Dell EMC upgrades hyper-converged infrastructure: more powerful, more configurable

Dell EMC’s hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) appliances have been one of its most hot-selling products since the merger, and today’s its unveiling an upgraded server base for those product lines.

The 14th-generation Dell EMC PowerEdge servers, powered by Intel Skylake processors, will be the basis for upgraded appliances on the Dell EMC VxRail and XC Series product lines. The update brings better performance, but will also offer customers better configuration options than previously possible with HCI.

At a time when more enterprises are seriously considering running their mission-critical workloads on an HCI appliance, the combo of being able to start small and scale up along with more specific configurations might see more IT departments make the leap from a more tradition tiered approach to on-premises infrastructure.

“We’re seeing that shift where any time a customer is looking at refreshing their servers, they are thinking about whether it’s time to go hyper-converged,” says Chad Dunn, vice-president of product marketing with Dell EMC’s converged platforms and solutions division. “Our customers are able to start much smaller. You can start with three nodes of hyper-converged type of appliances and you can scale up to very large environments.”

That saves CIOs and IT managers from having to chart out a three-to-five year growth plan for their department. They can start with the nodes they need for the next six months, and if the business goes bananas, scale as needed by bolting on a new node.

It’s a more flexible way to manage on-premises IT that is arriving just as enterprises are becoming accustomed to scaling production and operational environments in the cloud without breaking a sweat. Dell points to research from analyst firm IDC that shows HCI is the fastest growing segment of the converged infrastructure market. Worldwide revenue for the segment grew 48.5 per cent year over year in Q2 of 2017 and it now accounts for a quarter of all converged infrastructure solutions sold. As for Dell EMC, it’s shipped at least 17,000 of its nodes since launching HCI in February 2016.

“It becomes an evolution,” Dunn says. “If you look at converged infrastructure, that’s still effectively a three-tier architecture of compute, connect, and storage.”

At the Toronto-based Dell EMC Forum Oct. 26, Chad Sakac, president of converged platforms at Dell EMC, spoke with reporters about HCI. He framed it as a simplified infrastructure that enterprises could buy as a shortcut to having to build an automated and virtualized stack internally. He also pointed to several examples of how HCI is deployed in different vertical scenarios:

  • A big box hardware retailer that runs touchscreen POS terminals use a small HCI deployment in-store to handle some of the application load, and uses hundreds of more nodes in the data centre to provide further resilience.
  • A major energy company that operates both HCI and converged infrastructure, but finds most of its x86 workloads can now run on HCI as a best practice.
  • Any customer requiring edge compute will find HCI appliances are an ideal solution for handling data aggregation.

“It’s not whether converged or hyper-converged is right for you, that’s a silly debate,” he says. “The question is do you want to be in the business of running servers and storage or do you want to simplify? Then it’s deciding on the right blend to handle your workloads.”

Here’s more technical specifics on the newly upgraded HCI hardware – they’re powered by an Intel Xeon Processor Scalable Family. Software-defined storage is built-in and optimized for HCI. Dell EMC promises “improved support” for SSDs in scale-out deployments, including faster initialization and streamlined data storage management. Users running a mixed environment of the new HCI appliances and PowerEdge servers will benefit from a common user interface.

The appliances can be configured for preferred CPU speed, to include graphical processing units, have more dense storage (with SSDs or spinning disc hard drives), or include more memory as required, Dunn says.

The Dell EMC VxRail appliance is jointly engineered with VMware and intended for VMware environments exclusively. These appliances are now available for pre-order and will be generally available Dec. 12.

Customers that operate with a different hypervisor will opt for the XC Series. Models include XC640, XC740xd, and XC740. They are generally available today.

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Former editorial director of IT World Canada. Current research director at Info-Tech

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