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.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

January 30, 2012

4 Min Read

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. "We are extremely pleased with the adoption rate thus far," said David Goulden, executive VP and CFO of EMC, which profits from both EMC storage shipped in Vblocks and its VCE investment. VCE will "rapidly close in on the $1 billion run-rate goal that we highlighted last year," Goulden said during EMC's earnings call a week ago.

The Vblock alliance started as a joint partnership between Cisco Systems, which supplies the servers and network switching, and EMC, which supplied the storage. VMware was a backer, since its Vblocks use VMware virtual machines, along with Intel, whose CPUs were going into Cisco servers.

Last January, the alliance was spun off as its own limited liability corporation with headquarters in Richardson, Texas, and manufacturing in Franklin, Mass., and Cork, Ireland. VCE now has 1,000 employees in those locations, plus in Marlborough, Mass., and Santa Clara, Calif., where administration, customer service, and engineering are located.

Paul Avenant, president of enterprise service management at BMC, said his firm's customers "are looking for a robust, end-to-end, cloud management platform," and they'll be able to build out private cloud operations using integrated systems like Vblocks.

BMC customers who do so already, he said, include Telstra; telecommunications firm, QTS--the third largest supplier of data center services in the U.S.; and Harris.

BMC announced Tuesday a strategic alliance with VCE for its Cloud Lifecycle Management, a set of products to set up a policy-driven cloud that can create a blueprint of a business service, then deploy it in flexible ways to the virtualized infrastructure.

CA Technologies announced Monday that it is supplying Private Cloud Accelerator for Vblock, which leverages CA Process Automation and CA Service Catalogue products to generate an end user self-provisioning cloud operation for the enterprise.

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About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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