Now includes: Instructions to build your own vBlock!
vBlocks are especially confusing because the noun “vBlock” starts with a little ‘v’ so you’d think that these things were a virtual something…but they’re not, they are physical. [Ed: See Kenny's comment below for 'v' clarification] What exactly is inside a vBlock is the interesting element, according to one official document they contain “Units of IT infrastructure”…I’m sure that there’s a more vague way of describing the inner workings of the vBlock but I can’t think of one offhand!
Another description I found described a vBlock as a “reference architecture” delivered in a box. I thought that this was even less helpful until it dawned on me that’s exactly what they are:
- Let’s start with the most fundamental thing. If you buy a vBlock you’ll receive a box with something in it, not a just link to a download. It is a physical device with pre-installed software – like a Dell computer I guess but it is built to really only do one thing…host virtual systems.
- It was created by three companies – VMware, Cisco and EMC so the technology is proprietary
- Basically these three companies sat down and said asked the question, “what would we deliver jointly to a customer who wanted a virtual datacenter in a box?” Rather than just writing a theoretical joint “reference architecture” paper they actually delivered the components ready to roll.
So, what exactly is in a vBlock? Rather than describing the parts in an abstract way I thought that I could build my own version using common household objects…well common in a household full of nerds. This way you’ll be able to associate the core industrial-strength components with things you are probably more familiar with.
A vBlock has five main components…the hardware bits (processing engine, the network pieces, the storage) and the software (virtualization and general management). There are three models 0,1 & 2 but we will stick with vBlock 1 as an example. The vBlock 1 is comprised of the following which I’ll demystify below: “Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS), Nexus 1000v and MDS, EMC’s CLARiiON storage (secured by RSA), and the VMware vSphere platform”.
Here’s how I built the “vBlock-Chapman edition ®” compared side-by-side with the original.
Processing Power, Rack and Network Stuff
- The vBlock 1 has the Cisco Unified Computing System which includes between 16 and 32 blades of processing power, a Nexus 1000v network switch and an MDS storage interface.
- I found a AMD ATHLON II 250 3.0GHz X2 DUAL CORE BAREBONES PC on eBay ($259) and plus 4GB memory ($48). I added a 10/100M PCI Ethernet LAN adapter ($4.59) and a 4 Port SATA SERIAL ATA IDE PCI CONTROLLER ($3.99).
- The vBlock 1 has EMC’s CLARiiON storage (secured by RSA) with up to 64 TB of storage.
- I found a used WD WD10EADS 1TB Internal Desktop SATA Hard Drive for $52 inc. shipping. Mine was not secured by RSA but it was secured by two lengths of duct tape because I it didn’t quite fit in the case.
Virtualization and Management Software
- The vBlock 1 has the VMware vSphere, vCenter, UCS management, Ionix UIM, Navisphere plus some other major league tools and reporting software.
- I downloaded VMware player ($free), and SpeedUpMyPC 2011 ($29) which optimizes my memory, disk usage and ‘boosts my CPU’…according to their pop-up infected website.
- The vBlock comes with a mass of fabric provisioning hardware and software.
- My fabric was stick on one side and consisted of 2 rolls of duct tape - I had some real problems getting all of the pieces working. I guess starting off with a reference architecture of my own might have been a good idea.
Hopefully comparing the contents of the the vBlock with what more common home PC components gives you the general idea. A vBlock is the is the hardware, interfaces, storage and software needed to run a virtual datacenter delivered in a pre-configured box.
Pricing So, my vBlock-Chapman Edition cost me $396.58 including tax and shipping. If I’d used the old PC in my closet which has onboard storage and networking then my vBlock would be sub-$100 but I wanted to level the playing fields! BTW, the VCE vBlock will cost you between $1M and $2.8M.
One small differentiator is that the vBlock-Chapman edition will probably run one small virtual machine (if you’re lucky) whereas the vBlock will run between 800 and 3,000 virtual machines so it might be more appropriate.
Note to the VCE coalition – Don’t be scared…I’m not really going into business in competition, this is just for illustrative purposes.
 I work for EMC but not in the hardware division – those guys seem to make some sort of big disk drives…I’m told it is more complex than that but I’m not so sure. I might check it out at EMC World just in case the idea catches on.