Hyper-Converged Infrastructure – Meet VSPEX BLUE

VSPEX BlueIn 2014 EMC announced their participation in the VMware EVO:RAIL program which combines storage, networking and VMware compute into a hyper-converged infrastructure appliance: 1 to 4 x86 appliances with internal storage, VMware vSphere and VSAN on top. Connect it to your network, open the management interface and you’re set. Today EMC delivers on that promise with the VSPEX BLUE hyper-converged appliance. The mission of VSPEX BLUE: add simplicity to your IT infrastructure and enable the EVO:RAIL user to easily use all the other EMC offerings like RecoverPoint and ESRS. Let’s see how it does that…

Why (hyper) converged?

Over the last couple (8 I think, wow, time flies!) of years I’ve been building VMware environments running on EMC (or other) storage systems. Business as usual. A couple of years ago someone invented the cloud hype: suddenly it turned out I wasn’t building server infrastructure. No, I was building “private clouds”. Cool. Life continued, I built more private clouds and everyone was happy. And suddenly everything started being software defined and converged. Say what?

It’s easy to forget that IT infrastructure can take up quite a lot of time to build and maintain and that the modern IT staff needs quite a diverse skill set to keep everything up and running. I build private clouds all the time so I know compute, SAN and storage technology by heart and can usually intuitively pinpoint where the problem exists and quickly solve it. And in bigger, enterprise companies there’s usually one or two specialists that have the same skill set as I do and can spend all day keeping the vast storage infrastructure running.

In smaller companies however there’s only one IT guy and he has to juggle storage, compute, VDI and a dozen apps like Exchange. He or she is not a specialist but a generalist. A generalist that has to manage more and more TBs of storage, users and mailboxes and that doesn’t have time to tech-refresh his server infrastructure every 5 years or so. He wants to quickly pinpoint any problems in the infrastructure without needing weeks of training in each and every component of his DC. Simplicity, please.

Each type of implementation (reference architecture, converged or hyper-converged) has its pros and cons.

This is where the converged infrastructure comes into play. Let someone else worry about the sizing of an environment, piece all the compatibility matrixes together. The VCE VBlock is a prime example of converged infrastructure: VMware Compute, Cisco Networking and EMC storage packaged in a rack. VCE builds and delivers it to your DC, you plug in the power and you’re up and running in hours. The problem is: a VBlock is kind of large and expensive and you still have a number of management interfaces to keep an eye on. Not ideal for your small branch office.

Hyper-converged infrastructure like the new VSPEX BLUE offer simplicity and a low cost of entry compared to the VBlock converged architecture. Not converged, but hyper-converged. You lose flexibility and scalability though, but then again: would you want to pay for flexibility and immense scalability if you are not using it? No! So lets see what you get if you buy a VSPEX BLUE appliance…

Two types of VSPEX BLUE – Standard and Performance

A VSPEX BLUE cluster can contain 1 to 4 VSPEX Blue appliances. One 2U high VSPEX Blue appliance contains 4 nodes. There are two types of VSPEX Blue appliances: the standard model with 128GB of RAM per node (EMC is unique in offering a 128GB model of EVO:RAIL) and the performance model with 192GB of RAM per node.  Apart from deciding which connectivity you want for each node in an appliance (10GbE optical or 1GbE copper), the rest of the node hardware configuration is fixed:

  • VSPEX Blue Appliance and NodesDual Intel Ivy Bridge E5-2620 V2 processors with a total of 12 cores @ 2,1Ghz
  • 3 x 1.2TB 2.5” 10K RPM SASHDD
  • 1 x 400GB 2.5” SAS SSD (VSAN Cache)
  • 1 x 32GB SLC SATADOM (ESXi Boot Image)
  • 2 x 10GBE BaseT or SFP+

The software foundation of the appliance is VMware EVO:RAIL which packages vSphere, Virtual SAN and the EVO:RAIL engine plus EMC VSPEX BLUE manager, the VSPEX BLUE market and EMC Secure Remote Support (ESRS). The solution is 100% supported by EMC so you’ll have a single point of contact for the VSPEX blue offering whatever happens.

Starting it up and keeping it running

Once your VSPEX BLUE appliance(s) are installed in the rack you connect it to your network switch, power it up and open the management interface. Enter the desired IP address range, click next, get some coffee and you’re done. A vCenter instance is automatically created, the nodes are joined to the vCenter instance, the network/hostnames and VSAN datastore are created, etc. 15 minutes later you can create your first VMs. And if you have purchased more than one appliance, you can add them to the cluster with a single click.

Monitoring is intuitive and largely based on EVO:RAIL, but with some alterations: VSPEX BLUE provides some information that is not (yet) visible in the standard EVO:RAIL, like integration with ESRS and the EMC VSPEX BLUE Marketplace.VSPEX Blue Management interface

The VSPEX BLUE market allows you to download other prepackaged, virtualized EMC products to your VSPEX BLUE environment, like VMware Data Protection Advanced to backup your VMs, RecoverPoint for remote replication of your VMs and/or CloudArray/VE to start pushing data to the public cloud.

VSPEX BLUE Marketplace

If you buy a VSPEX Blue appliance your license includes 1TB of cache and 10TB of cloud storage for CloudArray/VE and 15 protected VMs for RecoverPoint. Yes, these licenses stack, so if you have two appliances you can protect 30 VMs, etc.

My thoughts on VSPEX Blue

For customers seeking simplicity of management and quick deployment I think the VMware EVO:RAIL solution and the VSPEX BLUE appliances can really make life a lot easier. Mind you: you will trade in some flexibility! Where in a traditional IT environment you can perfectly fine-tune your ESXi host configuration to balance CPU and RAM or your storage system to match the data skew your environment has, an EVO:RAIL offering like VSPEX BLUE limits this ability. You can choose the amount of RAM by either buying a standard model or a performance model, but that’s it. That said: there are less exotics out there than you might think; it’s often “just another application”. So if you seek simplicity in your server infrastructure, VSPEX BLUE might just do the job for you.