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Scale Computing: Not for enterprise, but that's all part of the plan

Four months of use have made the Scales fall from my eyes

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Review: Scale Computing makes hyper-converged appliances targeted at small and medium-sized businesses (SMB). When you think of headline names for hyper-convergence – EVO:Rail, Nutanix, SimpliVity – you don't tend to think of "SMB". VMware-based name-brand hyper-convergence tends to be in the $150,000+ range, while Scale starts delivering at $25,500. But what, exactly, is Scale delivering?

The short version is that Scale is delivering a complete white glove service. The hyper-converged appliances are just the bait. The hook is the "Datacenter Butler" approach they take to helping you out with every little problem: Scale straddles the line between appliance vendor and managed service provider.

Scale isn't here to go toe-to-toe with VMware's Enterprise plus. They aren't going to come anywhere close to Hyper-V with System Center All The Crazy Brand Names Manager and the Azure pack. It won't even do everything Openstack does.

Scale offers a hyper-converged appliance with enough functionality for an SMB. Nothing more, nothing less.

As an SMB administrator, I'm used to SMB-focused products and services being decidedly half-arsed. They either fall apart when you breathe on them, have horrific security flaws or come with hidden costs that ultimately render the solution unaffordable.

The appliances themselves just work. The Datacenter Butler service has been top notch. On the whole, I have found Scale Computing to be disconcertingly capable. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and it stubbornly refuses to do so.

Considerations

In the interests of full disclosure for this review, I think it's best to get a few things out of the way. The first is that I am not by trade a KVM administrator, and Scale is based on the KVM hypervisor. I am aware of KVM, I have used KVM, but in production I have traditionally relied on Hyper-V and VMware.

The second thing to make clear is that Scale gifted me three HC1000 nodes and a switch from their stock of refurbished units. I need new production hardware and they wanted someone to write up some marketing content, beta test some early releases and serve as a talking head when they needed to trot someone out to speak about their tech. I got the nodes up front, but they intend to make me sing for my supper.

Lastly, these nodes arrived and were installed during a time of particular turmoil for me. On the one hand, having them around has saved my ASCII more than once. On the other, learning the ropes of an entirely new way of working is wrapped up in my mind with some pretty bad months, so separating the emotions out gets a little complex.

I can't say that the above items don't bias me; on some level, I am sure that they do. Despite that, I've been doing reviews of some pretty difficult hardware for some time now. I've let time pass since the unboxing and taken the time to run my SMB's real-world production workloads on these nodes.

Network quandary

The nodes arrived in mid-December, 2014. We racked 'em, stacked 'em, benchmarked 'em and burned them in, only to discover that Scale's networking is a little bit less configurable than I am used to.

For reasons too boring to get into, for ages now WAN connectivity has been physically wired separately from LAN connectivity in the co-location facility I use. It's not all delivered via different VLANs on the same wire, and we've had a physical wire to the WAN subnet jacked into our VMware nodes for ages.

I realise that's not the best way to do things, but change would require tearing up how everyone else in the colo does things too, so it just became "the way it was" and you dealt with it. This is flat out not an option on the current Scale config.

Scale nodes are shipped with 4 network ports, with some nodes having 10GbE and some having 1GbE, depending on the model. All nodes dedicate 2 network ports to LAN and 2 to backplane. Regardless of the node type, they are all lashed together. If you want to work with multiple networks you are going to have to do it through VLANs. This is where Scale sending me a switch that wasn't from the beforetime comes in.

I am not entirely sure I can lay the blame for this at Scale's feet. They designed their appliances to current best practices and just didn't support the old-school approach I was using. It was frustrating and time-consuming to deal with, but once over the hump, things worked fine.

One feature request for the Scale UI is related to the fact that it has no way for me to label VLANs, or pre-enter a list of LANs to choose from when creating a VM. It would be nice to have a pull-down list of all VLANs currently in use, with labels attached, if for no other reason than that I honestly don't change my production infrastructure often enough to remember what the different VLANs are. Scale tells me this feature will be forthcoming.

I am told there are networking updates on the way, including a full Software Defined Networking stack planned for some nebulous time in the future. Considering that Scale's current customer base is SMBs and they are only just now starting to move upmarket, I think that taking the time to get SDN working correctly is a rational business decision.

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