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Accelerate Time to Value With WWT and Dell’s Integrated Solutions Deployment

This white paper explores the value of a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), specifically a VMware Cloud Foundation on VxRail architecture, which is available in the Advanced Technology Center (ATC). Co-contributors include Arvind Thapar, Dell Technologies CTO - WWT, and Doug Westhoff, Dell Technologies Channel Engineer.

Introduction

As detailed in a recent article titled, “Dell strengthens HCI market lead over… everyone” by Chris Mellor at www.blocksandfiles.com on March 20, 2020, data indicates that Dell Technologies continues to consolidate its market share lead in the rapidly growing hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) market. IDC estimates that Dell is the clear leader in the branded HCI space with one-third of the market while VMware is pulling away in the HCI software segment with more than 40 percent of the overall market. Equally impressive is the YoY revenue growth at both Dell and VMware in these segments at 37.6 percent and 26.3 percent, respectively.

These impressive numbers are driven by increased adoption by organizations who aim to simplify IT operations due to challenges they face in their environments, including:

  • Managing complex, multi-vendor reference architectures.
  • Increasingly playing the role of integrator.
  • Standard builds morphing into “snowflake” architectures.
  • Complex support matrixes.
  • Shortage of engineering skills in the market.

Even organizations with a “cloud first” directive find tremendous benefits from implementing HCI architectures as these technologies can “bridge” the chosen public cloud offering with data housed on premise. Moreover, the growing need for storing data on the edge is also driving HCI deployments.

However, it’s not easy migrating from a traditional, siloed or tiered architecture, to a methodology geared towards simplifying operations built around an HCI architecture. There are plenty of evidence and data to suggest that — without guidance from an OEM and technology partner — migration projects of this nature are usually delayed by six to 18 months at customer locations.

World Wide Technology (WWT) is a leading technology solutions provider with nearly $12 billion in annual revenue. As a Dell and VMware Titanium Black™ and Premier partner, our WWT team has vast experience migrating organizations to an HCI architecture and consulting on ways to effectively consume and monetize these technologies.  For more than 20 years, WWT, Dell and VMware, have delivered highly innovative solutions that drive business outcomes for our joint customers. This paper will focus on WWT’s expertise in HCI technologies and our unique approach to ensuring customer success.

Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI)

Definition

Per VMware, hyperconvergence can be defined as an IT framework that combines storage, computing, networking and virtualization into a single system to reduce interlocking data center complexity and increase scalability. HCI’s software-centric design tightly integrates IT framework pillars into a single x86-based appliance or software system that can be installed on existing hardware.

Why HCI?

In traditional IT shops, operational complexities and interactions within siloed teams consume nearly 70 percent of budget simply to maintain the existing environment (i.e. “keeping the lights on” or KTLO). Of the remaining budget, 20 percent is allocated for software investments, leaving only 10 percent for critical, technology-centric infrastructure. In most cases, a build-your-own approach is neither feasible nor fiscally responsible. 

Dell Technologies and VMware’s HCI solutions allow organizations to dramatically simplify implementation of critical infrastructure, freeing up more time for IT to spend innovating on revenue-producing activities rather than KTLO. By eliminating or reducing traditional IT silos and instead managing from a single management tool construct, organizations can reduce OPEX and CAPEX, and apply changes to an application/workload environment in minutes rather than days. Dell Technologies continues to allocate a significant amount of research toward the development of HCI appliances. Their rigorous validation and testing procedures take into consideration all dependencies. 

As more transformative and agile methodologies rely upon automation, it becomes increasingly important to standardize the basic building blocks of infrastructure. A modernized approach is needed when presenting infrastructure resources to developers. Transformation requires automation, and automation requires modernization. A migration towards HCI is a logical step in this direction.

How does HCI work?

Dell Tech’s approach to hyperconvergence hinges upon the need and desire to modernize application delivery. “Waterfall” type delivery mechanisms can’t support today’s need to deliver results and updates to software in hours, rather than weeks or months. It’s no longer conducive to conduct quarterly “regulatory” releases with application and infrastructure groups operating under their own set of rules and guides. Organizations that continue to operate in this fashion will undoubtedly lose market share and, ultimately, go the way of the dodo.

In an HCI system, storage virtualization, compute virtualization, network virtualization and management make up critical software components that are tightly integrated as a single unit. The virtualization abstraction from the hardware manages resource pools from underlying resources and allocates them dynamically to applications via virtual machines (VMs) or containers. Because application policy setting and management are done at the VM level, there is little need for logical unit number (LUN) or volume allocation. Depending on an organization’s needs, Dell Tech’s HCI solution can incorporate file and block extensions in a smooth and seamless way.

A simple HCI illustration is depicted in Figure 1. 

A simple illustration of a HCI architecture.
Figure 1

HCI solutions should address four main characteristics:

  1. A proven hypervisor – All key data center functions—compute, storage, networking and management—are controlled by this software component. VMware’s vSphere is, by far, the market leader in this segment.
  2. Storage virtualization – Storage and storage area networking are collapsed into the server and virtualized. Dell and VMware offer choices with VMware vSAN and VxFlex OS.
  3. Unified management platform – This allows organizations to manage the entire stack with one interface. Examples include VMware vCenter Server and the VxRail Manager.
  4. Flexibility – A platform that provides a broad choice of hardware and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) options allows organizations to build an environment that matches their needs and preferences.

Figure 2 depicts a schematic of how these four components are bundled together.

Figure 2

In the infrastructure stack, the server is the heart of HCI hardware architecture. The server type determines the effectiveness of the HCI solution. The server needs for HCI are varied and demanding, and must include: 

  • An intuitively simple architecture that enables all other building blocks and features to be seamlessly built on to it.
  • The ability for the portfolio to scale up and out, while supporting diverse workloads and business models.
  • Tight integration between hardware sub-systems and software.
  • The highest level of security for hardware and firmware to protect sensitive data. ​

Dell EMC PowerEdge server platforms take HCI to the next level in terms of performance, ease of management and security. PowerEdge servers are purpose-built for HCI with 150 built-in custom requirements. The servers are specifically designed for HCI workloads that depend on the tenets of both servers and storage, which allow organizations to achieve a more consistent, predictable and reliable high-performing HCI. This is sparking increased interest in HCI for a wide range of applications and workloads. 

In addition to achieving the most flexible HCI architecture with the most flexible option, Dell- and VMware-powered HCI enables consistent infrastructure, processes and tooling in a true hybrid cloud architecture; no application rearchitecting required. By using a consistent operational model, organizations can eliminate the need for cloud-specific skills training or creating a dedicated public cloud team. VMware’s leading cloud provider network gives you the option to select one or more public cloud vendors from hundreds available, based on your specific needs.

HCI is also the foundation of the Dell Technologies cloud platform. Dell Technologies defines cloud as an operating model for consuming and acquiring resources. At WWT, we see broad acceptance of this definition from leading technology research companies, including NIST and Gartner. 

Dell Technologies has simplified the management of infrastructure and operation components with VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF). VCF is an integrated software stack that bundles compute virtualization (VMware vSphere), storage virtualization (VMware vSAN), network virtualization (VMware NSX), and cloud management and monitoring (VMware vRealize Suite) into a single platform that can be deployed on premises as a private cloud or run as a service within a public cloud. VCFion helps break down the traditional administrative silos in data centers by merging compute, storage, network provisioning and cloud management to facilitate end-to-end support for application deployment.

An illustration of VCF is shown in Figure 3.

An illustration of VMware Cloud Foundation
Figure 3

HCI vs. converged infrastructure (CI)

CI and HCI both integrate the same building blocks of the data center: storage, networking, compute and virtualization. The most important difference between the two technologies is that in CI, each of the building blocks are a discrete component that can be used for its intended purpose (i.e. the server can be separated and used as a server; storage can be separated and used as functional storage). In an HCI solution, the technology is software defined, meaning it’s integrated and cannot be broken into separate components.

Benefits of HCI

Because management of resources is done at the VM layer, storage, compute and networking skills start to converge within one set of common interfaces to deliver tremendous operational benefits. According to the Enterprise Strategy Group, the benefits of HCI are summed up in the following quote:

“Indeed, this is more than a marketing message or theoretical benefit from deploying HCI. When IT managers already using HCI were asked if it played a role in making IT more agile, 87 percent agreed that it does, with 25 percent stating it had made them significantly more agile.”

Figure 4

Figure 4 compares the benefits and functionalities of HCI architecture versus operating in a “Do-it-Yourself” (DIY) environment with separate verticals for storage, networking and compute resources. A green checkmark indicates the feature is embedded within the solution choice. A “-“ sign suggests that while the feature set is not inherent within the solution it can be custom built and included via third-party  integration (i.e. deploying a Service Catalog in a traditional environment is extremely difficult and time consuming, but can be accomplished with the addition of third-party toolsets). An “x” indicates the feature would be absent in deployment.

IT continues to embrace HCI in great numbers; the market is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 42 percent through 2023.

Dell Technologies HCI portfolio – at a glance

Dell Tech’s HCI solutions deliver cloud-like agility, scalability and simplified IT management. These solutions include fully integrated data protection and are built around the four pillars of modern IT: flash, scale-out, cloud-enabled and software-defined technologies.

Our WWT experts find that Dell and VMware offer the most comprehensive HCI portfolio in the industry; this includes:

  • VxRail – Purpose built on Dell PowerEdge servers and available in several options, this platform is a Dell/VMware jointly engineered solution with a wide variety of workload deployments. VxRail is the basis for offering integrated VMware HCI at the core or the edge. Moreover, VxRail is pre-engineered with VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) to deliver the simplest path to hybrid cloud and multi-cloud operational methodologies.
  • vSAN Ready Nodes – Geared towards data center modernization, this solution combines a wide range of Dell EMC PowerEdge servers with VMware vSAN™ in a jointly certified, pre-configured solution to reduce risk and accelerate deployment.
  • VxFlex Family – The Dell EMC VxFlex family of solutions—VxFlex Integrated Rack, VxFlex Appliance and VxFlex Ready Nodes—deliver maximum scalability and business agility, enabling companies to start small and grow in flexible, discrete increments. Based on industry-leading PowerEdge servers, VxFlex supports multi-hypervisor and bare metal environments; two-layer HCI and storage-only architectures; and high-performance applications and databases.
  • Microsoft Azure Solutions – This solution set includes the Dell Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack and Azure Stack HCI. This hybrid-cloud platform delivers infrastructure and platform as a service with a consistent Azure cloud experience on premises or in the field, at both the data center and edge locations.
  • XC Family – XC is a good choice for organizations that require other hypervisors, but want their infrastructure standardized on Dell.

A simplified version of the Dell HCI portfolio stack is shown in Figure 5.

A chart showing Dell EMC HCI offerings, including VxRail, vSAN, VxFlex, VxFlex Ready Nodes and Azure stacks.
Figure 5

For the remainder of this white paper, our discussion will focus specifically on VxRail and VCF on VxRail to provide insight into WWT’s partnership with Dell and VMware. 

VCF on VxRail Lab

WWT’s state-of-the-art Advanced Technology Center (ATC), located in St. Louis, Mo., is a collaborative ecosystem to design, build, educate, demonstrate and deploy innovative technology products and integrated architectural solutions for customers, partners and employees. It houses the latest and most innovative Dell and VMware solutions including, but not limited to:

  • Dell Compute – MX- and RX-class PowerEdge servers
  • Dell Storage – PowerMax, VMAX, UNITY, XTremeIO
  • CI/HCI – VxBlock, VxRail, VCF on VxRail, VxFlex
  • VMware – vSphere, vSAN, NSX, vRealize suite, VeloCloud, PKS/PCF (currently known as Tanzu)

The ATC is used to provide proofs of concept, product comparisons, lab as a service, functionality testing, product benchmarking, design validation, and integrated, multi-vendor demonstrations.  The ATC can spin up and de-allocate resources on demand for customers in a wide range of industries — financial services, global service providers, healthcare, energy, retail, manufacturing and more — with much faster times to market. Customers can cut proof of concept time from months to weeks, if not days, by leveraging the ATC. 

Overview

The VCF on VxRail lab in the ATC is designed and configured to enable customers to experience a complete Dell and VMware jointly engineered, integrated solution. The VCF solution on VxRail allows organizations to simplify, streamline and automate the operations of their entire Software-Defined Datacenter (SDDC) from Day 0 through Day 2. The new platform delivers a set of software-defined services for compute (with vSphere and vCenter), storage (with vSAN), networking (with NSX), security and cloud management (with vRealize Suite) in both private and public environments, making it the operational hub for your hybrid cloud.

Lab expectations and use cases

The VCF on VxRail lab is available on demand for self-guided exploration or can be scheduled by WWT, Dell, and VMware engineers to lead customer workshops or provide a guided sandbox environment. 

This lab allows customers to: 

  • Learn the Life Cycle Management of the entire solution with the assistance of the VCF Manager (SDDC Manager).
  • Monitor changes and usage in real time from a single pane of glass.
  • Understand differences between a Workload Domain and Management Domain.
  • Experience how vRealize, NSX and vSAN work together within the integrated solution.

A schematic of the dedicated infrastructure is illustrated in Figure 6.

A schematic of WWT's VMware Cloud Foundation on VxRail lab in the Advanced Technology Center.
Figure 6

Below are the details of the infrastructure dedicated to this lab:

A chart itemizing the 18 different technolgy resources present in the VMware Cloud Foundation on VxRail lab.

This lab is applicable to a variety of use cases across all industries. The VCF on VxRail architecture from Dell and VMware is a breakthrough set of solutions with the ability to handle a multitude of workloads. We’ve identified the five most common use cases for this architecture:

  1. Business Critical Applications – This is a natural fit for HCI as organizations recognize the need to modernize their data centers with software-defined architectures to improve agility and lower costs. As many as 20 percent of business-critical applications currently deployed on three-tier IT infrastructure are expected to transition to HCI by 2020.
  2. Hybrid/Multicloud – While the agility, simplicity and economics of the public cloud are much desired to meet today’s fast paced business needs, most organizations should avoid putting all their eggs in the public cloud basket. Doing so could bring additional risk to an environment in terms of performance, security and hidden egress/ingress costs over time. HCI gives IT the flexibility to move applications to and from public clouds within the tenets of a common platform.
  3. Edge Computing – This is one of the fastest growing and hottest segments of the industry. The proliferation of edges is ensuring the “push” of data and applications back out to the customer as compute becomes more affordable at a power that can enable AI, ML and real-time analytics. HCI is an enabling technology for edge computing that brings the power of the data center to the edge in an affordable, compact package that’s easy to deploy, manage and scale, without the need for IT specialists.
  4. Container and App Development – While modern cloud-native applications are designed with cloud services in mind, organizations still need an enterprise-grade, production-quality persistent state for cloud-native applications, including support for data integrity and security, storage management, and data protection. With HCI, users can consolidate both traditional applications and new-generation applications on the same cluster.
  5. Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity Planning (BCP) – DR and BCP are an essential, but often overlooked, portion of running a business operation. The insurance policy of protecting and mitigating against an ever-increasing tide of external and internal risks can sometimes be costly and time-consuming to implement. HCI can reduce the strain on resources and provide flexibility in deploying the right solution to the right workload to ensure extremely low recovery point objectives (RPO) and recovery time objectives (RTO).

Conclusion

Integrated solutions, like VCF on VxRail, truly deliver on the promise of hyperconverged infrastructure. They allow organizations to optimize resources, reduce complexity, lower costs, increase agility and accelerate development cycles. As IT leaders address current challenges and prepare for the future, it’s clear there are many benefits to moving some business-critical applications to HCI. In addition, an increasing number of organizations are seeing the unique advantages of HCI for use cases such as hybrid cloud, edge computing, containers and application development, and disaster recovery.

WWT’s partnerships with Dell Technologies and VMware allows us to combine best-of-breed technologies, industry and customer relationships, expertise, resources, and years of experience to rapidly deploy and successfully complete projects that deliver business outcomes for our customers. We believe our partnerships truly make us better together. 

We encourage you to launch our on-demand VxRail lab, schedule our VCF lab, or connect with us online for more information on how HCI can benefit your organization.

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