Navigating the Nuances of Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) Appliances and Rack Systems

The term appliance is loaded because it implies something that is usually single-purposed, something that doesn’t scale, ergo “a toaster”

In truth, a modern turnkey IT appliance relies on a lot of sophisticated engineering to create a truly elegant IT management experience across multiple application scenarios. It’s not a toaster, it slices, it dices, it can handle anything you can throw at it!

As hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) appliances become more robust, the decision as to when to employ appliances versus more monolithic systems is moving from a debate to a conclusion.

It shows in the numbers. As we approach the first anniversary of the merger of Dell and EMC, the value of the Power of One approach we provide has never been clearer. In fact, Gartner just observed that Dell EMC was the one among the top five server vendors to gain market share in the first quarter of 2017 – and the strength of open, industry standard rack mount PowerEdge Platforms has been a huge part of that.

The other huge part has been the incredible growth in the last two years has been turnkey HCI appliances for a variety of applications across the data center, and there is a feedback loop with the strength of the PowerEdge server family

Does VxRail scale? You bet it does.

VxRail Appliances from Dell EMC can scale to 64 nodes to create a cluster with up to 98TB of memory, over 2800 processor cores and more than 2.9 PB of raw storage. That’s enough IT infrastructure horsepower to support most enterprise IT applications, and of course, there’s nothing stopping customers from having multiple VxRail clusters (and many do).

Organizations are adopting HCI appliances to run traditional applications that need enterprise resiliency at the same time as they invest and deploy more cloud-native applications.

In both cases the ability to scale rapidly to provisioning of resources in a heartbeat is important. In addition, the ability to run multiple traditional and cloud native applications on a single appliance or cluster enables significant consolidation across the data center – and more importantly simplification.

Simplification is the key to realizing improved operational efficiencies, better infrastructure availability, and increased IT agility. Ease of management and significant reduction in administrative tasks enables IT specialists to now focus on more strategic business initiatives rather than lower level functions that are now automated.

However, not all HCI appliances are created equal.

*Principled Technologies recently put VxRail to the test against HCI appliances from Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE). First, they tested VxRail against the HC 380 in a lab environment and the results were very compelling: VxRail enables you to transact business up to 70 percent faster and support up to 50 percent more customer requests than HPE HC 380 while reducing your storage footprint by 1/3.

**Principled Technologies followed that test with another test, this time against HPE’s latest high-profile acquisition, SimpliVity. We found that VxRail runs your databases up to 177% faster, processes up to 104% more orders per minute, and delivers up to 85% faster response times than HPE SimpliVity 380. Frankly, the results surprised us too.

To find out more about the Principled Technologies test of VxRail vs. SimpliVity, visit

One of the biggest reasons Dell EMC is gaining market share at the expense of rivals is that a HCI appliance from Dell EMC running VMware software supports 177 percent more database transactions that a similarly configured HCI appliance from Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) running software HPE gained when it acquired Simplivity.

This is rooted in a simple fact. VxRail is the HCI Appliance that VMware and Dell EMC have jointly engineered. It’s built by one team, and it leverages vSAN as its software-defined storage. Not only is vSAN uniquely integrated into the vSphere kernel, but with VxRail also means that there is never a question about vSphere release timing, hardware/software validation, the details of lifecycle management is handled, the way to integrate data protection (it’s included!). Perhaps most importantly, with VxRail you never get stuck between vendors on roadmap or support.

For customers who are ready to move beyond HCI Appliances, HCI Rack Scale systems like VxRack – in both VMware Cloud Foundation and FLEX variations bring the physical and software defined networking domain into the HCI system. And yes, there are some applications and workloads that need a traditional converged stack – and those use cases are very important to customers. It’s not about HCI Appliances vs. HCI Rack Scale Systems vs. Converged Infrastructure – it’s about the right tool for the job, and partners with the simple portfolio to help you.

Regardless of the platform employed, fully integrated management allows IT generalists to accomplish so much more than ever before. The goal is to eventually standardize all data center infrastructure using HCI and rack servers. In the meantime, organizations should be looking for an HCI solution that can easily coexist in the data center full of rack-based servers with the eye towards, phasing in more modern infrastructure whenever possible.

We’re committed to make it possible to unify the management of HCI appliances and rack-scale systems as rapidly as possible. Dell EMC has invested a lot of time and money to developing a unique infrastructure management framework that makes managing our HCI platforms significantly simpler than any rival offering. Over the last year we’ve been transferring those capabilities to our CI platforms as well. There may even come a day soon when we completely unify the management of our VMware integrated HCI/Rack Scale systems (VxRail and VxRack using VMware Cloud Foundation), and also unify the management model of our horizontal, multi use cases HCI (VxRack FLEX) and CI (VxBlock) platforms – hint, hint, nudge, nudge.

All application workloads are not created equal. There’s always going to be a need for different classes of IT infrastructure to right size applications. Dell EMC uniquely provides our customers with a full portfolio of pre-integrated HCI and CI offerings optimized to make running any class of application workload required. That means IT organizations no longer need to spend their own precious time tinkering with IT infrastructure. As critical as IT infrastructure is, the business value any organization derives from IT is inherently provided by the applications they run. Every minute an IT organization spends fiddling around with IT infrastructure results in applications taking longer to be deployed in a production environment.

Every IT organization that has ever configured systems on their own also knows that the documentation for how those systems are configured is spotty at best. It’s not uncommon for the institutional memory associated with how those systems are configured to walk out the door every time an IT administrator takes a new job. Our single-minded focus at Dell EMC is to reduce the mean time to achieving business value from IT by reducing the amount of time it takes to stand up an application environment using modern IT infrastructure.

Whether it’s an appliance or rack-based system the HCI platforms Dell EMC manufactures come pre-integrated with software stacks optimized for VMware, integrated data protection – and a partner who is responsible for everything in the stack, not just at deployment, but through its full lifecycle. We’re confident experienced IT professionals will appreciate all the IT infrastructure capabilities our engineers have baked into Dell EMC platforms. You can always go the DIY route… but why the heck would you?


[1] Principled Technologies report commissioned by Dell EMC, “Empower your databases with strong, efficient, scalable performance,” June 2017, comparing a similarly configured Dell EMC VxRail P470F vs. HPE Hyper Converged 380, using 50ms think time and 36 VMs. Actual performance will vary based on configuration, usage, and manufacturing variability.

2 Principled Technologies report commissioned by Dell EMC, “Handle more orders with faster response times, today and tomorrow,” July 2017, comparing a similarly configured Dell EMC VxRail P470F vs. HPE SimpliVity 380, using 50ms think time and 36 VMs. Actual performance will vary based on configuration, usage, and manufacturing variability.

About the Author: Chad Sakac

Chad Sakac leads the Pivotal Container Service (PKS) efforts at Pivotal where he brings together the Engineering, Marketing and GTM aspects of the business – with the goal of building the best Enterprise Container Platform together with VMware – part of how Pivotal is transforming the way how software and the future is built. PKS is a joint effort with VMware – and the effort involves bringing the immense resources of two great companies together. This alliance part of Chad’s role extends to all of the elements of how Pivotal works with Dell Technologies (Dell, Dell EMC, VMware, RSA, Secureworks, Virtustream, Boomi) - across the transformational methodologies (Pivotal Labs, Platform Acceleration Labs, Application Transformation and more) and technologies (all of Pivotal Cloud Foundry, Pivotal Data) of Pivotal as a whole. Prior to this role, Chad spent 14 years at Dell EMC where he was responsible for several technical customer focusing on customer and partner innovation – most recently as the President and GM of the Converged Platform and Solutions Division (CPSD), and prior to that leading all global Systems Engineering team. Before joining EMC, Chad led the Systems Engineering team at Allocity, Inc. Chad authors one of the top 20 cloud, virtualization and infrastructure blogs, “Virtual Geek” He holds an Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Western Ontario, Canada.