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What is EVO:RAIL? What's included?

With EVO:RAIL, VMware banks on customers who want one stop when they need help with their hyper-converged infrastructure appliance.

Before it was announced at VMworld 2014, there were rumors of a hyper-converged infrastructure system from VMware for several months prior to its unveiling. Now that most of VMware's partners have made good on their end with the hardware, what is EVO:RAIL and what does it mean for the data center?

EVO:RAIL is a highly integrated software and hardware offering that combines a group of related virtualization software products onto a commodity server to create a hyper-converged infrastructure for the data center.

The software stack behind EVO:RAIL

Hyper-convergence differs from previous convergence offerings which typically integrated computing, storage, networking and software from a variety of vendors into a single cohesive infrastructure. Instead, hyper-convergence focuses on software capabilities rather than hardware subsystems. In a hyper-converged appliance like EVO:RAIL, the focus is on the software stack from VMware to create a comprehensive suite of software-defined services. The software includes VMware's EVO:RAIL engine, vSphere Enterprise Plus, vCenter Server, VMware Virtual SAN and vRealize Log Insight. All of the computing, storage and network features and capabilities are driven and managed by software which plays directly to the emerging idea of a software-defined data center (SDDC).

All of this VMware software operates on a single commodity server which can provide the computing resources, storage, and much of the networking functionality -- except for switches -- needed to structure and manage the desired business workloads. It's basically a SDDC in a box, but the "box" itself is almost irrelevant. For the EVO:RAIL, VMware has partnered with major vendors such as Dell, HP, Supermicro, EMC, Fujitsu, Hitachi Data Systems and others to design, manufacture and provide the underlying hardware. Thus, you're not buying an EVO:RAIL from VMware, but rather from a preferred hardware partner. Although each partner's hardware design may contain unique optimizations that enhance VMware software performance, there are no special hardware components or proprietary architectures to drive the software stack.

What is EVO:RAIL -- the hardware component

Generally, an EVO:RAIL appliance is a 2U box containing four independent servers called "nodes". Each server node includes dual Intel Xeon E5 processors such as the E5-2620 v3 family with 12 cores per node, 192 GB of memory, 3.6 TB of storage capacity (14.4 TB of capacity for the appliance), and two 10 Gigabit Ethernet copper or optical NIC ports (with an out-of-band management port). Vendors note that an EVO:RAIL appliance should support up to about 100 server-side VMs or up to 250 View VM instances, though this can vary depending on each workload's computing requirements.

EVO:RAIL appliances are also designed to be resilient. For example, each appliance includes two redundant power supplies. Nodes can be clustered for additional resilience, and up to eight appliances can be supported in a deployment. Similarly, a node can be left available for migrations, planned downtime or even unplanned events.

In addition to software and hardware, EVO:RAIL platforms are typically sold with three years of software and hardware support included in the price. This is the "one throat to choke" premise of convergence -- businesses and data center owners have just one vendor to call when something goes awry.

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