Vblock Review
The VCE VBlocks came along and it was the best combination of an all-in-one virtual data center in a box with SAN, Network, and Compute that used VMware to drive the whole package.


What is our primary use case?

The system has performed very well with the workload we throw on it.  It runs large SQL servers, little MS Windows License key application servers, SharePoint servers, some Linux application servers, and a few specialty VDI guests. 

How has it helped my organization?

The original pair of VBlock’s were purchased to replace a hodgepodge of small VM clusters of 3 to 4 VM hosts and an outdated SAN, in addition to moving from an old data center to a new data center. Moving the VM’s from the old systems to the new VBlock --which had more shared resources and a newer VMware version-- was a big win. Once in place, we virtualized as many servers as could be converted from freestanding servers to a VM. The only exception was when the licensing of an application was cost prohibitive; we keep these on stand-alone hosts. This was mainly due to application licensing bias, rather than limits on virtualization.

What is most valuable?

This solution has rock-solid reliability. When a problem does occur, you can call the service number or support site to initiate a service request.

What needs improvement?

Currently, there is some uncertainty about the future of the product line with regards to Dell's takeover of EMC. Because VBlock is so closely wrapped around the Cisco Blade converged infrastructure environment, I am concerned that Dell may end the relationship and kill the VBlock line, pushing their other VCE products that can run on Dell servers. Initial indications from VCE were that this was not going to happen, but I am concerned that Dell may not really know what they have taken on when they took over the EMC / VCE / VMware companies.

For how long have I used the solution?

More than five years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

In general, stability is rock solid. VCE responds and reacts to security related issues quickly, but it is not on the bleeding edge of every last upgrade / VMware release, as it takes them time to bundle together and test out a set of new software packages, firmware, drivers, VMware patch levels, etc. into a matrix release bundle.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Our systems, both old and new, were not purchased totally loaded. We have open slots to be able to add more compute blades and, in our old system, we added both blades and upgraded RAM for more VM resources.

How is customer service and technical support?

In most instances, we've had good support with quick resolutions. One incident occurred during an upgrade to a SAN related item. We had a major problem that took longer to ultimately resolve, but once the problem escalated to higher-level support, they were finally able to resolve the problem.

Which solutions did we use previously?

Our original VMware environment was a hodgepodge of rack mounted servers, a FC SAN which used an older EMC SAN, and inexperienced admins piecing it all together. Once this was deemed insufficient and the SAN needed a replacement, the VCE VBlocks came along and it was the best combination of an all-in-one virtual data center in a box with SAN, Network, and Compute that used VMware to drive the whole package.

How was the initial setup?

  • From what I remember, the first VBlock landed and the installation techs were still working out some bugs when it turned up. The second of the original pair arrived a week later and connected with fewer problems. The new pair of VBlock 340’s came in with much less trouble. The initial installation was well coordinated: we had the LAN connections ready and the deployment team came in and configured them per the preconfigured checklist of IP addresses, Server Names, SAN settings and VMware setup.

What about the implementation team?

We had assistance with VCE in the new implementation via a 3rd party consultant that had assisted in migrations like this in the past.  The consultant was very helpful, knowledgeable and flexible on scheduling.

What was our ROI?

Although I am not directly involved with the cost / expensing but I expect we will run this system for at least 4 years.  We are in year 2 and already looking at costs for renewal with the vendor or doing hardware maintenance 3rd party but that has yet to be determined.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Get your best deal and press for everything. We already had our VMware licensing, but we had to upgrade to Enterprise Plus to implement the full features of the VBlock and the VDS, rather than using the normal enterprise or standard level licensing from VMware. Plan for room to grow the system in the future. We have expanded SAN capacity much more than the compute capacity, as databases and data files continue to grow and eat more data space.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

When we came to the point of looking at upgrading our original VBlock to the new generation we have now, we did look at other options. But due to our experience with the VBlock and how well it fit our needs, we decided to replace the older version with the new version.

We considered hyper-converged solutions and building block solutions, but none were as good a fit as the VBlock-- or possibly a FlexPod, which is a VBlock with a different Storage Solution. But no single source for support and ongoing maintenance upgrade tested the way VCE did.

The FlexPod solution is a general idea with building block solutions. But once it is assembled, you are on your own to maintain the upgrades. If something does not conform, you would have to be on Cisco to work out why your VMware does not like the drivers, etc. The building block solutions like Nutanix and SimpliVity, the EVO solutions, and even other solutions using the VCE offerings like the VXRail and VXRack systems did not fit our large data / disk capacity needs. These solutions may work for smaller sites and offices, but not for our centralized way of running VMs.

Currently we are approaching our 3 year renewal and are challenged with continuing support via VCE / EMC or go 3rd party support for hardware but not have any upgrade / VCE matrix validation updates.  

What other advice do I have?

Size it right. Get the connectivity to your core switches established and have good admins, ones who know the storage side and who know the compute and network side.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.

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