For the next three weeks VCE is starting off 2012, and celebrating a pretty impressive 2011, by holding a series of sales/technical kickoff meetings in Dallas, Boston and London.  These three day gatherings include a number of breakout sessions for the different teams, and include all new collateral, presentations and a first look at some new 2012 secret sauce around the Vblock platforms, where they are going and what we are releasing.

One of the more interesting comments that came out this week was after our CTO, Trey Layton, presented the 2012 “Vblock Value” deck for the assembled crowd.  One of our friends from VMware stood up and said the following:

Having sat in on presentations with Dell, HP and IBM, I can tell you that every one of them is presenting this exact same story.  You could cut and paste their names over yours, and it would be identical.  The difference is that you can actually back up those claims with substance, and they can’t.  The trick is helping customers see that, and helping them understand the questions to ask when considering converged infrastructure. 

The truth is, as we’ve entered a competitive landscape where there are really only four companies that can offer a true converged infrastructure (VCE, IBM, HP and Oracle), we see more and more how our original talk track from 2010 and early 2011 is being incorporated into the messaging that we see from those competitors today.  Partly, that’s awesome: how better to judge the impact you are having on a market than to watch your (much) larger competitors reuse your marketing.  Partly, it’s a sign that we need to continually move up and to the right.  We aren’t flying under anyone’s radar anymore, and there are sharks in these waters.

To illustrate this point, let’s play a game we played during Michael Capellas’ keynote on the first day of kick-off.  We call it: “Who IS That Masked Machine?

Each of the paragraphs below is an exact cut-and-paste from publicly available sources, which I’ll cite below with the answers.  Read the description, think about the messaging that VCE has been putting out for the last two years, and then guess which vendor is involved.

Masked Machine #1

Cloud computing offers many potential benefits, including improved service delivery and reduced operating costs. Yet the challenges of installing and configuring a private cloud platform can be overwhelming. [redacted] provides a preintegrated and preloaded system with software, servers, storage, networking and…services to help you take the guess work out of establishing a private cloud computing environment. [redacted] can help you get up and running in days, not months.

  • Preintegrated, service delivery infrastructure accelerates deployment of private cloud
  • Sophisticated self-service portal, service catalog and automated workflows to save operating costs
  • High-performance and resilient architecture maximizes virtualization efficiency and return on investment
  • Automated management and superior reliability minimizes complexity, lowers risk and maintenance costs
  • Designed to scale easily to match resources to changing business needs and adapt to new requirements
Masked Machine #2

[redacted] is designed to simplify the deployment of infrastructure, applications and cloud services by delivering IT capacity through pools of readily deployed resources. The goal of [redacted] is to accelerate provisioning, optimize IT capacity across physical and virtual environments and to ensure predictable delivery and service levels.

Ideal for…

Dynamic infrastructure provisioning

  • Faster time to business value by provisioning services within minutes instead of months
  • On-demand storage provisioning in minutes during the deployment of a service
  • Improve utilization by enabling users to check out and return resources from a central pool
  • Streamline test and development processes by easily converting servers from virtual to physical and back
Masked Machine #3

[redacted] is a complete hardware and software platform for Enterprise applications delivered by [redacted] as pre-assembled building blocks that are easy to buy, deploy and operate.

[redacted] is an Engineered System: an assemblage of best-of-breed storage, compute, network, operating system and software products that are integrated, tested, tuned, optimized, delivered and supported by [redacted] as a single factory-assembled unit.

[redacted] is designed to provide extreme high performance, reliability, ease-of-use and versatility without being a proprietary, closed system with high total cost of ownership and vendor lock-in. [redacted] is everything enterprises love about both mainframes and open systems with none of the stuff they don’t. [redacted] is the realization of a new way of looking at the role of IT in the modern enterprise.

  • Fully integrated compute nodes, storage and networking
  • Fully integrated…network attached storage appliance with 40TB of SAS disk storage
  • …IO Fabric, with 40 Gb/second throughput and microsecond latencies
  • Data center service network integration with 10 GbE

Wow. I understand that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I think some people need to send flowers to the VCE marketing team.  At least a thank you would be nice.  So who are our masked machines?  Were you able to guess?  I left some clues in there to give you a few hints.

IBM CloudMasked Machine #1: IBM Cloudburst™ On System X

http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/x/solutions/cloud/cloudburst/index.html

The use of the word “services” multiple times definitely gives this one away, I know.  Let’s give IBM credit where it’s due: they were very, very early out of the gate (June, 2009) with the concept of a converged infrastructure, largely based on the strength of their services arm.  With Cisco announcing their entry into the x86 server market in March of that same year, and with the first of the V+C+E implementations starting to roll out, IBM reacted far quicker than the rest of the industry to the coming threat.  Their ace in the hole is now, and always will be, their services arm which is the class of the world.  Understand that the acquisitions of Perot Systems and EDS by Dell and HP respectively were intended to try and balance the scales that were tipped heavily in IBMs favor because of the Global Services organization.

Masked Machine #2: HP CloudSystem Matrix
http://h18004.www1.hp.com/ products/blades/components/matrix/index.html

HP was particularly late to the converged infrastructure game, and they arguably needed to do the most catching up from a technology standpoint.  Rocked by the Cisco entry into their backyard, HP responded by buying 3COM in April, 2010.  Most of us questioned the idea of HP paying $2.7B to acquire a networking vendor who had once famously exited the core router/switch market because they couldn’t get any traction, just so that they could offer an alternative to Cisco, a company who dominated that same market.  I’ve heard claims that HP is 100% 3COM in their data centers, and I can tell you that they are the only company I’ve ever heard of who make that claim.  After declaring war on Cisco, HP went to work replacing other parts of their portfolio that needed refreshing.  In October of 2010 they replaced the aging, underwhelming EVA storage line with the acquisition of 3Par, and using the previous acquisition of Opsware, started putting together a converged infrastructure of their own.  Finally, in June of 2011, HP released the Converged Systems portfolio that we know today.

Masked Machine #3: Oracle Exalogic

http://blogs.oracle.com/exalogic/entry/what_is_oracle_exalogic / http://www.oracle.com/us/products/middleware/exalogic/

Oracle, looking to lock customers into more support dollars than just the application stacks they already owned, bought Sun Microsystems in January of 2010.  Using that acquisition they pulled one of the most drastic flip-flops in the history of technology and went to market with Exalogic in September of that same year.  Sun hardware?  Sun STORAGE?  Interesting.  Oracle, to their credit, is able to build hardware that services the exact performance needs of the application stack (because they ARE the application stack), but as customers look more and more to a multi-use infrastructure, having to manage hardware that is limited to a single platform use-case is challenging.  In contrast, Oracle on VMware in general and Oracle on Vblock specifically are two of the fastest growing segments of the VMware/VCE business.

In my opinion, these are the only three companies that are, today, providing offerings that are competitive with VCE, and they will be the ones we discuss in this series going forward.  Dell may enter into this space at some point (I expect them to), but there are too many holes in both their product offerings and their go-to-market to spend a lot of time on them now.  Reference Architecture-based products are similarly discounted, since building something on your own is exactly what we are getting away from with the concept of a converged infrastructure.

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If you look at the timeline, there has been a tremendous amounts of partnering and acquisition since VCE was formally introduced in late 2009.  It’s very fun to be on the leading edge of something this big, and it’s gratifying to see our efforts moving the needle across the industry, but I know there are a lot of moving parts.  Especially for companies whose core competency isn’t IT, and who don’t want to make a huge investment in that space, there’s a opportunity for us to better explain the landscape, the challenges and the opportunities.

So with all that said, the plan is to write a series of blog posts helping customers figure out how to move forward.  Everyone focuses on the management aspect, but I think there are many companies out there who don’t understand the complexity of choosing a platform, streamlining a business model around a platform, building a team to support the platform and leveraging that platform across application teams.  So in the spirit of education, we’ll go through the following topics together:

How To: Choose the Right Converged Infrastructure
How To: Use a Converged Infrastructure to Generate Revenue
How To: Maximize Operational Efficiency with a Converged Infrastructure
How To: Build a Converged IT Operations Team
How To: Optimize a Converged Infrastructure for Multiple Workloads
How To: Choose a Management and Orchestration Strategy

Are there other topics that need to be covered?  Let me know in the comments below, and if there’s enough interest we can add them.  The goal here is for everyone to better understand the lay of the land in order to make better decisions going forward. With some of the announcements that VCE has queued up for the first half of 2012, I’m very much looking forward to walking through these topics and more!

What do you think?  Is the idea of a converged infrastructure a fundamental shift in how hardware is managed, consumed and acquired?  Or is it simply a part of the larger business cycle in an environment where capital availability has its highs and lows?  Comments are always welcome (with company disclosure if appropriate) below!

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