Update VMware looks like it is about to start selling hardware.
The idea seems outrageous given the company has spent the last year talking up software-defined data centres, and the last decade suggesting that any application or physical appliance can and should be bundled up into a virtual machine running on an utterly anodyne server.
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But Virtzilla has decided the time is right for a product to be known as “MARVIN” that will offer "hyperconverged" compute and storage.
Evidence for MARVIN's existence comes from two sources.
One is this trademark filing describing MARVIN as “Computer hardware for virtualization; computer hardware enabling users to manage virtual computing resources that include networking and data storage”.
The second source is the tweet below, which depicts a poster for MARVIN on a VMware campus.
Spotted Marvin on VMware campus during a break this morning "first hyperconverged infrastructure appliance " pic.twitter.com/1iIPocjREX— Fletcher Cocquyt (@Cocquyt) June 7, 2014
The Register has been told, by sources familiar with competitive intelligence commissioned by a VMware rival, that MARVIN will be a stack-in-a-box comprising four servers packing up to 24 disks apiece.
Each MARVIN unit will be capable of running VMware's VSAN virtual storage array and other applications. A single file system will mean the servers' disks present as a pool of storage accessible by all.
MARVIN may be co-marketed by VMware and EMC.
Even in the crazy web of co-opetition that is the converged infrastructure, MARVIN may not make all of VMware's partners paranoid as it will not be aimed at signed-off-stacks like Netapp FlexPods. Nor will Marvin be competition for the VMware/EMC/Cisco VCE joint venture, which it will sidestep by aiming for niche roles rather than the whole-of-data-centre position VCE covets.
How the likes of Dell, IBM and SuperMicro will react is anyone's guess, as all have tuned servers to operate as VSAN nodes. Indeed, all server-makers may find MARVIN affronting if VMware competes with their kit in a "all servers are equal but ours are more equal" model.
If VMware pitches MARVIN as a server/SAN, Vulture South imagines that it might argue MARVIN is ideal hardware for software-defined data centres by suggesting it is easier to build a hardware-independent control plane when hardware is built with that role in mind. If it does use that line of argument, it will represent a remarkable return to favour for direct-attached storage
Another possibility is that MARVIN could include EMC's ScaleIO, to give that product a physical embodiment.
VMware has responded to The Reg's request for more data on MARVIN with the following block of text:
"Per VMware corporate policy, we don’t comment on rumor or speculation. That said, VMware is not in the hardware business, we are a software company. In this model, we have a long history of working closely with our OEM partners to deliver the best hardware/software combination to our customers. Separately, in the case of VMware Virtual SAN, we have solid relationships with our OEM partners and early uptake has been strong.”
Might that response suggest MARVIN is a reference platform VMware's OEM partners can use to create converged infrastructure boxen pre-loaded with lots of Virtzillaware? Other hints we're getting suggest we'll know once VMworld rolls around.