VMware is betting big on EVO

If you didn’t watch the VMworld Keynote today, or read anything on twitter, or were just too busy, it is Monday, then you missed VMware’s big announcement.  They are moving into what they call the “hyper-converged” infrastructure.  They are helping develop pre-built compute nodes with vSphere already bundled in.  All of this is a single SKU as well. They are calling this new product line EVO.  There are two products currently announced in the EVO line.  The first actually exists already and that is EVO:RAIL.

EVO:RAIL is designed for your small to medium shops, that are looking to run up to 400 server VMs or 1,000 VDI desktops in this hyper-converged platform.  This is not a product that we will see running your Fortune 100’s datacenters.  The base compute nodes are NOT built by VMware, as some rumored!!  These appliances are built by various EVO partners, Dell, Fujitsu, Inspur, Net One Systems Co. and Supermicro.  These partners will all GA their appliances in the 2nd half of this year….so shortly.  EMC is also involved but will not be shipping until 2015.   These appliances are a 2U box with 4 separate compute nodes within the 2U footprint.  Each appliance is designed to run 100 server VMs or 250 VDI VMs. Right now you can scale up to 4 appliances per cluster

What makes these appliances pretty neat is that VMware vSphere will be automagicly setup on these nodes.  The entire RAIL product line and experience  is designed for the non-vcp crowd, the very green admin who knows very little about VMware administration.  Everything is done through a simplified GUI that walks you through everything.

When an appliance is first racked/stacked and powered on, an actual Webserver VM is powered up as well.  This web server, running Java FYI, will then be connected to in order to setup the environment.  The setup wizard asks very simplified information, hostname prefix for all the nodes, desired passwords, and basic networking information such as IP and VLAN numbers.  Now most of these fields are filled in automatically with a default set of information.  All the values can be changed, and the wizard is smart enough to look for critical errors, such as overlapping IP ranges for example.  The wizard will then run against all the seen nodes and begin to setup vCenter, HA, DRS, & VSAN for storage.  If there is an error the wizard will show the error and prompt for information in order to fix it.  It will not just die and leave you in an unfinished and unknown state. (I’m looking at you EMC, as i’ve had terrible luck with their wizards doing just that)

Once the environment is up, the same webpage you used to build the environment is used to manage it.  It presents a very simple dashboard that gives you lots of information about the health and status of the EVO:RAIL cluster.  There is a section that allows you to create new VMS, including uploading ISOs, specifying the VM “size” (right now its a pretty static, small, medium & large) as well as the “Security Options”.  This can be none, basic (what is created today), a secure setting and a total locked down option.  (My believe is that there must be some NSX bits involved, however i was told no… not sure i believe that)  The VM can then be administered from another part of this GUI.   You can power it on, view the console, and make minor configuration changes.  This is making VMware be able to be used by the user that has next to no knowledge about VMware.  I typically use the analogy of the janitor being able to do it.

The EVO:RAIL system will be updated and managed by a separate set of firmware and patches from the general repos and VUM.  I’ll repeat you do NOT use VUM to update these appliances.  This is excellent news since VUM and i are not friends.  These appliances will be treated as just that a single block, not a separate compute node, storage equipment and vsphere running on top.  This makes is stupid simple to work with.

Here is the other thing i really like.  You are not forced to use this simplified GUI.  Lets say i am a VMware admin, and i have a normal environment with blades, running vCAC, vCOPS and doing some really cool things.  My company decides EVO:RAIL is a great fit for a remote office that needs servers onsite, but doesn’t want a full blown setup.  I can still use the same tools i use today, vSphere Web Client, vCAC, vCOPS, etc to manage, deploy and monitor my new EVO:RAIL clusters.

VMware did also make mention of EVO:RACK.  It is still in tech preview, so think alpha stage.  This will be the fully blown out, mega datacenter version of EVO.  This will involve top of rack switches, full storage platforms, Rack-Mount servers, more vSphere components such as NSX, vCloud, etc.  This could be very very interesting and i’d love to see more about it, however they aren’t talking much about it in any sessions or over at the booths.

I will keep some of my opinions on the product line until i can get to touch it and play with it more.  Right now it seems like something i wouldn’t get much exposure to, as World Wide tends to go after the larger companies, who typically want or need to do a more traditional “build your own” solution.  It is still an interesting leap, and something that could become very powerful, especially once Rack is available.

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