HP CEO Whitman: Fracturing VCE Alliance An Opportunity For Our Enterprise Business

As tensions heat up between Cisco, EMC and VMware in the VCE joint venture, HP CEO Meg Whitman sees a chance to attract converged infrastructure customers that don’t want to deal with the drama.

While VCE Vblocks are selling well in the marketplace, the VCE alliance itself "is starting to fracture," Whitman told CRN in an interview last week. Vblocks contain preintegrated Cisco UCS servers, EMC storage and VMware virtualization with unified management and support.

One of the biggest bones of contention within VCE is the fact that the alliance already has anointed Cisco's software-defined networking technology, called Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI), as the default for vBlocks, even though VMware's competing NSX technology was first to market.

[Related: CRN Exclusive Q&A: Whitman On Sales Gains Vs. IBM-Lenovo, Cisco And A Fractured VCE ]

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While VMware's NSX runs fine on vBlocks, VCE has said it doesn't intend to support it. And since unified support is one of the biggest selling points for Vblocks, VCE customers are essentially being forced to choose Cisco ACI.

Whitman pointed to comments that Cisco CEO John Chambers made earlier this month about winning SDN customers from VMware as evidence that things aren’t hunky-dory in the VCE relationship.

"I'd say there is a fair amount of tension in the marriage. It is a little hard to say we are going to crush one-third of our joint venture. So I think that has provided an opening," Whitman told CRN.

Steve Bishop, CTO at VeriStor, a Duluth, Ga.-based HP and VMware partner, told CRN he thinks HP is well-set-up to cash in on the VCE friction, which is already driving enterprises to seek vBlock alternatives.

While most other enterprise players seem to be racing to 'own' the entire stack, HP is taking a more open approach that's in tune with what enterprises want, Bishop said. HP not only supports mixed hypervisor and mixed physical-virtual cloud deployments, it also strongly supports OpenStack and OpenFlow SDN technologies, he said.

Also important is that HP's ConvergedSystem and CloudSystem initiatives have solid support for VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V, according to Bishop. HP's OpenFlow SDN controller federation with VMware NSX is one example, he said.

"The large majority of our HP enterprise deployments continue to be largely VMware-based, but customers want options," Bishop told CRN.

While Cisco and VMware have been butting heads ever since the latter snapped up SDN darling Nicira for $1.2 billion in 2012, there's new friction developing between VCE and EMC sales reps, sources told CRN earlier this month.

VCE is not part of EMC's "Federation" of EMC storage, RSA security, and Pivotal PaaS and big data. As a result, sources said EMC reps have been pitching in-house converged infrastructure as alternatives to VCE Vblocks.

VCE's pat response to reports of friction has been, "Look at the numbers." And the numbers are impressive: Earlier this month, VCE said Vblocks are now on a $1.8 billion annualized run-rate, with sales growing at well over 50 percent in the first quarter.

Whether VCE can keep this up despite the alliance friction remains to be seen, but HP's close ties with VMware would seem to give it first dibs on VCE customers that decide the infighting is too much to deal with.