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Vblocks: Data Center Hope, Or Hype?

Cisco, EMC, and VMware have supplied a string of high-profile data centers with these special packages--rackmount servers packed with memory and optimized for virtualization, plus built-in storage and network switching.

When the New York Stock Exchange's built its Mahwah, N.J., data center last year, it used Vblocks as its core building element.

Likewise, SunGard supplied disaster recovery services in the cloud through a data center built last year from Vblocks.

Harris launched its Cyber Integration Center last June, a secure data center in northern Virginia for processing healthcare data for the government. "We're one of the largest Vblock installations built so far," boasted Rich Plane, Harris' director of cyber integration solutions development, in an interview last May. Few people had any idea what a Vblock was, so his bragging rights didn't extend very far.

[ Want to learn more about how Harris built an ultra-secure cloud service? See Harris Adds Security To Multi-Tenant Clouds. ]

Vblocks are one of the best kept secrets of the computer industry, but they keep popping up in high profile uses. They are sets of Cisco rackmount servers packed with memory and optimized for virtualization, with their storage and network switching built into the rack. They started out as a joint Cisco, EMC, and VMware project in late 2009.

A limited liability company came out of that project, Virtual Computing Environment (VCE), chartered a year ago, and Vblocks are attracting supporting products from BMC Software, CA Technologies, and other vendors who think they will become a building block in many enterprise data centers.

Vblocks only come in two packages, the Vblock 300 and Vblock 700, with the latter equipped with larger and more sophisticated storage. Now a 1,000-employee company, VCE is shipping Vblocks at a rate that indicates it will have $800 million a year in revenue 12 months from now.

"The way we manufacture and support Vblocks is quite unique," claimed Steve Steir, VCE's VP of platform engineering. VCE doesn't just assemble components that are highly optimized to each other's operation. It also puts a software management layer--"a single pane of glass"--over the components so they can be managed as unit through a variety of other sophisticated interfaces, including VMware's vCenter Operations and system management vendor BMC's Cloud Lifecycle Management product.

"They arrive as a single unit. They get plugged in, and in two or three days" are an addition to the data center, said VCE's Steir. The usual complex configuration issues that required the collaboration of network managers, system admins, and storage managers were resolved when the customer filled out a brief questionnaire when placing his order.

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