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Cisco CEO John Chambers makes no bones about it: VMware's $1.2 billion acquisition of software-defined networking (SDN) player Nicira makes the virtualization kingpin both a Cisco friend and foe. And that's the way it is, said Chambers, even as Cisco remains closely aligned with VMware and its majority owner EMC.
"Will EMC be a good partnership for us, maybe our best? Yes. Will we compete against VMware as it relates to networking? Absolutely," Chambers told CRN. "And when we compete, we don't lose."
In an exclusive interview with CRN at Cisco's San Jose, Calif., headquarters last week, Chambers referenced comments made by Rob Lloyd, Cisco's president, development and sales, to Cisco's global sales force and to CRN in a September interview, urging Cisco sales people and Cisco partners to "compartmentalize" other vendors in terms of both partnering and competing with Cisco.
[Related: Has Chambers Tipped Hand On CEO Succession?]
"When there's an opportunity to partner, i.e. EMC, we partner. When there's software competition against Nicira, they're a competitor," Chambers said. "Microsoft is a great partner in the data center, maybe a great partner in terms of hypervisors, and then we compete against them in collaboration. IBM may be a partner in some areas and a competitor in others. What you see is an ecosystem."
During Cisco's fiscal fourth quarter earnings call in August, Chambers responded to a question about VMware competition by saying, "Candidly, they need us." Asked about that response during his CRN interview, Chambers said Cisco is pragmatic about its partnerships.
"If the relationship is good, you need each other," he said. "In terms of an area of the market, we are going to continue to be very open. When we partner ... well, I'm not looking at my wife and saying I'm going to partner with you till I find somebody cuter. That wouldn't work. That's how we approach partnerships. We are far from perfect, but we do not say we're going to partner and then move on our peers."
Both Cisco and EMC have made moves in the past year suggesting each wants to keep the other honest, even as the companies strengthen their alliance around their VCE joint venture and the converged data center trend.