It hasn't been lost on the IT vendor community and IT professionals that Cisco is absent from the VMware EVO:RAIL partner program. With all of the powerhouses participating in the program, you'd think that Cisco would jump right into the mix. Considering Cisco's growth in the server market and the fact that it doesn't currently have its own storage play, this opportunity appears to be ideal for Cisco.
EVO:RAIL with VSAN would make perfect sense -- or would it.
Cisco already participates with converged infrastructure with enterprise-focused partners EMC/VCE and NetApp. Both companies are significant contributors to the Cisco UCS businesses. Cisco jumped in with IBM to offer the VersaStack Integrated Solution seems like a customer control play on Cisco's part -- but a good one to potentially hedge against EMC/VCE and NetApp. Cisco also certified the Maxta software stack, and placed an investment in Stratoscale. Both of these attention-grabbing approaches are intended to turn UCS servers into a virtualization platform with their own storage fabric.
The partnerships continue with an all-flash option. For this solution Cisco has teamed up with Pure Storage to create FlashStack CI. While these solutions are all valuable in their own domain, take a minute to also consider what the company is doing with SimpliVity. At VMworld 2014, Cisco and SimpliVity announced a SimpliVity OmniStack Integrated Solution with Cisco UCS C-Series Rack-Mount systems that creates a data center out of the Cisco server platform that includes flash, replication and DR capabilities.
Okay, so while Cisco is not hitching its wagon to VMware EVO:RAIL, it has certainly broadened its portfolio of storage stack and complete data center appliances offerings over the last couple of months. And as Cisco begins the execution phase, it's essential that it focuses on the following:
Customer relationship. It's hard to argue against the fact that the IT vendor that has the strongest relationship with the customer has the greatest chance of success. This dynamic holds stronger than it ever has as IT explores cloud consumption models and alternative IT infrastructure investments. Cisco wants to be top of mind in these strategic times.
Trust: Some of these modern hyper-converged offerings like SimpliVity get extremely interesting when you look at what they can offer beyond the basic "check the box" server, storage, and hypervisor. Cisco and SimpliVity have the potential to change the way that customers protect workloads, replicate remotely, and implement DR strategies. This approach can potentially displace existing solutions. As a result Cisco go-to-market partners can turn on these features without having to become experts on a pile of software.
Competition. NetApp has already announced its EVO:RAIL solution, and let's assume that EMC/ VCE will turn to Lenovo. It absolutely does not mean they turn off the Cisco tap, but it does equate to a large chunk of revenue that Cisco has to inject into its other partnerships. This is great news for the partners, but it's key that Cisco picks the right market opportunity with each of them in order to maintain the UCS momentum in the market.
Market execution. Cisco needs to act as the primary systems integrator to align its multiple EVO:RAIL-like offerings with customer use-cases and cut through all the marketing hype. The broad portfolio is good for customer choice, but Cisco has to be super crisp with its customers on how each solution matches a customer requirements.
The IT infrastructure consumption model is changing, and Cisco is adapting its business model to these changes in a customer-friendly, as well as partner-friendly, manner. Be on the lookout for more activity since this is just the beginning. IT decision makers will be well-served to prioritize their key requirements and understand how each solution addresses their needs.