Managed and as-a-service models are a growing trend across infrastructure consumers. Customers in general want ease and consistency within both IT and finance, for example opting to shift towards OpEx funding models.
For large or enterprise organisations with significant investments in existing technologies, processes, and skills, refactoring everything into cloud native services can be complex and expensive. For these types of environments the strategy has sharpened from Cloud-First to Cloud-Smart. A Cloud-Smart approach enables customers to transition to the cloud quickly where it makes sense to do so, without tearing up roots on existing live services, and workloads or data that do not have a natural progression to traditional cloud.
In addition to the operational complexities of rearchitecting services, many industries have strict regulatory and compliance rules that must be adhered to. Customers may have specific security standards or customised policies requiring sensitive data to be located on-premises, under their own physical control. Applications may also have low latency requirements or the need to be located in close proximity to data processing or back end systems. This is where VMware Local Cloud as a Service (LCaaS) can help combine the key benefits from both public cloud and on-premises environments.
What is VMware Cloud on Dell EMC?
VMware Cloud on Dell EMC is a fully managed Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) local-cloud deployment. A dedicated rack with all supporting hardware and equipment is wheeled into the customer site where it is maintained directly by VMware Site Reliability Engineering (SRE). The customer provides the physical location for the rack to sit, the power source, and the existing network for the data plane switches to plug into.
VMware Cloud on Dell EMC delivers a fully integrated software and hardware stack, jointly engineered by VMware and Dell EMC.
The VMware Software Defined Data Centre (SDDC) overlay, and hardware underlay, comprises of:
- VMware vSphere and vCenter for compute virtualisation and management
- VMware vSAN for storage virtualisation
- VMware NSX-T for network virtualisation
- VMware HCX for live migration of virtual machines with stretched Layer 2 capability
- 3-26 Dell VxRail Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) nodes per full-height rack (and currently up to 3 racks per SDDC)
- 1 non-chargeable standby VxRail node per rack for service continuity
- Redundant Power Distribution Units (PDUs)
- Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) for half-height rack configurations
- Redundant Top of Rack (ToR) data plane switches
- Redundant VMware SD-WAN appliances for remote management
All of this is delivered in a dedicated rack, as a fully managed service, with a single point of support directly with VMware. VMware SRE will take care of updating and maintaining all components of the software overlay, firmware updates, and management or repair of the underlying hardware. The customer maintains responsibility for the virtual machines they run on the infrastructure, plus configuration like network and storage policies. Let’s take a deeper dive.. you can also find out more from the VMware Cloud on Dell EMC product page, or the VMware Cloud on Dell EMC Solution Overview Brief.
VMware Cloud on Dell EMC can be used in any location the customer has authority to land equipment into. A site survey needs to be carried out before kit is shipped and installed. VMware is the single point of contact for support (unless you are purchasing through Dell APEX, more on that at the end of this post). For support issues that require an on-site fix, a Dell engineer will attend, but VMware will manage that support case directly. The subscription price per-node is inclusive of all hardware, software, licensing, support, and services, outlined in the graphic below.
The VMware SRE boundary ends at the LAN link into the customers network (beyond the ToR switches), VMware teams have no access beyond this point. Equally, the customer boundary ends at the LAN link between the SDDC and the VeloCloud Edge devices in the rack. The VeloCloud Edge devices provide connectivity over VMware’s SD-WAN using a secure IPSEC tunnel, and will need outbound connectivity on ports TCP 443 and UDP 2426.
There are multiple security processes in place to protect against unauthorised access. For example, in order to access a customer environment, a support engineer must generate one-time, time-sensitive credentials, which require a support case to be raised in the system. All activity is logged and monitored by VMware’s Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC), and can also be logged into a similar customer setup. Further references and information can be found in the VMware Cloud on Dell EMC Shared Responsibility Model Overview.
VMware Cloud on Dell EMC hosts come in standardised ‘T-Shirt’ sizes to optimise CPU, memory, and storage resources. Currently there are 6 different node sizes from extra small through extra large. You can find full specifications of the node sizes and rack types in the VMware Cloud on Dell EMC Service Data Sheet. Here is a quick run down of the sizing naming convention:
Why VMware Cloud on Dell EMC?
You’ll see me advocate public cloud a lot on this blog, but on-premises infrastructure often has its use cases. Data sovereignty, regulatory and compliance, workload to data proximity, latency requirements, local control, and existing investments all spring to mind. Running infrastructure at the edge is also becoming more prominent and overlaps with some of these use cases. As systems are more distributed, and consumers have more choice, there are many benefits in creating consistent application, infrastructure, and operating experiences across private cloud, public cloud, and edge locations.
VMware Cloud on Dell EMC benefits from a cloud operating and delivery model, whilst being classed as an on-premises service. This means that regulatory and data sovereignty requirements can be satisfied as all customer data is held on the local hardware. The VMware SD-WAN appliances and VMware Cloud portal are only used for management, without any further access into the customers network. VI admins continue to use vCenter Server as normal to manage virtual machines, however they no longer need to worry about maintaining the underlying infrastructure. IT teams now benefit from a managed service operating model with a predictable subscription-based monthly or annual outgoing, without the hardware ownership depreciation and management overhead.
VMware Cloud on Dell EMC Use Cases
A great use case for VMware Cloud on Dell EMC is VDI. Whether or not you have data or application proximity requirements, the Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) and node size configurations fit exceptionally well with virtual desktops utilising hyper-threading and instant clone technology. The SDDC can be built as a brand new pod, or used to extend an existing pod within the customers environment.
At the time of writing Horizon perpetual licenses can be used to run virtual desktops on VMware Cloud on Dell EMC, along with existing Microsoft licensing. A common consideration of moving VDI to the cloud is around Microsoft license mobility for Windows, Office 365, and SQL, and the requirement for Horizon Universal. Microsoft treat this solution as customer on-premises, which means that implementing VMware LCaaS delivers the best of both worlds. You can read more about the VDI use case in the VMware Horizon Deployed on VMware Cloud on Dell EMC technical overview.
As well as VDI, other popular use cases for VMware Cloud on Dell EMC include data centre modernisation, a change in IT funding model, application modernisation, and services with low latency, sensitive data, or data sovereignty requirements. VMware Cloud on Dell EMC integrates seamlessly with existing on-premises environments, with continuity of third party tools and processes already in place, such as backups, monitoring, and security. Hybrid Linked Mode allows single pane of glass management of vCenter Servers across IaaS and self-managed infrastructure. You can find out more about the benefits of VMware Cloud on Dell EMC, including Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) improvements, in the VMware Cloud Economics data sheet.
Getting Started with VMware Cloud on Dell EMC
VMware Cloud on Dell EMC can be ordered, customised, and scaled through the VMware Cloud portal. Delivery and installation takes place in a matter of weeks, including the site survey. Check with your VMware or Dell account team for up to date time timelines, I have been quoted between 4-8 weeks at the time of writing (early 2022) which may fluctuate depending on hardware availability. The service is available in the UK, USA, France, and Germany, with plans to roll out to further regions.
When ordering the service, the customer can select the rack type and see full details of the host capacity, network bandwidth, height in rack units, and power configuration. The customer will be asked to confirm that the site location meets the rack requirements, including rack dimensions, power source, and environmental variables such as temperature and humidity.
Next the customer will be asked to select the host type, the number of hosts, and provide the networking settings. A CIDR block is needed for the management subnets, including rack out-of-band management, SDDC management, and the VMware SD-WAN appliances. It is very important that the IP ranges are correct and do not overlap with any existing networks. Changing these values post-order will cause additional complexity and delays.
Ports TCP 443 and UDP 2426 will need to be open outbound to connect to VMware Cloud. The term commitment is also selected during the order process, and the term begins when the SDDC is deployed and activated from the VMware Cloud console. You can track the status of the order at any time from the portal.
When the rack arrives on-site it is fully cabled and ready to be connected to the customer environment. The ToR switches are physically connected to the existing upstream network using customer provided SFP adapters and copper or fibre cables. Dynamic routing can be configured using eBGP, facilitating fast routing failover in the event of a ToR switch failure or upstream switch failure. Static routing can also be used but is less optimal.
Once the SDDC is deployed the L3 ECMP uplink connectivity between the ToR switches and the existing upstream network can be configured from the VMware Cloud console.
After setup is complete the service maintains operational consistency with existing VMware environments; for example virtual machines are managed using vCenter Server, and new networks are created using NSX-T. For more information review the VMware Cloud on Dell EMC Data Sheet, or the more comprehensive VMware Cloud on Dell EMC Technical Overview.
Another great place to get started is the VMware Cloud Tech Zone. You can find detailed white papers, reference architectures, technical demos, and hands on labs for VMware Cloud on Dell EMC specifically at the VMware Cloud on Dell EMC Tech Zone.
VMware Cloud on Dell EMC vs Dell APEX Cloud Services
As outlined in the introduction of this post, many organisation are moving to as-a-service and subscription services. Dell, along with VMware, have recognised this shift and made many of their compute and storage platforms available on managed and subscription based plans. Dell APEX Cloud Services is the self-service portal where Dell customers can configure and order such solutions.
Dell APEX Cloud Services with VMware Cloud, allows Dell customers to order VMware Cloud on Dell EMC directly through Dell. Although this may seem confusing, it gives customers an alternative purchasing route which can help leverage existing commercial agreements, credits, partners, and relationships.
The core technical concepts of the solution outlined above all remain the same. The key difference is that when purchasing through Dell APEX, the customer is buying directly from Dell (instead of VMware), and Dell are the single point of contact for all support and maintenance (instead of VMware). Whilst the order process remains fundamentally the same, the screenshots above are of the VMware Cloud portal, and so the Dell APEX portal will look slightly different.