Dell EMC PowerOne – Not V(x)block 2.0

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 19.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Dell EMC recently presented at Storage Field Day 19. You can see videos of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.

 

Not VxBlock 2.0?

Dell EMC describes PowerOne as “all-in-one autonomous infrastructure”. It’s converged infrastructure, meaning your storage, compute, and networking are all built into the rack. It’s a transportation-tested package and fully assembled when it ships. When it arrives, you can plug it in, fire up the API, and be up and going “within a few hours”.

Trey Layton is no stranger to Vblock / VxBlock, and he was very clear with the delegates that PowerOne is not replacing VxBlock. After all, VxBlock lets them sell Dell EMC external storage into Cisco UCS customers.

 

So What Is It Then?

It’s a rack or racks full of gear. All of which is now Dell EMC gear. And it’s highly automated and has some proper management around it too.

[image courtesy of Dell EMC]

So what’s in those racks?

  • PowerMax Storage – World’s “fastest” storage array
  • PowerEdge MX – industry leading compute
  • PowerSwitch – Declarative system fabric
  • PowerOne Controller – API-powered automation engine

PowerMax Storage

  • Zero-touch SAN config
  • Discovery / inventory of storage resources
  • Dynamically create storage volumes for clusters
  • Intelligent load balancing

PowerEdge MX Compute

  • Dynamically provision compute resources into clusters
  • Automated chassis expansion
  • Telemetry aggregation
  • Kinetic infrastructure

System Fabrics

  • Switches are 32Gbps
  • 98% reduction in network configuration steps
  • System fabric visibility and lifecycle management
  • Intent-based automated deployment and provision
  • PowerSwitch open networking

PowerOne Controller

  • Highly automates 1000s of tasks
  • Powered by Kubernetes and Ansible
  • Delivers next-gen autonomous outcomes via robust API capabilities

From a scalability perspective, you can go to 275 nodes in a pod, and you can look after up to 32 pods (I think). The technical specifications are here.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

Converged infrastructure has always been an interesting architectural choice for the enterprise. When VCE first came into being 10+ years ago via Acadia, delivering consistent infrastructure experiences in the average enterprise was a time-consuming endeavour and not a lot of fun. It was also hard to do well. VCE changed a lot of that with Vblock, but you paid a premium. The reason you paid that premium was that VCE did a pretty decent job of putting together an architecture that was reliable and, more importantly, supportable by the vendor. It wasn’t just the IP behind this that made it successful though, it was the effort put into logistics and testing. And yes, a lot of that was built on the strength of spreadsheets and the blood, sweat and tears of the deployment engineers out in the field.

PowerOne feels like a very different beast in this regard. Dell EMC took us through a demo of the “unboxing” experience, and talked extensively about the lifecycle of the product. They also demonstrated many of the automation features included in the solution that weren’t always there with Vblock. I’ve been responsible for Vblock environments over the years, and a lot of the lifecycle management activities were very thoroughly documented, and extremely manual. PowerOne, on the other hand, doesn’t look like it relies extensively on documentation and spreadsheets to be managed effectively. But maybe that’s just because Trey and the team were able to demonstrate things so effectively.

So why would the average enterprise get tangled up in converged infrastructure nowadays? What with all the kids and their HCI solutions, and the public cloud, and the plethora of easy to consume infrastructure solutions available via competitive consumption models? Well, some enterprises don’t like relying on people within the organisation to deliver solutions for mission critical applications. These enterprises would rather leave that type of outcome in the hands of one trusted vendor. But they might still want that outcome to be hosted on-premises. Think of big financial institutions, and various government agencies looking after very important things. These are the kinds of customers that PowerOne is well suited to.

That doesn’t mean that what Dell EMC is doing with PowerOne isn’t innovative. In fact I think what they’ve managed to do with converged infrastructure is very innovative, within the confines of converged infrastructure. This type of approach isn’t for everyone though. There’ll always be organisations that can do it faster and cheaper themselves, but they may or may not have as much at stake as some of the other guys. I’m curious to see how much uptake this particular solution gets in the market, particularly in environments where HCI and public cloud adoption is on the rise. It strikes me that Dell EMC has turned a corner in terms of system integration too, as the out of the box experience looks really well thought out compared to some of its previous attempts at integration.