How EVO:RAIL and EVO:RACK affect VDI

EVO:RAIL and EVO:RACK mark VMware’s entrance into the hyper-converged infrastructure market. The question now is whether or not either can separate from the competition. Also, what does this mean for VDI shops?

VMware's EVO:RAIL and EVO:RACK hyper-converged infrastructure appliances were designed with VDI in mind. They can snap into your environment and get VDI up and running quickly, but VMware has encountered some trouble with the products that could make customers shy away.

Hyper-converged infrastructure has quickly gained popularity because of its simplicity. It can be deployed quickly, it works with your existing infrastructure and is it's easy to scale. Nutanix, SimpliVity and Scale Computing committed to hyper convergence early on, and as a result, they're perched atop the market. In August 2014 VMware entered the ring with EVO:RAIL and will be expanding its hyper-converged family in 2015 with EVO:RACK.

But how does VMware’s offering stack up to the established competition, and what could it mean for your VDI deployment? VMware execs say that the company expects 50-55% of EVO:RAIL deployments to be used to support VDI, but implementing virtual desktops can be hard. It requires detailed planning to achieve the type of scalability and flexibility you expect. And that challenge is even more imposing if you don’t have the infrastructure, people or resources to get things up and running. This is a common problem in smaller shops that are often forced to reassign or retrain staff because they don’t have the requisite knowledge in-house to keep up.

EVO:RAIL and EVO:RACK can make deploying VDI easier because you can turn the hardware on and start spinning up VMs in as little as 15 minutes, which helps you avoid any disruptions and provide performance and flexibility for virtual workloads.

What is EVO:RAIL?

EVO:RAIL is VMware’s first foray into hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), and it is the first VMware-powered appliance on the market. The hardware is specifically designed for software-defined data centers and purpose-built for VDI.  It has the features you would expect from an HCI offering -- storage, network and compute resources in a single appliance -- but it also boasts a comprehensive suite of VMware software, including vSphere, VSAN  and vRealize Log Insight, which makes installation simple because the interfaces and screens are universal. The RAIL engine provides streamlined management capabilities and remote management, as well as easier provisioning for virtual machines (VMs) through pre-defined sizing and security policies. All of these features help customers deliver virtual desktops and provision storage faster.

Consisting of four nodes and boasting approximately 13 TB of usable hard disk drive capacity overall, each EVO:RAIL appliance can support roughly 100 VMs and 250 virtual desktops, making it a good fit for small and mid-sized businesses.  

VMware has partnered with some top hardware vendors, such as Dell and EMC to deliver EVO:RAIL. But there is a disconnect between some of VMware’s partners and VMware about what EVO:RAIL actually is. For example, EMC adds its own technology, including data protection products, so customers who buy EMC's version of RAIL won't get the same product they'd receive from another VMware partner even though it was VMware's intention to deliver uniformity across all RAIL appliances. Interestingly, Hewlett Packard recently dropped its EVO:RAIL offering.

What is EVO:RACK?

EVO:RACK (which has yet to be released as of this writing) is designed for large organizations and is sort of a big brother to EVO:RAIL.  EVO:RACK is expected to support more appliances, which lets VDI shops deploy even more virtual desktops. It connects the racks together using VMware NSX. 

Compatibility with VMware environments is a major plus for EVO:RAIL and EVO:RACK, but so is the inclusion of HTML5. With HTML5, you don’t need plug-ins or flash to make the user interface work across a multitude of devices. No matter what device you use, you will see the exact same interface for managing virtual desktops, provisioning storage and adding upgrades.

Where are the limitations?

VMware is late to the HCI party, so it has ground to make up. Additionally, many VMware partners -- including Dell and EMC -- offered similar products to RACK and RAIL before the EVO partnership (and they still do). This can present a problem for VMware because partners are more likely to sell their own hardware. For example, Dell could tell customers to use Dell HCI software on Dell hardware rather than sell RAIL and RACK.

To make things more complicated, EVO:RAIL is distributed solely through channel partners. This can slow things down because channel partners go through their own testing processes to make sure EVO:RAIL is something they want to sell.

On top of that, any organization that has just purchased new server hardware in the last two years or went through a recent server refresh cycle probably won’t be able to afford new HCI for at least another year.   

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