HP And Microsoft Plan ‘Vblock Killer’ VM System


New kids on the V-block, HP and Microsoft, aim to out-box Cisco, EMC and VMware with HP VirtualSystem

In November 2009, the three industry giants Cisco Systems, EMC, and VMware formed the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) joint venture, called Acadia, to build Vblock virtualised data centre systems. Well-informed industry folks knew it was only a matter of time before another top-tier IT company, or two, stepped up to compete.

That came to pass this week, with long-time partners Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft announcing the HP VirtualSystem for Microsoft.

Virtualised building blocks

Vblocks are pre-integrated, preconfigured computing systems consisting of network hardware from Cisco; storage, security and systems management from EMC; and virtualisation 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, pre-configured 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.

In simplest terms, the Vblocks and the HP VirtualSystem for Microsoft are about as close as one can get to plug-and-play data centres. Hardware, networking and software is pre-configured for various use cases, applications are pre-integrated, and access management and security controls are pre-set. It is not precisely turnkey, but it is 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 2X 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.”

Another brick in the wall of virtualisation

HP VirtualSystem is 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 standardised deployments.

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. The packages 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.

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.

Stacks of activity

“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 virtualisation 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 like 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.

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