Can Cisco Eat their EMC and Have Their NetApp To?

With 2010 nearing a close, could Cisco be contemplating another major acquisition to complete their next generation datacenter portfolio?  The last glaring hole within Cisco’s portfolio is their reliance on outside vendors for storage solutions.

Over the past few months, Cisco has patiently watched as HP purchased 3Par, EMC purchased Isilon, and Dell is acquiring Compellent.  Meanwhile, EMC’s arch nemesis NetApp continues to grow and innovate in a tough economy.

Further complicating matters, is Cisco’s reliance on the VCE, a partnership between VMware, Cisco, EMC, and Intel.  It is no coincidence that the current Vblock VCE Reference Architectures specifies EMC storage offerings (CLARiiON, Symmetrix, and Celerra).

Not to be left out of the party, NetApp entered into  ‘collaboration’ with Cisco and VMware creating FlexPod that delivers ‘leading computing, networking, storage, and infrastructure software components’.  It seems that Cisco isn’t the only one hedging their bets as VMware exerts a rebellious streak against their parent (EMC).

Cisco’s future hinges around UCS being adopted as a true next generation computing platform without legacy baggage.  Cisco did not go to war with HP while potentially jeopardizing their relationship with IBM only to be saddled with the competing interests of three large companies.

In the past, I have speculated that Cisco should simply purchase EMC thereby owing a majority stake in VMware.  However is NetApp a better choice?  After all, does VMware need to maintain a ‘Microsoft’ level of independence from the server vendors?  Would HP, IBM, Dell, etc. be inclined to sell a product that lines the pocket of Cisco?

Only Chambers (ok perhaps Ellison as well) would be as bold to acquire an enemy of one of their strategic partners.  By acquiring NetApp, Cisco would be able to offer innovative solutions such as storage blades for UCS or even accelerate the adoption of FCoE.  Imagine a new Cisco Architecture with Cisco UCS, Cisco Nexus, Cisco MDS, Cisco FlexPod, and Cisco Management with the availability of VMware, Citrix, Red Hat, or Microsoft virtualization.

In the end, Cisco could offer a true end-to-end solution as they continue to lead within the edge and core routing markets with near dominance in the switching market.  Furthermore, Cisco would stand alone as the only integrated next generation data center provider that does not develop or sell enterprise class applications such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, etc.  In effect, they become the Switzerland of computing against their rivals.

The only question is how long will Cisco be able to ‘Eat their EMC and have their NetApp to’? Don’t look now, but perhaps Larry (Oracle) will crash this party and make the decision for then.

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