Sources: Startup SimpliVity Inks Deal With Cisco, Will Use UCS Servers For Hyper-Converged Appliances

SimpliVity, a "hyper-converged" infrastructure startup, has inked an agreement with Cisco Systems to improve its position in one of enterprise technology's hottest market segments, CRN has learned.

SimpliVity and Cisco will reveal their agreement next week during VMware's annual VMworld conference, sources familiar with the vendors' plans told CRN, speaking on condition of anonymity.

SimpliVity currently uses Dell's x86 server hardware for its flagship hyper-converged appliance, OmniCube, which combines compute, storage backup and deduplication, networking, and WAN optimization in a single appliance.

Under terms of its deal with Cisco, SimpliVity will sell OmniCubes based on the networking giant's Unified Computing System servers, sources told CRN.

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Sources said it's unclear which Cisco UCS servers SimpliVity will be using. The startup can't use Cisco's UCS B-series blade servers because OmniCube uses a proprietary storage deduplication card that doesn't fit in that product, said the sources.

Related: In Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Blockbuster, Dell To OEM Nutanix Software

SimpliVity will likely use Cisco's UCS C-Series rack-mounted servers for OmniCubes, or even its new entry-level "UCS Mini" server, which CRN first reported on in June, the sources said.

The SimpliVity-Cisco deal comes three months after Nutanix and Dell shook up the hyper-converged market with an OEM agreement. Dell is both reselling Nutanix and integrating it on Dell servers.

It's not clear if Cisco will also be reselling SimpliVity's OmniCubes and software stack, sources said.

The SimpliVity-Cisco deal also isn't exclusive to Cisco; over time, other server vendors will be invited to take part, according to the sources. SimpliVity will also continue to sell OmniCubes based on Dell servers, sources said.

VMware and SimpliVity have a tight relationship and OmniCubes are specially designed to work well in VMware environments. However, some VMware partners believe the Cisco-SimpliVity agreement could put pressure on that partnership.

Doron Kempel, chairman and CEO of Westborough, Mass.-based SimpliVity, declined to comment on the Cisco-SimpliVity agreement during an interview Monday.

Kempel did say that SimpliVity will only make strategic moves that benefit its channel and industry partners.

"We are 100 percent channel oriented and will continue to take steps to make sure SimpliVity goes through the channel with systems integrators and VARs," he said.

Representatives from Cisco couldn't be reached for comment on the SimpliVity agreement. VMware also couldn't be reached for comment.

By revealing their agreement at VMworld, Cisco and SimpliVity may be trying to steal some thunder from VMware's top secret "Marvin" project, which is said to be a reference architecture for a hyper-converged appliance that runs on low-end servers.

NEXT: How The Cisco-SimpliVity Deal Could Impact The Hyper-Converged Market

VMware's Marvin is said to feature the Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor's NSX software-defined networking technology and its VSAN storage technology. VMware is also building a version of Marvin for parent company EMC, which is called Project Mystic, sources said.

Since Cisco is pushing its own competing Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) SDN technology, it's probably not going to take part in Marvin, especially since its relationship with VMware has grown increasing strained in recent years.

VMware's Marvin will also compete with SimpliVity OmniCubes, but Kempel said the increased attention that comes from big vendors entering the hyper-converged space will benefit his firm.

"We’re not surprised that all server vendors are going to carry Marvin. It's great, because it will make hyper-converged the new reality," Kempel said. "Our most important partner is VMware and we will continue to work closely with them."

SimpliVity has raised $101.5 million in funding since its founding in 2009 but is still trailing rival Nutanix in sales, one partner who has worked with both vendors told CRN. The Cisco UCS deal could help change that, he said.

"SimpliVity needs to do something like this, because the channel is not adopting them as quickly as Nutanix," said the partner. "With EMC and VMware building their own hyper-converged, products, SimpliVity needs to find away to get deeper into the data center."

Another source with ties to both vendors, who requested anonymity, said SimpliVity has the edge on Nutanix when it comes to the storage technology piece of hyper-converged appliances.

"They do have very good special sauce that no one else has when it comes to dedupe/compression/optimization of data inline," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationships with the vendors.

John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems (IAS), a Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cisco partner, thinks a Cisco-SimpliVity agreement would be an interesting counterweight to Dell's deal with Nutanix.

"Cisco has the long-rumored, now real UCS Mini as well as Invicta storage," Woodall said. "SimpliVity has pretty good technology. It would be a good choice for Cisco."

With additional reporting by Joseph F. Kovar