EMC to tackle private-cloud complexity with all-in-one VSPEX platform

The systems offer choices for computing, networking and virtualization, and will be configured by channel partners

EMC on Thursday gave more enterprises a way to build all-in-one private cloud systems, providing an alternative to the VBlock architecture that it developed with Cisco Systems and VMware for customers who need to integrate other vendors' technology.

The new VSPEX platform, which combines computing, virtualization and storage in one system, also gives EMC's channel partners a way to build such systems for vertical industries. The partners will be able to offer custom VSPEX systems with applications that meet enterprises' specific requirements. EMC is establishing a VSPEX Lab program where partners will be able to certify their configurations as compliant with the platform, and partners will be able to put their own brands on the systems they create.

EMC also plans to add a security vendor to the group of VSPEX vendors that it unveiled on Thursday at an event in San Francisco, said Prasad Rampalli, senior vice president of the EMC Solutions Group. The current list of partners includes VMware, Microsoft and Citrix Systems for virtualization, Cisco and Brocade Communications for networking, and Intel and Cisco for servers. The platform is open with regard to computing, so customers will be able to integrate servers from HP, IBM or Dell into VSPEX, though the "deep partnership" between EMC and Cisco allows the companies to optimize the systems for Cisco UCS (Unified Computing System) hardware, Rampalli said.

Through its RSA division, EMC already brings some security capabilities to VSPEX, Rampalli noted. EMC eventually may add partners in other areas, though dealing with the many possible combinations made possible by the current lineup will keep the company occupied for a while, he said. When it comes to storage, VSPEX is based on EMC's offerings, so there are no plans for other partners for that, he said.

VSPEX is part of a trend toward preconfigured systems for data centers, which can save enterprises time and money when they decide to implement cloud computing, according to industry analysts. Other vendors are also finding ways to integrate all the components of a cloud in one system, including IBM, which announced its PureSystems line on Wednesday.

EMC's main play in this field has been the VBlock platform delivered with Cisco and VMware through the joint venture VCE (virtual computing environment). VBlocks combine storage from EMC with networking and Unified Computing server hardware from Cisco, all tied together with virtualization software from EMC spinoff VMware.

VBlocks have been fairly successful since their launch about three years ago, industry analysts said. But they have been targeted mostly at large enterprises and service providers, and VCE's tight focus on the three vendors makes VBlocks a difficult fit in some environments. Many enterprises are already too heavily invested in other suppliers' gear to adopt VBlocks. To address those customers, small and midsized enterprises, and vertical industries, EMC is introducing VSPEX as a middle ground between VBlocks and build-it-yourself private clouds.

EMC's approach with the new platform sets it apart from some other major enterprise vendors, such as Oracle, HP and IBM, Pund-IT analyst Charles King said. For example, Oracle's Exalogic Cloud is entirely built around that company's technology, King said.

"When you're buying into Exalogic, you're buying not just a hardware platform, but you're buying an entire Oracle software stack and virtualization stack as well," King said. EMC, which makes storage but not computing or networking products, approaches the problem differently, he said. "Rather than taking a single-vendor view of the market, they are in essence acting as the ringmaster."

VSPEX may also prove to give EMC a better shot at the emerging cloud market, King said. EMC has frequently pushed VBlocks to service providers, partly reflecting a view that companies interested in cloud computing initially would look to carriers' public clouds, he said. However, enterprises have proved to be more interested in private clouds, and VSPEX is likely to be a better platform to meet those demands, King said. Letting channel partners configure them specially for individual customers or industries should help to serve that market too.

Only about two-thirds of enterprises are ready to buy or deploy private clouds, according to surveys of Fortune 1000 companies and public agencies by 451 Research. Though some larger organizations have moved already, midsized ones have not moved as fast. As they dive into private cloud, platforms such as VSPEX will be what many are looking for, 451 Group analyst Peter ffoulkes said.

"I do think this is likely to be the wave of the future, but I don't think it's going to take off tomorrow," ffoulkes said.

Most VSPEX configurations are available now, though ones using VMware's Vue 5.1 desktop virtualization software won't be available until August. The platform is designed exclusively for configuration and sale through channel partners. EMC could not immediately estimate a price range for VSPEX systems.

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