Cisco’s New Data Center Products Trump HP’s New Avaya Partnership

HP continues to plug-the-holes against Cisco by signing a three-year agreement with Avaya.  The agreement calls for HP sales and services teams to be trained and certified in Avaya call center and unified communications.  HP sales teams will have the ability to resell Avaya and offer outsourced management.

What’s interesting about this announcement is that HP now has agreements with multiple competitors for the next generation data center including Brocade and Avaya.  If you add the potential overlap between Avaya and Alcatel-Lucent mixed with a bit of Microsoft then you have the danger of some explosive conflict.  Of course, HP is no stranger to handling this type of conflict.  However, would a future Avaya acquisition make better strategic sense for HP?

Meanwhile, as HP strengthens their partnerships, Cisco strengthens their next generation data center arsenal.  Once again, Cisco has trumped their competitors by introducing FabricPath, a superset of the emerging IETF standard called Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL).  Remember, Brocade is committed to TRILL within their recently announced Brocade Virtual Cluster Switching (VCS).

FabricPath is an upgrade to NX-OS that combines the best of layer-3 routing and layer-2 switching allowing for scaleable data centers with predictable network performance.  Take the following example from Cisco that was featured in an article by Kevin Komiega in InfoStor:

“With spanning-tree you have multiple links which are blocked and a high level of oversubscription. With FabricPath you can build a scalable, flat, non-blocking network with two layers and no oversubscription with a 16X improvement in bandwidth performance,” says Nikhil Kelshikar, product marketing manager for Cisco Nexus 7000 Solutions.

Additionally, FabricPath and Cisco’s new F-Series modules for the Nexus 7000 allow Cisco to combine six Nexus 7000 switches into a single product.  Cisco is offering a pre-packaged solution called FabricPath Switching System (FSS) that can be grouped in clusters of eight to allow for 160Tbps of raw switching capacity.  Wow, did I just write that?  Not to mention the fact that Cisco just took the air out of Juniper’s Stratus Unified Fabric.

If that wasn’t enough, Cisco announced the availability of a software release of WAAS that can be run as on on-demand service on the Cisco ISR.   Next, Cisco rolled-out new cloud deployment professional services and Cisco introduced a new Catalyst 4948-E Switch with increased capacity, performance, and automation.

Finally, Cisco is introducing Cisco Intelligent Automation Solutions for IT Services.  Building on Cisco’s acquisition of Tidal Software, Inc., they are releasing new versions of the Tidal Enterprise Scheduler and Tidal Enterprise Orchestrator.  As any reader of this blog knows, I am very interested in the autonomic aspects of the next generation data center and I hope to obtain additional information about this solution.

In this latest round of the battle for the next generation data center, Cisco’s products trump HP’s partnerships.

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Quick Alert: HP and Brocade; “…Be Nice Until It’s Time to Not Be Nice…”

The HP Technology Forum 2010 is in full swing as HP and Brocade continue to “be nice” and reaffirm their decade old partnership.  According to Brocade’s press release, “…Brocade and HP enjoy the largest SAN customer base with over 3.5 million HP B-series ports installed.”  Note: HP OEM’s Brocade’s technology under the HP StorageWorks brand.

What did they announce? A new 64-port 8Gbps Fibre Channel module for HP’s StorageWorks SAN switches, a new host bus adapter card for HP’s BladeSystem C-class servers, and a the availability of HP StorageWorks P2000 G3 Smart Array that creates a deployment ready bundle of storage arrays, SAN switches, and HBAs.

Brocade has a two-pronged strategy: Arm the likes of HP and IBM with OEM’d products and provide a competitive vision of the next generation data center within Brocade One.  This “have your cake and eat it too” strategy is needed to combat Brocade’s largest rivals while shielding them from Cisco.  However, whatever revenue benefits this brings Brocade in the short-term may be overshadowed by an inevitable showdown between Brocade Foundry and HP ProCurve in the long-term.  After all, if you are Brocade you don’t spend $3 billion on Foundry Networks to play third or fourth fiddle and if you are HP you don’t spend $2.7 billion on 3Com to “margin share” with an OEM.

In the end, I’m reminded of a scene in Road House where Dalton says; “I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice.”  And how will you know when not to be nice?  When Mark Hurd says so.

For the Datacenter, Forget E=MC^2, Sav= (MC^4+AV) Sec

Why do we need Cisco UCS, HP Adaptive Infrastructure, IBM Stratus, Liquid Computing, and more? 

Savings
equals…

Management
Management is a critical component of any datacenter.  A datacenter may be defined as a symphony of hardware and software spanning multiple disciplines that is expected to be “always-on” and never to fail.  If you couple this with advances in virtualization, the “green movement”, and the need to understand a complete Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of datacenter operations, then management is the only answer.  Management is not intended to replace the human element, rather to augment it through automation that allows human beings to tame an ever complex environment.

Examples of this renewed interest in management are plentiful; HP buys Opsware and Mercury Interactive, BMC buys BladeLogic, Cisco partners with BMC, Cisco UCS Manager, EMC buys Configuresoft, Voyence, SMARTS, and Infra, and more.

Current
Current, also known as power, usage within the datacenter continues to increase at a staggering rate.  In fact, the price for said current may actually outpace both the IT equipment and the facility itself.  It’s not simply servers, but routers, switches, wan acceleration devices, security devices, sans, nas, lights, laptops, monitors, and more that cause the bills to continually increase.  Couple this with the additional demands of cooling and redundancy and you have a real crisis on your hands.

An example of changes in the industry may be seen in ActivePower’s efforts in the areas of power and environmentally friendly “green” solutions.  Additionally, we might have been given a glimpse to one answer to this problem, as Google has made a $10 million investment in eSolar; inventors of Utility-Scale Solar Power.

Cabling
Cabling is an essential ingredient to any datacenter design and one that has the potential to provide significant cost savings in the next generation datacenter.  It started with the blade server revolution including embedded switches, and may very well end with Cisco’s UCS, HP’s Adaptive Infrastructure, or IBM’s Stratus datacenter initiatives. 

Illustrating this point, Cisco has published a case study with Saint Joseph Health System (SJHS) in which the hospital claimed an 85% savings in cabling costs by using the Cisco Nexus equipment.

Cooling
Current generates heat, heat requires cooling, cooling requires current, and around-and-around we go.  In the old days, you simply purchased the appropriate amount of cooling to keep your datacenter at a cool and constant temperature.  Today, upwards of 40% of your datacenter energy bill is from cooling.  Additionally, we have “green” concerns and use PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) and DCE (Data Center Efficiencies) metrics to calculate how well we are doing and compare datacenters against others.  Incidentally, chillers, humidifiers, and CRAC’s (Computer Room Air Conditioning) contribute handsomely to these calculations.

A concept called adaptive cooling is a promising technology to solve the cooling challenge.  The premise is today’s equipment manufactures build systems that are more reliable and are designed to “handle the heat.”  Sensors are used to form baselines and models that are used to optimize modern cooling techniques.  Yahoo improved cooling and energy savings of 31% by partnering with SynapSense.

Capacity
Once thought to be endless, datacenters are rapidly running out of capacity.  By capacity, I am referring to everything from floor space to power and cooling to facilities themselves.  This has lead to the innovation of a “datacenter in a box” which is offered by the likes of Sun, Rackable, HP, IBM, and more.  These containers allow datacenters to expand rapidly while offering innovative power and cooling options.  However, space alone won’t solve the capacity issue.  Therefore, the efforts by Cisco, IBM, HP, and others to create a new datacenter fabric that combines massively dense servers, storage, networking, security, and virtualization are so important.

Look no further than Facebook who has started construction on a custom datacenter with over 140,000 square foot capacity at a cost of $188 million.  Note that they are touting the efficiency of this new datacenter including the potential of power and cooling cost savings.

Agility
As Ronald Reagan famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” so too can we proclaim the tearing down of the walls between the silos within the datacenter.  We no longer can allow storage, networking, servers, security, applications, facilities, and more to operate independently of each other.  By operating as a unified team, the datacenter becomes more agile, proactive, efficient, and better equipped to handle all challenges. 

Examples of this movement is detected within software vendors (BMC, HP) unifying the management of these disciplines and hardware (Cisco, Juniper, Brocade) vendors integrating the functions into a single chassis.

Virtualization
No equation of savings within the datacenter would be complete without discussing virtualization.  While the ideas of virtualization have been around for years, it’s the application of this technology that has changed the industry forever.  Advances in network, server, application, and storage virtualization impact cost savings across the equation.

Examples include VMware vSphere, Citrix XenServer, Sun xVM, Cisco UCS (Nexus 1000v), Arcadia (Cisco/EMC JV)

Security
Security has and will continue to be a major concern within the datacenter.  The number of attacks and sophistication of these attacks continues to rise.  With the advent of Cloud Computing or shared services running on a common platform, the potential risks of a security breach are enormous.  Additionally, security must span all the disciplines within the data center while taking into account user access/privileges, data (in-motion and at-rest), and more.  Finally, security must continue to evolve while adhering to compliance and regulatory pressures.

Recent activities in this area include Cisco acquiring Rohati, SAIC purchasing CloudShield, the growth of Tufin and AlgoSec, and next generation firewall providers such as Palo Alto Networks.

IBM fires directly at Cisco’s revenue!

It seems that my friends at IBM have finally realized that Cisco is serious about taking them out. As I have stated before, Cisco has feasted on smaller rivals and shrewed acquisitions. However, they have never faced a competitor with the talent, resources, patents, and reach such as IBM.

A few days ago, IBM launched a patent assault on Cisco by cross-licencing technology to BLADE. Today, IBM is moving further away from Cisco and will begin selling Ethernet switching and routing products from Brocade. While IBM has dabbled with Juniper, Brocade is a serous enterprise threat to Cisco via their acquisition of Foundry Networks.

Cisco relies on IBM and IBM Global Services to resell their equipment to enterprises around the world. As IBM begins to diversify its portfolio, Cisco sales are sure to suffer. Combine this with the fact that Cisco faces the same issue with HP, and it could spell trouble.

Additionally, if Sun and/or Dell ever get their act together they could do some damage as well. Never mind the fact that Huawei’s growing like a weed, Nokia is looking to buy parts of Nortel, and Siemens is back on track, and Alcatel-Lucent looks like it is finally coming together. How many battles does Cisco want to fight at once? What about Cisco’s other divisions?

IBM isn’t going to cede the data center to Cisco or anyone else. Plus, IBM has the tools needed to manage the entire infrastructure; something Cisco must acquire (BMC). For now, let’s see if this three way war between Cisco, HP, and IBM leads to a victor or will someone unexpected arise? One thing is for sure, IBM’s going for the revenue jugular.

IBM begins Cisco recon with Blade

IBM quietly has entered into a patent cross licensing agreement with BLADE Network Technologies, Inc. BLADE was formed when Nortel sold parts of their Blade Server Switch Business Unit to Garnett & Helfrich Capital. For the past three years, BLADE has been providing IBM with data center networking solutions for their BladeCenter, iDataPlex, and System Cluster solutions.

Why is this announcement important? First, BLADE’s technology (via Nortel) is decent and innovative. Second, this announcement gives BLADE the ability to create products for the next generation data center to compete with the likes of Cisco and HP. Finally, IBM gets a vehicle (BLADE) to attack Cisco’s flank and create solutions around BLADE’s products.

But wait, doesn’t BLADE produce products for HP? Sure, but HP has all the pieces they need to produce next generation products without third party solutions. How much longer will that relationship last? Wouldn’t HP want ProCurve blades in their switches?

Time, money, M&A, and visionary determination are going to shape the next generation data center. IBM has been doing recon on this space for years and its time for them to act. IT is changing, are you?

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