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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Three Cheers: Cisco Unleashes a UCS Surprise with ‘xBlocks’

With today’s webcast and subsequent announcements, Cisco showed their continued focus and commitment to the UCS platform.  The results are breathtaking; a new B230 M1 ½ blade with 16 cores and 2048/4096GB of memory, a new Nexus 5500 series that doubles the port density of the previous generation 1U models for up to 960Gbps of throughput, and virtual appliances for both Virtual Security and WAAS.  Perhaps the most interesting announcement of the webcast focused on VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) sporting a partnership between Cisco, Citrix, and NetApp that I’m dubbing xBlocks.

Like vBlocks, xBlocks maintain their own Reference Architecture that was jointly developed by Citrix and NetApp and validated by Cisco as a CVD (Cisco Validated Design).  Unlike vBlocks, xBlocks shed VMware for Citrix and offer an implementation based on Citrix’s XenDesktop infrastructure.  Additionally EMC is swapped for NetApp as they are the perfect non-competitive complement to Citrix.

While Cisco is heavily invested in VMware, this announcement demonstrates Cisco’s desire to broaden the UCS audience.  Of course, this isn’t the first time Cisco has ventured from VMware’s path as in June of 2010 Cisco announced a strengthening of their relationship with Red Hat and their KVM hypervisor.

Finally, Cisco confirmed 1700 UCS customers worldwide with 200 Unified Computing Authorized Technology Providers (ATP).  This means that Cisco almost doubled the total number of UCS customers from the quarter before.  If anyone doubted Cisco’s ability to disrupt the server market, then these numbers clearly demonstrate that Cisco is succeeding at an alarming rate to their competitors.

Is Cisco blowing up the old notion that innovation only comes from start-ups or small companies?  Are Chambers’ course corrections leading to a right hand turn and the complete transformation of an industry giant?  Is HP focused on this market or are they too busy buying and integrating companies?  Is Larry pacing his mansion contemplating how to leverage Sun to get into this fight?

Three cheers to Cisco:  innovators without baggage, partnerships without exclusivity, and a platform that is breathtaking.  What’s next, I can’t wait!

Vblocks: The Icing on Cisco UCS’s Cake

While Cisco, EMC, and VMware are excellent communicators, when it comes to Acadia they have missed the mark.  Acadia is the triumvirate’s joint venture that is headed by Michael Capellas of Compaq/HP fame.  Acadia’s tag line is Your Bridge To The Private Cloud and they are the guardians of the mythical Vblock Infrastructure Packages.

Acadia leverages the Vblock reference architecture that has been published by Cisco, EMC, and VMware.  The concept is to transform your datacenter into a giant grid with defined units that provide a set of services, with service levels, to a set of customers.  Vblocks allow for the rapid deployment of pre-integrated and validated solutions.  Currently there are over 300 Enterprise applications that are explicitly supported with over 20 supported operating systems.

Furthermore, the Vblocks have been organized into ‘levels’ that define the size and scope of their deployment.  Vblock 0 is an entry-level configuration designed for small datacenters, Vblock 1 is a mid-sized configuration, and Vblock 2 is a high-end configuration.  What comprises a Vblock and why should I care?

A Vblock is comprised of the following components:

  • Compute – Cisco UCS
  • Network – Cisco Nexus & MDS
  • Storage – EMC CLARiion
  • Hypervisor – VMware vSphere
  • Management – Various (VMware, Cisco, EMC, and 3rd Party ISVs)
  • Applications and Operating Systems

Why you should care is because Vblocks have the potential to fundamentally change how you deploy, test/validate, provide DR, guarantee SLAs, and purchase applications running within your datacenter.  It’s a tall order with an incredibly ambitious agenda, but the rewards are huge.  No longer will organizations have to test/validate configurations or define upgrade and back-up procedures for deployed applications as this has been completed ahead of time courtesy of Acadia and Vblocks.

While Cloud is becoming the most overused term next to CMDB, in this case it’s at least in the ballpark.  For the Cisco UCS architecture, coupled with the EMC’s V-Max, utilizing VMware’s Hypervisor is an awesome platform to provide public, private, or hybrid-cloud applications.  Furthermore, Acadia looks to take advantage of enhancements in Cisco UCS and VMware’s newly announced vDirector product.

The open question remains Acadia’s ability to execute and Cisco, EMC, and VMware’s ability to play nice together.  In the end, Vblocks are the icing on Cisco UCS’s Cake and provide more fire to Cisco’s feud with HP.

Quick Alert: EMC Scores With Greenplum; Can Cisco UCS Be Far Behind?

EMC is acquiring privately held Greenplum for an undisclosed sum.  Greenplum is a next generation warehousing database that offers massively parallel processing (MPP) and Scatter/Gather Streaming to provide analytics for private and public clouds.  Greenplum is an x86 based software solution that is challenging the likes of Oracle, Netezza, and Teradata. 

Interestingly enough, Oracle is an investor of Greenplum via their acquisition of Sun.  However, Oracle’s Exadata solution that is built on Sun hardware made Greenplum an expendable investment.  Meanwhile, EMC saw the opportunity to gain a foothold into this growing billion dollar market while continuing to fuel their storage business; huge databases equal huge storage requirements.

In the end, EMC has acquired a solid company that has held their own against their larger rivals.  With EMC’s ability to execute with a tenacious sales force, market presence, and stable financials coupled with new investments in the technology, Greenplum is sure to flourish.  Additionally, could a Cisco UCS appliance be far behind?

Think about it, traditionally data warehouses sit in their own silo within the data center.  One may argue this is because of the proprietary nature of these important systems, but this is slowly changing.   In Greenplum’s case they support Linux and Sun Solaris running on hardware from Dell, HP, Sun, and IBM.  Imagine EMC, in conjunction with VMware, fine tuning Greenplum’s software to work within Cisco’s UCS.  Instantly, you have a next generation data warehouse within a next generation data center architecture that gains all the benefits from Cisco’s UCS.

Quick Alert: Avaya’s Fire Sale Purchase vs. Cisco’s “Toaster Box”

Avaya is the latest to enter the next generation data center fight with their one-box-data-center strategy.  Avaya’s strategy is based upon the VSP 9000 switch that Avaya acquired from the great Nortel fire sale of 2009.  Confidence is high at Avaya as their Vice President and General Manager of data center solutions, Steven Bandrowczak, calls Cisco’s UCS a “toaster box” solution.

However, someone needs to remind Avaya that the Nortel VSP 9000 was announced on May 19, 2009 at Interop as an alternative to the Cisco Nexus 7000.  Note: The Cisco Nexus 7000 is currently shipping. The 9000 is built off their 8600 software running on Nortel’s Carrier Grade Linux coupled with a fully programmable network processor.  The last time I checked, UCS is lot more than a Nexus 7000 switch.

It’s a good thing Avaya is going to follow Nortel’s strategy of selling to existing Nortel switch customers because I don’t see Cisco, HP, or Juniper customers jumping ship to the untested combination of Avaya/Nortel.  Anyone remember the Cajun switch?

As far as the “toaster box” comment, if you don’t have something nice to say then…  It’s a bit revealing that as of today, Avaya has no intention of entering the other two pillars of the next generation strategy; namely servers or storage.  Instead, Avaya will rely on the status quo via other vendors to handle these issues.  Not very UCS or Converged Infrastructure like is it?

Avaya can take refuge in the fact that they have a formidable Communications Software Business, but they need to seek shelter in the battle for the next generation data center.  Of course, they have $900 million reasons to do otherwise.

Enterasys Joins the Datacenter Fight; Bringing a Knife to a Gun Fight

Enterasys joins the growing list of network equipment vendors unveiling their vaunted datacenter strategy with the hopes of derailing their larger competitor’s plans.  Enterasys’ hope hinges on a “vendor agnostic” datacenter strategy and is based on their S-series switches with their policy-based operations model.  By supporting multiple virtualization and storage vendors, Enterasys is banking the farm on best-of-breed architectures and emerging IEEE standards.

While Enterasys’ strategy looks good on a press release, it may have been their only option.  Faced with the reality that Dell has decided to team with Juniper Networks, IBM is remaining “neutral” (for now), HP does not need another switch, Brocade purchased Foundry Networks, and Cisco is Cisco, there is little room for Enterasys to partner with a major U.S. manufacturer.  However, would an International partnership make sense?  Aren’t they stronger outside of North America?

Additionally, does Enterasys really believe that Cisco, HP, and Brocade will not support 3rd party vendor solutions?  The last time I looked, Cisco’s MDS supports EMC, HDS, IBM, HP, NetApp, and more.  Cisco’s UCS-B supports multiple hypervisors including offerings from both VMware and Microsoft. Finally, do you remember Cisco’s Open Partner Ecosystem that “helps stimulate technology innovation, augment service delivery, and accelerate market adoption of Unified Computing”?  The same could be said, in varying degrees, about HP and Brocade.  Therefore, what is new or different about Enterasys’ solution?

Perhaps, Enterasys’ will attempt to differentiate their virtualization support via their superior policy-based security and templates.  However, isn’t that simply a different way to do virtual machine profile mapping ala Cisco and Brocade?  Don’t get me wrong; Enterasys has some very interesting and innovative technology but their lack of market power and limited product portfolio puts them at risk of getting lost in the shuffle.

In the end, Enterasys faces an uphill battle against their larger and higher profile competitors.  The war for the next generation datacenter is in full swing and Cisco and HP are proving plenty of “shock and awe” while Juniper, Brocade, Dell, and IBM have their guns locked and loaded.

In the future, Enterasys’ relationship with Siemens Enterprise Communications may yield additional firepower.  However, right now Enterasys is bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Brocade One: Real or Take-Over Bait?

On June 9, 2010, a special day for me, Brocade officially announced their converged data center strategy with the release of Brocade One. Brocade One has a familiar goal of simplifying the data center architecture while reducing costs.  Brocade plans on leveraging the assets of Foundry Networks (acquired by Brocade in 2008) while creating a “unified view of the data center as a network” (Brahm). 

With this announcement, Brocade is sounding the “all-hands” alarm and pointing the ship directly at both Cisco and Juniper. Cisco’s UCS continues to evolve into a formidable next generation data center architecture backed with new products and software offerings.  Meanwhile, Juniper’s Project Stratus isn’t due to be launched until 2011; fueling Juniper to sign an OEM agreement with Dell for next-generation networking.

No posting about the next-generation data center would be complete without mentioning both HP and IBM.  In May, HP announced that they are a founding member of the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF) along with Juniper, Brocade, Microsoft, and others (http://www.ucif.org).  IBM is notably absent from the UCIF along with Cisco; a coincidence or a sign of things to come?

Finally, while Brocade’s announcement is “interesting”, will anyone notice?  Brocade’s messaging isn’t as refined as their larger competitors and they are arguing that their competitors are putting intelligence in the server while they are putting it into the network.  <Insert Qualification Argument Here> One lingering question; Is Brocade serious about going at it alone or are they making themselves a more attractive take-over target?

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