Dell EMC and Cisco renew their vows as converged offspring VxBlock turns 10

Yes, converged infrastructure model is still a thing

Dell EMC and Cisco have renewed the dark pact under which the two collaborated on converged infrastructure (CI) products for a decade.

Today the tie-up revolves primarily around the VxBlock 1000 systems: Cisco's UCS servers and Nexus switches, storage from Dell EMC, virtualization from VMware, and maintenance and support from Dell.

The pair said they will continue to link arms on product development, marketing and sales.

Dell EMC enjoys a 48 per cent market share in converged systems, according to IDC, nearly 1.5X that of any other vendor. The analyst firm has crowned Dell the industry's favourite provider of converged systems for six years running.

That might be true, but IDC's April edition of the Converged Systems Tracker said the particular category for "certified reference systems and integrated infrastructure", which includes VxBlocks, was responsible for less than half ($1.6bn) of the overall market for converged systems ($4.1bn) in the final quarter of 2018.

The category shrunk 6.4 percent year-on-year, while the market for hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) grew 57.2 per cent year-on-year to $1.9bn.

The main difference between CI and HCI systems is that the former focuses on pre-integrated hardware and employs large building blocks – customers usually need to purchase at least one full rack – while the latter is defined by software, less dependent on hardware, more scalable and performs closer to a cloud model, with appliances available in 1U or 2U rack-mount format. HCI is selling well, whereas CI has had its day.

Examples of CI include NetApp's FlexPod, another combinatorial exercise that marries Cisco kit and NetApp storage, and VersaStack – again, a similar effort with storage from IBM. Examples of HCI include products from software-focused vendors like Nutanix and HPE-owned SimpliVity.

"Hyperconverged infrastructure demand remains the primary driver of converged systems market growth," said Sebastian Lagana, research manager, Infrastructure Platforms and Technologies at IDC. "As HCI solutions are increasingly capable of operating business-critical workloads while reducing datacenter complexity and promoting affordability, the segment will continue to expand its share of the overall converged systems market."

The history of the VxBlock product line, and its HCI siblings, is long and complicated: it started in 2009 with a joint venture between EMC and Cisco, originally called Acadia and later renamed VCE (from Virtual Computing Environment).

VCE's first product was the Vblock range, considered to be the first CI system on the market.

EMC bought most of Cisco's share in the venture in October 2014, and in 2016, VCE was absorbed to create EMC's shiny new Converged Platform Division.

The VCE brand was retired, but the same team continued to churn out hardware, launching VxRack in 2015 and VxRail in 2016 – both of these were HCI appliances, rather than CI boxes.

VxBlock systems were introduced in 2015, adding SDN capabilities to the trusty old Vblock formula and replacing the Cisco software switches inside with ones from VMware, prompting speculation that the partnership was on its last legs.

In 2017, Dell EMC stopped selling Vblocks, claiming they were outdated – these systems will be reaching end-of-life in June 2022. And finally, in January 2018, the VxBlock product range was trimmed from three systems to a single box - the VX Block 1000.

Considering all the historic moves, it's not surprising that both Cisco and EMC felt it was necessary to reiterate they were still in the CI game, using the C word (commitment for the absence of doubt) seven times in the marketing blurb to talk up their continued alliance.

Last month Dell EMC launched a series of Ready Stack designs that enable customers to build their own converged infrastructure systems from pre-validated components. ®

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