available to container environments.

VxFlex may be consumed via three means:

  • At the large end of the spectrum, there is the VxFlex full, pre-integrated rack, which has been re-branded from the VxRack FLEX. Dell Technologies has refreshed the compute that is deployed in VxFlex racks, with new PowerEdge servers and Intel processors that better serve high-performance applications. It has also updated the networking architecture to be more scalable and faster performing and has added support for VMware NSX-T software-defined networking.
  • New to the portfolio are VxFlex appliances, which provide a smaller starting point than the integrated rack – as small as three nodes – but with the ability to grow to more than a thousand nodes. They also add the flexibility to utilize existing networking equipment. They also offer faster and more simplified deployment, as configuration is completed in the factory.
  • VxFlex Ready Nodes, which are designed to be highly configurable.

The appliance and integrated rack offerings include VxFlex Manager 3.2, which is designed to automate and simplify implementation, serviceability and lifecycle management. For example, it supports one-button hypervisor and OS upgrades, the ability to replace fans, power supplies and drives, and enhanced monitoring of components. VxFlex Manager may be deployed by customers running compute and storage separately, as well as those running in a unified HCI model. This all stands to increase uptime and simplify management.

StorageSwiss Take

Dell Technologies comes from a long-standing background in converged and hyperconverged infrastructure. Its most recent announcements at Dell Technologies World reflect that it is focused on evolving from those roots to address some of the most pressing headaches facing IT professionals with HCI. Specifically, the multi-cloud integration and management nightmare is very real, and there is strong interest in consumption-based payment for on-premises infrastructure. Also, storage professionals in particular are required to free up as much time as possible from day-to-day administrative tasks, making more intelligent management software increasingly a must-have. Close integration of Dell EMC hardware and VMware software is a priority for Dell Technologies, but the company also is continuing to invest in third-party support. Its new VxFlex appliances are evidence of this investment, and it will also make the Dell Technologies HCI portfolio more accessible for smaller companies that need a smaller footprint to start with. They will also be a match for test and development use cases, which start small and may need to scale.

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Senior Analyst, Krista Macomber produces analyst commentary and contributes to a range of client deliverables including white papers, webinars and videos for Storage Switzerland. She has a decade of experience covering all things storage, data center and cloud infrastructure, including: technology and vendor portfolio developments; customer buying behavior trends; and vendor ecosystems, go-to-market positioning, and business models. Her previous experience includes leading the IT infrastructure practice of analyst firm Technology Business Research, and leading market intelligence initiatives for media company TechTarget.

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