Vblocks' Secret Sauce: Simplicity - InformationWeek
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Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Vblocks' Secret Sauce: Simplicity

Take a peek at why CSC, just the latest fan of VBlocks, used the virtualization technology to build eight cloud data centers.

Virtualization makes serving business users easier, at least in theory. The server can be commissioned and the business user satisfied more speedily than in the past. But there's still a tremendous amount of complex work for IT managers to do upfront. Behind the checklist that a business user sees lies months of hard IT preparation.

That's probably never going to go away. But what if virtual resources could be added to the data center incrementally, and did not require a lot of upfront configuration and server template assignment? What if a new server rack could be wheeled in, plugged in, and software connected to it that opened it up to user self service?

That degree of ease might never come to pass. But a new architecture, Vblocks, is bringing it a step closer to reality. Vblocks are the result of a design collaboration among Cisco Systems, VMware, and EMC, that began in 2009. By aligning what they could do at an early stage, the three companies--whose partnership now operates as the independent Virtual Computing Environment coalition--have produced a rack architecture that's an example of how virtualized servers will be deployed in the future. At the very least, says a major Vblocks implementer, they've produced a second-generation architecture for the virtual, integrated rack.

CSC in Falls Church, Va., the $16.1 billion-a-year cloud and computer services supplier formerly known as Computer Sciences Corp., is one of the largest implementers of Vblocks and says it can't do cloud computing without them.

"Vblocks are very core to our value proposition," said Sunil Bhargava, global portfolio executive for cloud and hosting at CSC, in a Feb. 1.

Among other things, CSC is offering specialized services to large insurance companies and government agencies that lets the customer run workloads both on premises and in CSC's infrastructure as a service. If a customer wants the latter option, CSC installs a Vblock on the customer's premises and links it to its cloud service. The customer then shifts VMware workloads seamlessly between the two.

That means baseline operations can be executed on premises, and peak loads can be executed with the help of the cloud, without the customer needing to invest in peak-load capacity. CSC charges the same for either service--on premises or in the cloud--eliminating a lot of internal customer debate over which form of service is better.

Bhargava said Vblocks--sets of Cisco servers optimized for virtualization, and including storage and network switching--are good at running dissimilar workloads. CSC is running big virtual desktop installations alongside SAP applications and scientific/engineering applications for its customers.

The integrated components have a management software layer--with an API behind it--that provides a single doorway to all three Vblock resources, virtual servers, networking, and storage. Without close collaboration between the three primary suppliers, that API doorway can't be built. That allows CSC to layer in a "self-service portal and access structure," which in turn leads to more-automated CSC infrastructure operations, Bhargava says.

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User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2012 | 3:30:37 AM
re: Vblocks' Secret Sauce: Simplicity
"VCE's secret sauce, says CSC's Bhargava, is not unique technology. It lies more in a rigorously specified, integrated and produced rack, no configuration needed, with a unified management interface."

Alright, as Larry Ellison would say, "when is this idiocy going to stop!" Everyone used to have, and many still have, a technologically superior, higher RAS version of the "VBlock" called a mainframe. It is very simple to manage/maintain, as all systems are where one provider controls the hardware and the stack. Yes, when one provider, or in the case of VBlock a loose confederation of providers, make all of the decisions for you, it will be simpler to manage with fewer integration points. What happens when you want to replace Cisco with Juniper or VMware with KVM or BMC with Tivoli or EMC with another storage provider? You have no choices, you are locked in. If you want the VBlock value proposition, the original appliance model from IBM is superior to this loose conglomeration. This is not new, it is the original IT systems model. Cisco, VMware, and EMC grew up on the value proposition that buying "best of breed" for network, hypervisor, storage was a financially superior model to the integrated systems from IBM, DEC, Tandem, to some extent HP, etc (i.e. the extra integration and management work was worth the provider flexibility). Now they are performing a 180 and pretending as though they just came across a new model when their "new model" is the model they built themselves on attacking.

Also, if you are going to buy an appliance, don't buy a general purpose appliance that provides zero optimization for your workload. Oracle and IBM provide appliances which integrate the DB, DW and application server, which is far superior from a performance and management perspective than just joining the infrastructure layers to create a standard x86 platform.

It is natural that Cisco, VMware, and EMC would want to protect their substantial market shares from emerging threats. That is the name of this game.
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