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2/22/2013
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VCE Adds Smaller Vblocks To Attract SMBs

Subsidiary of EMC and Cisco produces integrated server racks to expand into smaller business units.

Virtual Computing Environments (VCE) is adding two smaller units to its powerful and pricey racks of integrated servers and network switches. In addition to the company's $650,000 Vblock 300 system and $900,000 Vblock 700 system, buyers now have two additional options: a $100,000 Vblock 100 or $350,000 Vblock 200.

The smaller Vblocks are integrated racks of servers, storage and networking for remote business units or small and midsize businesses that have thus far shied away from converged computing infrastructure.

The new units are composed of the same components as their predecessors: EMC storage, Cisco network switches and (Intel-based) Cisco Unified Computing System servers, all governed by a virtual machine software from VMware.

Vblocks lead the field of integrated infrastructure by loading a Cisco V1000 switch on a rack that offloads the network traffic of a VMware ESX Server hypervisor. Getting both network communications and storage traffic out of the software switch in the hypervisor and onto a hardware switch that can fast-forward them into a converged network fabric has been a boon to virtual environments. Vblocks have caught on in some large enterprises, including the Bank of Australia.

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VCE's CEO Praveen Akkiraju said the company has 500 customers. According to Gartner, VCE holds 57% of the market for converged computing infrastructure (racks with networking integrated with virtualized servers). Its competitors include Dell, HP, IBM and Hitachi.

But VCE isn't exactly a startup, at least not in the traditional sense. Launched by EMC and Cisco Systems as a vehicle for Cisco's Unified Computing System servers, it was designed to exploit a Cisco networking fabric as it's shipped from the factory. It's a joint subsidiary of the two, with investment from VMware and Intel.

VCE was more than an exercise at dabbling in servers by Cisco. It was a significant part of their strategy to establish Unified Computing Systems in the server market, Akkiraju explained in an interview. The strategy appears to be working.

"We enable Cisco to penetrate new accounts," said Akkiraju, a 19-year veteran of Cisco. He has managed several of its business units and was most recently was responsible for setting the direction of its enterprise architecture. Akkiraju replaced Michael Capellas, a former CEO of Compaq Computer and member of the Cisco board of directors, seven months ago.

With VCE packaging its Unified Computing servers, Cisco went from being a seller of networking components to a vendor that can help companies transform their data centers into managed, virtualized infrastructures, Akkiraju said. The strategy has also helped push Cisco into the server market.

Vblock System 100 and 200 will be available in March. In addition to the hardware, VCE is launching Vision Intelligent Operations software and a software development kit. The Vision software supplies essential information to the VMware vSphere or vCloud Director management console, Akkiraju said, allowing customers to view and manage their Vblocks through a single pane of glass. A set of APIs built into the software development kit lets customers link their Vision software and Vblock hardware into other management frameworks and customize how they will be managed.

Vision Intelligent Operations was jointly engineered with VMware, and a future release will install end user self-provisioning of virtual servers as a standard feature of Vblocks, according to Akkiraju. The software addition ties the hardware more closely into the overall virtualized environment and is moving it in the direction of a private cloud system. One distinguishing feature of private cloud operations is that they allow end users to provision their own servers from virtual machine templates, and then be charged for them through a chargeback system.

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