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Where qualified partners stand with EVO:RAIL

There are certain hardware requirements that companies must meet to become a Qualified EVO:RAIL Partner, and only a few companies exceed them.

Several months ago Hewlett Packard, one of VMware's Qualified EVO:RAIL Partners (QEP), jumped ship and decided to discontinue their version of the EVO:RAIL appliance.

The question is: Did they jump too early?

After all, HP isn't exactly the same innovators of old and they have lost a vast amount of market share to their competitors over the past few years. One plausible option is that HP decided EVO:RAIL wasn't worth the investment due to limited returns and wanted to focus elsewhere. EVO:RAIL also competed in the same market as their StoreVirtual appliance, and that could cause confusion if they were pushing both products.

If you look at HP's EVO:RAIL offering (HP ConvergedSystem 200-HC), there really wasn't much value. It just met the bare minimum hardware requirements that VMware set for its partners. In my opinion, HP missed the opportunity to wrap in OneView and some of their other management software into their version of EVO:RAIL.

When HP announced their decision, they said that the market has evolved and customers are looking at more open and flexible options. However, all they are offering is a StoreVirtual appliance that doesn't do much more than EVO:RAIL. It's the same appliance running VMware, but with StoreVirtual VSA instead of Virtual SAN and OneView InstantOn instead of EVO:RAIL Manager.

Obviously, StoreVirtual VSA works with Hyper-V and KVM, but those appliances are yet to appear. It seems that HP wants to be like Nutanix (hypervisor agnostic) but hasn't developed the products for the market yet. To be honest, if they can fully integrate their Helion CloudSystem software with their ConvergedSystems products, then they could be onto something.

What this means for the other QEPs

In order to become a QEP, each vendor was given specific hardware requirements: a 2U appliance capable of holding four nodes, with at least four HDDs per node. At writing, the specs of each QEP EVO:RAIL offering is pretty similar: 2x Intel CPUs, 128 /192/256 GB RAM, 3.6 TB raw storage, 400 GB SSD for VSAN Cache and 2 x 10 GbE NICs, among others.

So what values do any of the QEPs offer? Well, unfortunately, only two of the eight remaining QEPs seem to offer anything above the standard build requirements.

SuperMicro and Dell seem to be the main "white-box" vendors who have just met the bare minimum requirements stipulated by VMware, and they don't offer any add-on products with their version of EVO:RAIL.

I'm a bit disappointed that Dell didn't think about integrating some of their huge software portfolio into their EVO:RAIL  products  -- like OpenManage, Foglight, vRanger, Total Virtual Data Protection -- as these products would complement EVO:RAIL really well because monitoring and backup are key features that are missing.

Several months ago it was announced that both QEPs are looking to ship NexentaConnect software as a licensed add-on to their EVO:RAIL appliances (although I don't believe there is any integration into EVO:RAIL Manager). NexentaConnect offers full file services (NFS, SMB) to end-users by deploying a virtual NAS appliance that sits on top of the Virtual SAN datastores -- quite useful if you're looking at file servers or home directories.

It's also interesting that Dell has jumped into bed with Nutanix as well. (I guess their management is playing it smart by having a finger in both pies in case one goes cold and needs to be thrown away).

Fujitsu PRIMEFLEX EVO:RAIL,from what I can see, is another partner that again just meets the minimum hardware specs to be classed as an EVO:RAIL partner. Although they may package their Fujitsu ServerView software into their EVO:RAIL offering, their marketing material is a bit inconclusive.

Hitachi Data Systems' Unified Compute Platform 1000 was the last vendor to make their EVO:RAIL appliance available, but like the previous vendors, they are just sticking to the recommended VMware specs. However, what makes them slightly different is the integration into their UCP Director software which allows existing HDS customers to manage, configure and orchestrate the EVO:RAIL appliance from within UCP Director.

Has EVO:RAIL been disappointing so far right? It seems like these vendors have just met the minimum requirements -- a move to ensure they also have something to offer when compared to their competitors.

Let's move onto the two QEP vendors that have actually put some thought into what customers may want to see packaged with an EVO:RAIL appliance.

NetApp's offering is to bolt a 2U FAS2552 array onto a standard EVO:RAIL appliance. This has confused a lot of people in the market as bolting on a storage array kind of defeats the whole purpose of hyper-converged. In a way they're correct, as NetApp's offering is not really converged at all, but rather complementary.

The FAS2552 will be connected to the TOR (Top of Rack) switch and will probably be presenting storage out as iSCSI or NFS. A "click and launch" menu option within EVO:RAIL Manager will deploy the NetApp storage and it will be configured as a separate datastore from Virtual SAN. Unified management will come from an integrated NetApp Virtual Storage Console within the vCenter Web Client. In addition, a VM will be deployed which acts as the glue between EVO:RAIL Manager and the NetApp hardware.

I'm assuming that the Web Client would need to be used in order to store vMotion VMs between Virtual SAN and the NetApp array as I haven't seen a demo of how EVO:RAIL Manager chooses which datastore to deploy VMs onto (you don't get that option within the normal VM creation wizard). However, the great thing about the FAS array is it will offer dedupe, cloning, snapshots and replication -- features that are missing or limited with Virtual SAN -- in addition to 16TB of additional storage.

EMC VSPEX Blue is an offering that I'm very impressed with. They've taken the basic EVO:RAIL requirements and added quite a lot to it. Here are some of the additions they have made:

  • VSPEX Blue Manager - new GUI that integrates into EVO:RAIL Manager and displays the health of the appliance, VSPEX Blue Market and the integrated ESRS support and community.
  • Data Protection/Backup - integration of VDPA (not surprising since underneath it's EMC Avamar), allowing you to back up the whole virtual environment, offering dedupe as well as the ability to use DataDomain as a backup target.
  • Disaster Recovery - licenses to protect 15 VMs (included for free) with RecoverPoint for VM (additional licenses can be purchased) offering VM-level continuous data protection -- local or remote -- and automated DR.
  • Archiving - 1 TB local cache license included for CloudArray, which is a gateway to Cloud Storage allowing you to archive out to the cloud (as EVO:RAIL has pretty limited storage). 1 TB cache license equates to 10 TB public cloud storage (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Rackspace, vCloud Air, etc).
  • VSPEX Blue Market - think Apple iTunes or Google Play, it's going to be an App Marketplace where customers can download and deploy EVO:RAIL certified applications (although from what I can see, it's pretty lacking in content but it's still new).
  • EMC Secure Remote Support - a call home functionality that contacts EMC if the appliance encounters any problems.

In my option, EMC has the best EVO:RAIL offering. They have sat down and thought about what other features the end-user would want in a HCIA and added in those missing features. Although, it turns out that EMC VSPEX Blue is the most expensive of all the vendors.

Next Steps

Differences between VMware's EVO:RAIL partners

Pros and cons of VMware EVO:RAIL

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