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Interview: Praveen Akkiraju, CEO, VCE

Six months on from becoming an EMC-owned company, VCE CEO Praveen Akkiraju talks about how the move will benefit his firm

The rise in popularity of converged infrastructure products will fuel demand for datacentre experts with in-depth knowledge of networking, storage and virtualisation technologies, according to VCE CEO Praveen Akkiraju.

Speaking to Computer Weekly during a recent trip to the UK, Akkiraju said the converged infrastructure market his company operates in is growing in size by around 30% each year, and is expected to be worth $18bn by 2017-2018, according to market researcher IDC.

While industry mega-trends, such as cloud computing and big data, are fuelling overall demand for these technologies, the fact they often come pre-configured and pre-tested makes them an appealing prospect for enterprises because it cuts down on the time they take to deploy.

However, the latter has wider implications for enterprises whose IT departments are staffed by storage and network administrators with scant insight into how the entire stack runs, Akkiraju claims.

“As more companies move to this model, it's breaking down the silos, skillset-wise, in the organisation. So, where there used to be network, storage and virtualisation experts, there are datacentre experts, in the sense that IT practitioners will need to have an end-to-end understanding of the infrastructure,” he says.

“Being able to understand a broader perspective of those technologies together as a datacentre infrastructure is the skillset of the future. It’s what converged infrastructure forces you to do to get the benefits from it,” he adds.

Helping IT departments develop a wider range of skills to accommodate this shift is going to take time, he concedes, which is why it’s important for IT departments to act now.

“Being able to understand the entire datacentre infrastructure, as opposed to being siloed into one technology, is a journey – and you don’t get there in one day.

“There will still be a call for their expertise, but they’ll need to understand how networking and computers play too,” he says.

Where next for VCE

Nearly six months have passed since storage giant EMC bought out the majority of Cisco’s stake in VCE, and welcomed the converged infrastructure supplier into its growing fold of companies.

The company started out as a joint venture between VMware, Cisco and EMC in November 2009, touting private cloud-enabling converged infrastructure packages called Vblocks, built using their respective technologies.

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Five years is a long time in the tech world, and as the three firms have brought out new products or purchased other companies in that time, it has been speculated that the strength of their tri-supplier coalition may have been tested.

For example, VMware’s decision to acquire networking virtualisation company Nicara in 2012 essentially positioned it as a competitor of Cisco’s.

Despite this, VCE has been resolute in its stance that – despite the diminishment of its share in the firm – Cisco will remain an important component of its Vblock products and will still feature elsewhere in its wider product portfolio.

The acquisition also paves the way for VCE to include more of the technology made by the other members of the EMC “federation of companies”, which include RSA, Pivotal and VMware to name a few.

However, just because the company has joined the EMC fold, it does not mean it’s restricted to only using the technology of its affiliates.  

“We’re always going to offer a choice of virtualisation because a customer might have a kernel-based virtual machine (KVM), a Hyper-V, VMware or even bare metal. We’re not in the business of defining what virtualisation environment a company has, so we’ll offer options,” says Akkiraju.

“From a networking perspective, we’re going to offer a choice between Cisco’s ACI and VMware’s NSX because they have different use cases. For the management orchestration layer, we’ll suggest an alternative between Cisco UCS Director and VMware vCenter. 

“We’re not in the business of defining what virtualisation environment a company has, so we’ll offer options

Praveen Akkiraju, VCE

“If the customer has their own home-grown management orchestration system, we can plug into that with APIs [application programming interfaces]. Our goal is to be agnostic to the application,” he says.

According to Akkiraju, this is because what is inside the box isn’t as important to users as what it allows them to do and what applications it lets them run.

“The fundamental goal is to allow users to run multiple workloads. Whether it’s a Citrix, Oracle or a home-grown Java application that’s virtualised, we want to be agnostic to the application workload,” he says.

“What we’re trying to create is a standardised set of infrastructure because convergence is a computer. You don’t define a computer by the applications it runs.

“We define a generic set of infrastructure all the way from the big datacentre systems to the appliances, and enable them to run any set of apps you want,” he adds.

The EMC advantage

When EMC’s decision to buy the firm was announced in October 2014, VCE had just celebrated its sixth consecutive quarter of greater than 50% growth and established itself as the leader of the converged infrastructure market.

This is a position EMC said it was looking to reinforce and build upon through the deal, but scant detail was shared at the time about how it planned to do this.

Now the ink has dried on the deal, it seems EMC is gradually positioning VCE as the home for all its converged infrastructure activities, resulting in the creation of a broader portfolio of products that fall into this category, spanning appliances, Vblocks and its recently announced VxRacks.

As such, EMC’s VSPEX Blue appliance now falls under the control of VCE and is opening up opportunities downstream for the firm, which has typically focused on marketing its wares to the enterprise.

“A lot of our customers in the early days were financial services companies or insurance firms, and we’ve got to go on to a broader footprint of customers, including service providers and large manufacturing shops. We have broad-based deployments in Fortune 500 customers in all verticals,” says Akkiraju.

“The VSPEX Blue appliance is targeted towards small to medium-sized enterprises, and is well-suited to small and branch office-type environments. The Vblocks, on the other hand, are focused on global FT 500 and medium enterprises, while our VxRacks span both.

“This gives us a broad-based coverage for a range of use cases and business sizes,” he adds.

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