VMware announces EVO:RAIL , a turnkey appliance  offering SDDC in a box featuring vSphere  and Virtual SAN



This post is part of a serie blogposts on VMworld. For an overview of VMworld announcements see this post. 




We have seen a lot of exciting developments on hyper-converged systems and software defined storage in the recent years.

VMware released their software defined storage solution called VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN) in 2013. VSAN is an important component of a Software Defined Datacenter or SDDC. Building a SDDC using traditional hardware  components is a complex task. Compute, storage and networking are often managed by different teams. Besides organizational and process challenges also support on those components is a challenge as there is not a single point of contact. Vendors are likely to start blaming another vendor in case of technical problems.

Converged infrastructure solutions like VCE vBlock and  Cisco/NetApp FlexPod greatly help to improve agility and simplicity while promising guarantees about performance and proven hardware compatibility. Also these offer a single contact for support. However these systems are pretty expensive to buy. Also it costs time to get the value out of these large racks.

So in the last couple of years we have seen a big increase in hyper-converged systems. These systems which  take the concept of converged systems but in much smaller building blocks and more automation. Nutanix and SimpliVity are examples of those systems.

Now VMware indirectly enters the market of hyper-converged systems. Not by selling hardware but providing software which enables OEM-partners  to sell SDDC appliances and enter this interesting market.

The software VMware announced today at VMworld 2014 is named EVO:RAIL

The appliance will initially be sold by these 6 vendors:

Dell, Fujitsu, Supermicro, EMC, Inspur and Net One

Supermicro is one of the hardware vendors offering an appliance based on VMware EVO:RAIL. See the pressrelease here and info on the appliance here.

Also Dell announced today it will use EVO:RAIL software. Two appliances are available.

  • Dell Engineered Solution for VMware EVO: RAIL, Virtual Infrastructure Edition – A solution for general purpose workloads which enables customer rapidly deploy and scale VMware based virtual infrastructure. Available  in September 2014
  • Dell Engineered Solution for VMware EVO: RAIL, VMware Horizon 6 – VDI specific solution that allows customers to quickly roll and scale infrastructure for virtual desktops to end users based on business demand. This one will be available later this year

Each appliance has 4 nodes. Customers cannot buy a rack with a single node. So if more capacity is required a full appliance (4 nodes) needs to be acquired. This is different to Nutanix where customers can extend capacity with single nodes.


So let’s have an in-depth look into EVO:RAIL!


VMware produced 4 technical video’s on EVO:RAIL

The VMware EVO:RAIL landing page is here



Media has been reporting about a strong indication VMware was working on a new project called Marvin. Marvin was the engineering name for the product we now know as EVO:RAIL. Marvin as a project started around January 2013.

Also project Mystic was mentioned by a couple of websites. Mystic was the same project as Marvin but Mystic was used as a project name in the cooperation with the hardware vendors taking part in EVO:RAIL.

The result of a lot of development is called EVO:RAIL. This is a hardware  appliance which is based on a minimum of 4 nodes which are housed in a 2U enclosure. VMware will not be selling hardware. So the appliance will be manufactured, delivered and supported by selected OEM partners.

The current version of EVO:RAIL supports a maximum of 4 appliances, each with 4 nodes/ESXi hosts. So a total of 16 ESXi hosts are supported. The minimum configuration for EVO:RAIL is a single appliance with 4 hosts.

As said, EVO:RAIL appliances are not sold by VMware but by selected OEM partners. It is a kind of franchise model in which VMware supplies the EVO:RAIL software, marketing and the technical design while the OEM vendor sells & supports the product.

Simplified setup of EVO:RAIL in less than 15 minutes

The appliance is preinstalled with vSphere 5.5 Enterprise Plus, vCenter Server Appliance (vCSA) and Virtual SAN. Also installed is vCenter Log Insight. On top of that and this is what makes it a turn-key appliance with a lot of simplicity is the setup wizard. This wizard is based on HTML5 (no flash used) so the web based console for configuration of the appliance can be accessed from any device. Whether it is an iPad, a MacBook, a Linux system or a Windows based system.

As soon as the appliance is powered on, the administrator connects to a wizard driven configuration tool. This wizard asks for a naming convention for the ESXi hosts, IP-ranges for vMotion, Virtual SAN, ESXi management, Active Directory settings, NTP configuration  and for host passwords. Thereafter the appliance will automatically configure the nodes. 10 to 15  minutes after powering on the appliance administrators can start creating virtual machines.


Adding a new appliance to an existing EVO:RAIL system is very simple. The management console will automatically discover a new appliance has been powered on and is connected to the network. A simple wizard will add the nodes of the appliance to the existing vSphere/VSAN cluster.


Management of EVO:RAIL can be done usign the vSphere Web Client or using the EVO:RAIL console. The console has limited features compared to the vSphere Web Client. For instance the console is limited to select from three virtual machine sizes during provisioning. The main purpose of the console is to allow non-IT staff to manage virtual machines using a simplified user interface.

The image below shows a part of the console.

evo-rail 1

The name EVO:RAIL is a combination of a product family name and a product name. EVO stands for EVOlution. Future VMware products will also get a name stating with EVO:

RAIL stands for the appliance being the smallest component of a rack. You just RAIL the appliance into a rack, connect power and network and ready to go. So Marvin being the name during development has been replaced by RAIL.

Besides RAIL VMware also anounce another solution. EVO:RACK is the big brother of EVO;RAIL. It scales to many racks and it targeted at large organization who are looking into private clouds or public clouds. In addition to the EVO:RAIL components, RACK has the vCloud Suite and NSX.
More on EVO:RACK here. 

The appliance can be ordered by customers as a single SKU. It contains the hardware, the software and support and subscription. Depending on the OEM there might be bundles which sell switches as well.

You might think: hey, this sounds very similar to the VSAN Ready nodes. Well, there are some important differences:

  1. VSAN Ready Nodes is just certified server hardware. You need to order and install vSphere and VSAN separately. EVO:RAIL is a single SKU for hardware, software and support&subscription.
  2. VSAN Ready Nodes do not come with the wizard which automates the rollout of vSphere and VSAN.
  3. EVO:RAIL is a single call to the OEM partner.
  4. EVO:RAIL offers simplicity and a short time to value.

Hardware specifications

VMware has some strict guidelines on the hardware specifications used by hardware vendors for EVO:RAIL. You might be aware of serious issues with VSAN in the past. Even though a DELL PERC controller was listed on the VSAN compatibility list a customer experienced serious downtime during a rebuild of VSAN. This was caused by the queue depth of the controller.

VMware now requires as a  minimum the specifications below for any EVO:RAIL appliance:

Per 2U/4N platform

  • Internal Drive Bays – up to 24 hot plug 2.5 drives
  • Dual powersupply – rated between 1600W

Per Compute, Storage and Network Node

  • Dual socket – Intel Xeon E5 2620v2 CPUs, 6-core
  • Memory – up to 192 GB
  • 1 x Expansion Slots PCI-E
  • Disk controller with pass through capabilities (Virtual SAN requirement) and minimal queue depth of 600!

Internal Storage

  • 1 x 146 GB SAS 10K-RPM HDD or 32 GB SATADOM (ESXi boot)
  • 1 x enterprise grade SSD up to 400 GB (Virtual SAN requirement for read/write cache)
  • 3 x 1.2 TB SAS 10K-RPM HDD (Virtual SAN data store)

External Interfaces

  • 2 x Network – 10 GbE RJ45 or SFP+
  • 1 x Management RJ45 – 100/1000 NIC


As you can see no requirements for graphical adapters which enhance the user experience in VDI or SDB environments. Cards like the Terradici APEX PCoIP Hardware Accelerator are not yet available in EVO:RAIL appliance.

The following requirements are for the networking

  • 10 GbE networking infrastructure
  • IP ranges and VLAN IDs for Management, vSphere vMotion, and Virtual SAN networks
  • Meets Virtual SAN networking requirements
  • Layer-2 multicast
  • IGMP Snooping + IGMP Querier
  • IPv6 enabled!

The three use case scenario’s EVO:RAIL is targeted at are:

  1. Virtual Desktop Infrastructures (VDI)
  2. Remote Branch Offices (ROBO)
  3. Virtual Private clouds

The appliance is sized to run about 100 general purpose server workloads  or 250 View VDI workstations.

For this sizing, VMware defines a general purpose server with the following specs: Average of 2 vCPUs, 6GB vMEM, 60GB virtual disk

VMware sizing of  a View VDI workstation: average of 2 vCPUs, 2GB vMEM, 30GB virtual disk

At the moment of general availability EVO:RAIL will be available as a single hardware model. So there is no choice in the configuration of the nodes like amount of internal memory, CPU capacity, disk configuration and graphical cards.

Standard virtual switch

EVO:RAIL used standard virtual switches. Which is weird because when VSAN is used vSphere Distributed Switches are advised. Included in the VSAN license is the use of vSphere Distributed Switch. 

In a future release of EVO:RAIL vSphere Distributed Switches will be included.

Integration with other VMware solutions

VMware is looking into integration of EVO:RAIL with VMware Horizon View, NSX and vCAC. Again at GA the appliance is pre-installed with ESXi 5.5, vCenter and Log Insight. For software update VMware Update Manager is not used anymore. EVO:RAIL uses its own method to deploy software patches and updates.

One of the reasons for VMware to create EVO:RAIL is the enormous traction of hyper-converged systems. However not many vendors are yet able offer a turn-key system which has a guaranteed performance and which has a single contact support. Nutanix is market leader.  SimpliVity  is another vendor in this market space. With EVO:RAIL now other server vendors can start selling a hyper-converged system.

This also implies EVO:RAIL cannot be downloaded. It is only available to OEM partners.

One of the key characteristics of EVO:RAIL is simplicity obtained by automation. The mascot for the development team is a robot. The robot or android icon is seen at many places in the management interface.

Simplicity is also proven by the licensing. Customers only require one license. Once the license is filled in the management console the system is fully licensed.

One of the use cases for EVO:RAIL is remote offices. An EVO:RAIL appliance can be shipped to the office, wired by a non-IT employee and then configured from a remote location. Besides using the setup wizard, the appliance can also be configured using a JSON configuration file. Just load the file and ready. This ensures a consistent configuration across multiple remote offices.

While the configuration of the appliance is simple and can be automated, the configuration of switches is still a manual task. You will need to configure various VLAN’s for virtual machine traffic, vMotion traffic, Virtual SAN traffic and management. In the future VMware might automate this process as well.

EVO:RAIL is expected to be general available (GA) to OEM partners in Q3 2014 while appliances will be available for shipping to customers end of the year.

To test EVO:RAIL yourself there is a Hands-On lab at VMworld. The software itself will not be available for download. OEM partners might be offering appliances for testing and proof of concepts.

The VMware EVO:RAIL datasheet is here.

More information on EVO:RAIL at VMworld US 2014 session SDDC1337 – VMware Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Technical Deepdive

This session is held Tuesday at 11:00 and on Wednesday at 11:30 during VMworld US. This session will also be available at VMworld Europe.

There is a VMworld session (# 3245) on EVO:RAIL on Monday August 25 as well

Some blogs on EVO:RAIL

VMware blog by Duncan Epping Meet VMware EVO:RAIL™ – A New Building Block for your SDDC
Mware EUC blog VMware Horizon and EVO: RAIL – Value Add For Customers

VMware Office of the CTO blog by Chris Wolf Introducing the VMware EVO Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Solutions

Yellow-bricks.com Introducing VMware EVO:RAIL a new hyper-converged offering!

NTpro.nl VMware EVO: RAIL Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Appliance

Wahlnetwork: VMware Announces Software Defined Infrastructure with EVO:RAIL

vClouds.nl VMworld 2014: Introducing VMware EVO: RAIL

EnterpriseTech VMware Takes On Hyperconvergence Upstarts With EVO:RAIL
ladan.fr VMware EVO:RAIL – New Hyper-Converged Solution By VMware

Wooditwork.com VMware Marvin comes alive as EVO:Rail, a Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Appliance

TheSaffaGeek #VMworld Announcement #1 VMware EVO:RAIL – What is it?

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current ye@r *