VMware this week unveiled at its VMworld event the first in a family of "hyper-converged" systems, a product called EVO:RAIL that it says will help customers build software-defined data centres.
The product combines compute, network and storage functionality in a single appliance, and comes in a standard 2U form factor with four nodes.
EVO:RAIL does not mark VMware's foray into the converged infrastructure market. The company partners with parent company EMC as well as Cisco on VCE, which makes vBlock converged infrastructure systems. Those platforms combine elements of EMC storage, Cisco UCS servers and VMware virtualization technology. HP, Oracle and others sell converged systems, too.
IDC Analyst Rick Villars says VMware's latest move somewhat validates efforts that a handful of other vendors, such as Simplivity and Nutanix, have been making.
While at first blush EVO:RAIL could be perceived as competing with VCE's vBlocks, Villars says that the two systems appeal to different use cases, at least for now.
VBlocks are usually high-end, sometimes heavily customized systems used for tier 1 and 2 applications and services. Major enterprises have embraced the converged technology for their campus data centre build-outs.
Hyper-converged infrastructure like EVO:RAIL is aiming at a lower tier market, such as mid-size enterprises that may not have bought into a converged infrastructure because of its higher price. It could also be used to quickly spin up branch offices.
Whereas a converged platform installation can take days and weeks to assemble, a hyper-converged system comes ready to use almost out of the box, says Mornay Van Der Walt, VMware's vice president of Emerging Technologies.
Villars adds: "This is really about pre-bundling and getting up and going out of the box much faster."
EVO Rail includes VMware's vSphere virtualization software, Virtual SAN for storage and vcentre Log Insight for virtual machine management, plus new software that ties the platform together. VMware says a single appliance supports approximately 100 general purpose virtual machines or 250 virtual desktops and will feature a VMware Virtual SAN datastore with a capacity of around 13TB.
The company is taking a different go-to-market approach with EVO:RAIL compared to how it has sold other products and services. VMware made it clear it does not want to be a hardware seller, so instead of shipping the complete hyper-converged EVO product itself, it will sell the software that makes up the hyper-converged EVO system to its hardware partners who will then resell it. VMware calls it a franchise model of sales where it will supply the software to ensure that all EVO:RAIL systems are similar, but individual hardware vendors will supply the actual boxes. Pricing will be set by individual partners, such as Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, Inspur, Net One Systems and Supermicro.
VMware said EVO:RAIL is just its first hyper-converged product. Down the line, it plans to release EVO: RACK, which is a larger deployment of hyper-converged infrastructure.