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Primer Series: Dell EMC VxRail

This article is part of our WWT Primer Series, a collection of content focused on the fundamental understanding of complex technologies and solutions.

August 21, 2020 6 minute read

Have you ever sat in a meeting and the conversation turns to a technology with which you are unfamiliar? Suddenly, a bunch of acronyms are being thrown around. You have no idea what they mean, while everyone else is nodding their heads and seems to know exactly what is being discussed.

We’ve all been there, and to help our valued customers, we've decided to write a series of 'primer articles' to give the reader basic information on various products and technologies. This article is going to cover the basics of VxRail.

But it's vSAN!

Before we dive into the technology, I highly recommend you take a look at the Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Primer article, as this requires some basic understanding of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) concepts such as SDS (software-defined storage).

We often hear the argument that VxRail is just vSAN on Dell hardware. While it is not a false statement — VxRail does utilize Dell servers and the VMware vSAN technology under the covers — VxRail has a lot more to offer customers than vSAN ready nodes. As part of this article, we will not cover the basics of vSAN. If you're looking for additional introductory information on the topic, check out our other primer article on VMware vSAN.

So what is VxRail? VxRail offers tight integration of VMware vSAN with Dell PowerEdge servers. The lifecycle management (LCM) offering of VxRail is one of the biggest value adds the platform offers. 

From an administrator perspective, the level of testing that is required prior to patching or upgrading a system is significantly less than with vSAN ready nodes. This gives the peace of mind that doing upgrades won't take out entire clusters. The amount of time Dell takes to test major upgrades before releasing bundles is over 25,000 hours, which for the most part will catch major bugs that affect performance or availability.

This typically begs the question, how long does it take for VxRail to support newly released patches and features from a VMware vSAN release? We are seeing approximately 30-60 days depending on the impact or size of the patches, which is one of the best turnarounds in the HCI space. There are exceptions for critical security patches where the turnaround time for releasing an update will be much quicker.

While vSAN (as of 7.0) offers vLCM (vSphere Lifecycle Manager), as stated above, the upgrades do not go through the same quality assurances as the bundles released for VxRail but more importantly, require additional components and interfaces to be managed from the supported hardware manufacturers. VxRail has removed this issue by having VxRail Manager be fully integrated inside the vCenter interface. More on this topic below.

Other benefits

The tight integration between Dell servers, vSAN, and VxRail Manager isn't the only benefit of going with VxRail. We've written articles on VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) which can also utilize VxRail seamlessly as the underlying infrastructure starting the journey to build a VMware software-defined data center (SDDC). 

There can be some significant differences between deploying VCF with vSAN ready nodes and VCF with VxRail. Our resident expert James Harless can help dig much deeper on the topic but at a high level, running VCF with VxRail gives a customer an "engineered solution" look and feel with less administrative interactions on low-level tasks.

The ever-elusive "single throat to choke" for support is real with VxRail. Customers are not looking to play the blame game when there's an issue. The extensive integration and testing by Dell prior to releasing bundles makes it easier and faster to troubleshoot issues as the list of potential offenders have shrunk significantly.

Let's not forget VxRail Manager. We mentioned this tool above, but VxRail Manager is the view into the physical hardware system information, where to perform upgrades and a lot of other things. There are a lot of solutions on the market that claim a "single pane of glass management" but reading the fine print typically has exceptions for certain scenarios. 

Dell has done a great job of seamlessly integrating VxRail Manager directly into the vCenter interface, alleviating the need for customers to learn yet another management interface. VxRail is not another plug-in that needs to be managed — it looks and feels exactly like the rest of the vCenter interface.

Technical components

  • VxRail ACE: ACE stands for Analytical Consulting Engine. This is a fairly new product for VxRail and evolving quickly, however, it is a cloud-based analytics engine that utilizes machine learning to help prevent potential issues using predictive analytics and trending.
  • RecoverPoint for Virtual Machines: Oftentimes referred to as RP4VMs, this technology allows customers to replicate virtual machines to remote sites and configure orchestrated failover and failback for disaster recovery purposes. The VxRail solution includes some RP4VM licenses. One of the major benefits of RP4VMs is the ability to recover virtual machines at any point in time.
  • Licensing: There are a lot of questions around licensing when discussing VxRail. Dell has evolved its licensing model significantly in recent years and allows customers to either bring their own license or purchase them as part of the solution.
  • In-Kernel: In the HCI primer article, we discussed the concept of software-defined storage and addressed controller virtual machines (CVMs). For vSAN, there are no CVMs to worry about. The installation of vSAN is embedded in the vSphere ESXi kernel. While the storage services still require resources, it is much more dynamic in nature.
  • Flexibility in Hardware: VxRail offers several models to fit different needs for different use cases. You can find a lot of details in this spec sheet. It is important to understand the capabilities of the hardware platforms to ensure they meet requirements. One notable call-out of a recently released model is the VxRail-D series. This server is designed to be deployed in harsh edge environments.

Learn more

If you're interested in learning more about Dell EMC's VxRail solution, we have an on-demand lab available, or you can reach out to your WWT account manager and schedule an HCI briefing or a workshop.

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