Cisco On UCS Invicta: The Target Is Our Compute Competitors, Not Our Storage Partners

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Five years ago, Cisco Systems shook up the server market with the release of its Unified Computing System converged infrastructure offering. Now, the networking giant says it's set to do it again, quietly scoring customer wins with its next-generation UCS Invicta appliance and feeling confident it can overtake Hewlett-Packard to become the No. 1 blade server vendor worldwide.

"On average, over the last few quarters, we have been consistently adding about 1,000 new customers a month to our UCS install base," said Paul Perez, vice president and chief technology officer of Cisco's Data Center Technology Group. "It became pretty clear that [customers] were seeing too high a price and too much complexity as they tried to address new computational environments with existing storage infrastructure, and they were asking us what our plans were to create a better environment."

That plan, it turns out, came to light in January, when Cisco unveiled its UCS Invicta Solid-State Systems, a new version of UCS that leverages Invicta flash memory -- a technology Cisco gained through its $415 million acquisition of Whiptail last year -- to increase the performance of UCS blade servers, the converged infrastructure built around them, and the data-intensive applications, such as those used for big data analytics, that run on UCS.

Cisco is betting big on Invicta to help it nab more share of the fast-growing converged infrastructure market. Research firm IDC estimates that total worldwide spending on converged infrastructure -- or systems that tie together server, storage, networking and virtualization into a single integrated solution -- will hit $17.8 billion in 2016, up from $4.6 billion in 2012.

But despite the market buzz, the launch of Cisco UCS Invicta was a quiet one. There was no formal press release announcing the launch, and the product didn't come close to garnering the same attention Cisco executives gave to other new offerings, such as Cisco InterCloud or ACI, at Cisco Partner Summit or Cisco Live.

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Some partners speculated that Cisco didn't roll out the red carpet for UCS Invicta the same way it did for other new products to downplay the fact that Invicta could compete with similar offerings from Cisco storage partners such as NetApp or EMC, which traditionally have provided the storage functionality for UCS.

Cisco partners also told CRN the UCS Invicta appliance could cause more friction in the VCE joint venture with Cisco and EMC. Ties between the two companies already were strained when VMware, a subsidiary of EMC, plunked down $1.2 billion to acquire software-defined networking startup and Cisco competitor Nicira in 2012. The rift only widened, partners said, with Cisco's acquisition of Whiptail.

"We've already sold [UCS Invicta]," said one Cisco partner, who asked not to be named. "But if you go onto Cisco's website and read about Invicta, it's going to be a very vague message. And one of the reasons they are probably doing that is because they have a big stake in VCE."

According to Perez, however, Cisco has been open with its storage partners about its plans for Invicta and isn't looking to compete head-on with either VCE Vblock or NetApp FlexPod.

"We were in deep conversations -- very, very deep conversations -- with all of our storage partners right after that [Whiptail] acquisition," Perez told CRN. "Those conversations went on for months, and those conversations were very open and very transparent about everything we were intending to do."

Perez said there was little fanfare over the UCS Invicta launch because Cisco chose to highlight other new offerings, such as InterCloud and ACI, at events such as Cisco Live.

"We decided, 'Hey, we are just going to go to the market, start selling the product, build some successes and maybe the public messaging around Invicta will be the success we have accumulated, not necessarily what we are about to do,'" he said.

NEXT: Perez: We Will Beat HP In Global Blade Server Market

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