When three industry giants--Cisco Systems (networking), EMC (storage) and VMware (virtualization) formed the Virtual Computing Environment joint venture called Acadia in November 2009 to build Vblock virtualized data center systems, well-informed industry folks knew it was only a matter of time before another Tier 1 IT company or two stepped up to compete.
That came to pass this week, with longtime partners Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft announcing on Oct. 18 the HP VirtualSystem for Microsoft.
Vblocks are preintegrated, preconfigured computing systems consisting of networkware from Cisco, storage/security/system management from EMC and virtualization software from VMware. The resulting cloud computing systems range in size from a few hundred virtual machines to more than 6,000, depending upon the needs of the customer.
HP VirtualSystem for Microsoft, a similarly integrated, preconfigured IT system aimed at cloud computing workloads, is now in the virtual boxing ring with Vblocks.
"Microsoft and HP view this as almost a Vblock-killer," Jeff Carlat, HP's director of Industry Standard Servers and Software Marketing, Enterprise Storage, Servers and Networking, told eWEEK.
Plug-and-Play Data Centers?
In simplest terms, the Vblocks and the HP VirtualSystem for Microsoft are about as close as one can get to plug-and-play data centers. Hardware, networking and software is preconfigured for various use cases, applications are preintegrated, and access management and security controls are preset. It's not precisely turnkey, but it's pretty close.
"We've brought together core elements of our converged infrastructure--servers, storage, networking--and wrapped it up with our integrated management stack and Microsoft SystemCenter, and are delivering two distinct solutions from Microsoft," Carlat said. "These are turnkey-configured and factory shipped from HP.
"Our blades, with 2TB of memory, really allow us to drop more VMs onto a given host--we think about 2 times that of what Cisco can do. In networking, with our VirtualConnect, we've embedded 10Gb NICs (network interface cards) into our servers. This is boding well for providing much more aggregated bandwidth for the virtual infrastructure. This is a huge step up from what Cisco's Vblock is offering."
HP VirtualSystems are the latest result of HP and Microsoft's $250 million Infrastructure to Application (I2A) initiative announced in January 2010. The two companies launched four business-messaging appliances in January 2011, some specific health-care vertical IT systems in December 2010 and collaborated in development of HP's tablet PCs using Microsoft Bing's search engine earlier this year.
HP VirtualSystem for Microsoft is built on the same architecture as HP CloudSystem, enabling clients to deploy private, public or hybrid cloud environments. It also aligns with Microsoft's Private Cloud Fast Track specification for standardized deployments.
VS systems combine Windows Server 2008, Hyper-V hypervisor, Microsoft System Center, HP ProLiant and HP BladeSystem servers, HP Insight software, HP Networking, and HP Converged Storage.
VS systems come in two types: VS1 and VS2, Carlat said. VS1 is aimed at deployments of about 750 virtual machines; VS2 capacities can range into the tens of thousands of VMs.
What Separates Vblocks from VirtualSystems
Other factors that set the VirtualSystems apart from VCE Vblocks are what Microsoft's Ed Anderson called the "deep integration of HP and Microsoft technology"--and the pricing.
"We have done work up and down the stack to make sure this thing is tightly integrated together," said Anderson, who serves as director of Microsoft's server and tools division marketing. "From the lowest level of hardware management all the way up to application management with (HP) Insight, then with VM management and virtualization and so on in the middle, we've knitted this thing together so that it really is a single product."
VirtualSystem has the performance and flexibility to host heavy-duty applications such as SharePoint, Exchange and SQL Server, Carlat said. "It also has the integrated management based on HP Insight Control and Microsoft System Center to ensure visibility into the health and performance of the solution hardware, operating systems and applications," he said.
Carlat said that HP and Microsoft built and deliver the whole system as one, whereas Cisco's is comprised of partner products from EMC, VMware and others.
Another major differentiator between the two systems appears to be in the up-front investment. A starter VirtualSystem can be acquired for around $175,500, Carlat said. Vblock systems range in price from "the low hundreds of thousands to multimillions [of dollars]," EMC President and CEO Joe Tucci said at the VCE launch.
HP VirtualSystem for Microsoft is available now.