Back in 2009 VMware, Cisco and EMC joined forces to create a new approach to selling full datacenter pre-configured solution stacks. Rather than simply a gentlemen’s agreement and a cross pollination of development from the three companies, it was decided they would create a new start up business as the delivery mechanism to drive this new concept to market. This new start up, known as VCE (Virtual Computing Environment), would take to market a new range of pre-validated, pre-configured and singularly supported solution stacks called VBlock.
The purpose of a VBlock is to simplify infrastructure down to effectively units of IT and define that a workload can be supported by “a number of floor tiles” in the data centre. This approach is enabled by the fact that everything within a VBlock is pre-validated from an interoperability perspective and customizable components are reduced down to packs of Blades (compute), Disks and network components required to connect into the upstream customer environment, means that solution design is massively simplified and can be focus to supoprting the identified workload.
VCE extensively soak test workloads and configurations available within the VBlock to reduce pre-sales time spent on researching interoperability between the Network/compute/storage layers of the Data centre. This means that defining how a workload is supported is the focus and planning phases are significantly reduced. This pre-validated approach means that power and cooling requirements are easily determined in preparation for site deployment.
Pre Build and Pre Configured
As part of the VBlock proposition, the physical and logical build process are carried out in VCE facilities, so that time on customer site is restricted to that if integrating into the customer environment and application layer services. This reduces deployment time massively.
Single Support Presence
Rather than dealing with the parent companies (VMware, Cisco, EMC) of VCE on a per vendor basis. VCE act as a single support presence and will own any VBlock related issue end to end. This is partly enabled by the pre-validated aspect of VBlock, as VCE have a number of VBlocks in house and provided the VBlock is constructed as per approved architectures, VCE can simulate the environment which has caused the error to decrease time to resolution.
The technology element at the core of the VBlock consists of VMware VSphere, Cisco UCS (Cisco’s Unified compute solution), Cisco Nexus (Cisco’s Unified fabric offering) and EMC VNX’s unified storage platform. Cisco simplify management of their blade computing platform down to a single point of management (UCS Manager) which resides on the 6100 Fabric interconnects and allows for “stateless” computing, in that it is possible to abstract the server “personality” (Mac addresses, word wide names, firmware, etc) away from the server hardware, then create and apply these personalities on demand to any blade within the UCS system. This management system manages all aspects of the UCS system (blade/chassis management, connectivity, firmware and connectivity). Cisco’s Unified Fabric commonly refers to their Nexus range (but elements of unified fabric apply to UCS). Cisco Nexus allows both IP network traffic and fibre channel traffic to be delivered over common 10 Gigabit switches using FcoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet). In addition the Cisco Nexus 1000v enables deployment of a virtual switch within the Vmware environment ,allowing network services to be deployed within virtual infrastructure where it was previously only possible in the physical world.
EMC VNX is a multi protocol storage array allowing for storage connectivity via block storage technologies (iSCSI/Fibre Channel) or NAS connectivity (CIFS/NFS/pNFS), giving the end user free choice as to how storage is provided to the UCS Server estate. EMC also drive efficiencies in how capacity and performance are handled by leveraging technologies such as deduplication and thin provisioning to achieve a lower cost per gigabyte. EMC are also able to leverage solid state disk technologies to extend storage Cache or enable sub LUN level tiering of data between Solid state disk and traditional mechanical disk technologies based on data access patterns.
VMware Vsphere has provided many companies cost saving in the past but in the Vblock is leveraged to maximum effect to provide operational efficiencies with features such as dynamic and automated mobility of virtual machines between physical servers based in load, high availability and the native integration that is inherent between VMware and EMC with the VAAI API integration. This integration enables much lower SAN fabric utilisation for what were very intensive storage network operations such as storage migration. EMC Powerpath/VE is also included in the Vblock which enables true intelligent load balancing of storage traffic across the SAN fabric.
VCE utilise the Ionix Unified Infrastructure Manager (UIM) as a management overlay which integrates with the Storage,Compute,Network and Virtualisation technologies within the Vblock and allows high level automation of and operational simplicity with how resources are provisioned within the VBlock. UIM will discover resources within the VBlock and the administrator then classifies those resources. As an example High performance blades may be deemed “Gold” blades verses lower specification blades which may be classified as “silver” blades. This classification is also applied to other resources within the Vblock such as storage. Once resources have been classified, then they can be applied on a per tenancy/application/department basis which is allowed access to differing levels of Gold/silver/Bronze resources within the Vblock. UIM now also includes operational aspects which give end to end visibility of exactly which hardware within a VBlock a particular VM is utilising (Blades, disks, etc). Native Vendor management tools can be utilised, although with the exception of Vcenter, UIM would be the point of management of 90% of VBlock tasks after initial deployment.
The VCE approach to IT infrastructure with VBlock enables simplification of procurement and IT infrastructure planning as VCE are able to reduce their infrastructure offerings to essentially units of IT which are sized to support a defined workload within a number of “floor tiles” in the data centre. These predetermined units of IT have deterministic power and cooling requirements and scale in such aware to where all VBlock instances (be it few or Many) can be managed from a single point of management and are all supported under a single instance of support. Leveraging technologies which drive efficiencies around Virtualisation, networking, storage and computing we see benefits such as higher performance in smaller physical footprints when addressing storage and compute, minimised cables management and complexity with 10GbE enabling technologies such as Fibre Channel over Ethernet and operational simplicity with the Native Vblock unified infrastructure management tool UIM.management tool UIM.