EMC And Cisco: Ready To Disrupt IT -- And Each Other?

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EMC and Cisco Systems, partners in the development of converged infrastructure technology that integrates compute, storage, networking and virtualization resources into a single data center architecture, may be arming themselves for a potential break in their relationship.

That break, which their channel partners hope does not happen -- and indeed which the two vendors themself say is not happening -- is not inevitable.

But as the winds of technological change become a hurricane that tears apart the traditional ways in which data centers are built, EMC and Cisco are both ready to take the lead with disruptive technologies of their own.

In an IT world where startups can disrupt the status quo and force their legacy peers to make painful changes in response, these two giants have indeed become disruptive forces with leading-edge technology that in some cases threatens to disrupt even their own business models.

EMC, for instance, could completely divorce its feature-rich storage intellectual property from hardware, making it possible to turn any industry-standard server into a powerful storage solution. VMware, which is majority-owned by EMC, can now virtualize both storage and networking on industry-standard servers in much the same fashion as it did servers.

Cisco, meanwhile, is wrestling with VMware over control of the software-defined networking business even as it keeps in its back pocket what was once, and which could quickly become again, a high-performance flash storage offering that could compete with EMC.

Throw into this mix Lenovo, which is in the process of closing its acquisition of IBM's x86 business -- a move that would give it a way to compete with Cisco with the help of EMC, with which it already has a storage relationship.

The end result is that both EMC and Cisco have the ability to fire up complete infrastructure solutions that compete with each other, said Jamie Shepard, regional vice president at Lumenate, a Dallas-based solution provider and partner to both vendors.

EMC could one day light up an entire solution by combining either its own storage software or VMware's new VSAN software-defined storage offering with anyone's network and either its own servers or with servers from a third party such as Lenovo or Supermicro, Shepard said. EMC can even top it with ScaleIO, its software for tying the flash memory of multiple servers into a scalable high-performance system that in many cases can substitute for a SAN.

Cisco, Shepard said, can now combine its server and networking technology with its Invicta flash storage, its Sourcefire security software, and its Cloupia technology for connecting all these resources to VMware or OpenStack clouds.

"They're putting that all together as one solution, a hyper-converged technology," he said.

In many ways, the old days of alliances where everyone was working toward a common goal are gone, said one solution provider that partners with both EMC and Cisco and who asked to remain anonymous.

"In the old days, VMware did virtualization, Cisco UCS did compute, and EMC did storage," the solution provider said. "Now everyone is starting to merge into each other's spaces. This makes it complicated to go to market with the different goals. And it makes it difficult for the channel to go to an account. We now have to whiteboard the different product lines."

NEXT: Good Partnership, Shaky Foundation

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