Vblock infrastructure can endure threats, says Europe's first customer

IT chief at Europe's first VCE Vblock infrastructure customer believes bundled hardware concept will beat threats from undercutting suppliers because of the value in the pre-configured approach.

Europe's first VMware/Cisco/EMC Vblock infrastructure customer is confident the bundled server/storage/network product will endure threats from other vendors attempting to undercut it with deals on individual components.

Ed Dixon, head of enterprise services at application hosting provider Cobweb Solutions, recently installed a Vblock 1 bundle in a £1.5 million project, which has powered the company's cloud service offering and is projected to save £200,000 or more a year in power and space costs.

Vblocks are bundled virtual machine, server and storage packages marketed by the Virtual Computing Environment Coalition, which comprises VMware, Cisco and EMC. Vblock bundles come as Vblock 0 (300 to 800 VMs), Vblock 1 (800 to 3,000 VMs) and Vblock 2 (3,000 to 6,000-plus VMs) and are made up of Cisco UCS servers, Cisco Nexus and MDS fabric switches; and EMC Clariion or Symmetrix storage arrays.

Cobweb chose the VCE infrastructure approach over separate server, networking and storage equipment and went live in summer with a Vblock 1 bundle, pre-configured with software and security by consultancy MTI.

Speaking to SearchStorage.co.UK, Dixon noted the likely durability of the Vblock infrastructure as a product offering going forward. Dixon spoke about the possible threats to Vblocks from vendors selling separate components but believes the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition can win out. "My personal view is that I've never seen any vendors play nicely together, but this is the first time I've experienced a coalition, and I'm confident the players involved are committed to supporting it," he said. He added, "I can see organisations like MTI going to customers only to have someone else come along and try to sell the component parts, standing to gain from selling the same product. But for now Vblocks trumps other approaches in that it's pre-configured and tested, and if the cost is right it'll win out over other approaches."

Cobweb provides collaboration software -- Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and CRM -- to 5,500 predominantly SME customers with 65,000 users in all business sectors and claims to be the largest Exchange implementation in Europe.

It operates from two data centres -- a primary site in London's Docklands and a secondary site at Reading -- and started looking to upgrade its server and storage infrastructure following growth in demand from 2009 onward for its Cobweb Cloud service.

Cobweb was invited by MTI to perform proof-of-concept testing of a Vblock 1 hardware bundle early this year and made a decision to purchase in the first quarter. Following this, implementation of the pre-configured setup took only six weeks, and the new infrastructure went live at Cobweb's data centres in June 2010.

The Vblock 1 bundle comprises EMC Clariion storage; Cisco Unified Computing System blade servers, Nexus 10 Gigabit Ethernet FCoE switching and VMware's vSphere virtual server environment. Cobweb has the option to scale up the components of the Vblock infrastructure as its business grows.

Dixon said the key decision revolved around whether Cobweb should put together the necessary infrastructure from different suppliers or opt for the Vblock from MTI . In the end Dixon's team decided that buying pre-configured infrastructure held a number of advantages over its existing method of working.

He said, "In the past we have put together our infrastructure from separate vendors, and the challenge has always been locating where issues in that infrastructure have come from as they arose. For example, when Microsoft issued a new service pack it always meant a monumental change for us that led to more infrastructure and more complexity and cost -- all of which matters to us as we need to be able to bring products to market quickly."

He added that a key benefit was that the Vblock infrastructure was pre-configured and ready to go. "We wanted to just be able to drop the Vblock in and be ready to go with the integration already done, configured and tested."

Another major benefit has been that the Vblock bundles have occupied far less space and consume much less power than Cobweb's previous data centre equipment. Whereas the previous hardware had cost about £400,000 a year in space and power, Cobweb is now looking at a quarter to half that total.

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