Cisco, Microsoft Team Up On Three-Year Data Center Initiative

Cisco and Microsoft have inked a three-year agreement through which the two tech giants will drive deeper integration across their data center portfolios and incent their mutual channel partners to go to market with joint Cisco and Microsoft technologies.

The new agreement, announced Tuesday at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C., is aimed at driving integration between Cisco and Microsoft cloud and data center technologies, such as Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS), Cisco's Nexus switching line and Microsoft Cloud OS solutions including Windows Server, System Center, SQL Server and Microsoft Azure.

Out of the gate, the companies are rolling out a joint initiative aimed at migrating Windows Server 2003 customers to Windows 2012 R2 on the Cisco UCS platform.

[Related: NetApp, Microsoft Partner To Extend Private Storage To Microsoft Azure Public Cloud]

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Earlier this week, Microsoft unveiled a similar program with Hewlett-Packard. Called the HP Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Migration Program, it's aimed at helping partners capture what HP said was a $10 billion opportunity in migrating customers from the 11-year-old Windows Server 2003 operating system.

Microsoft formally ends Windows Server 2003 support on July 14, 2015.

Cisco, for its part, said it will work with Microsoft to align the two companies' partner incentive programs as part of the new agreement. Cisco said a key component of its joint channel go-to-market strategy with Microsoft is the new Cisco Referral Program (CRP), which offers rewards and incentives for Microsoft partners selling integrated Microsoft and Cisco data center solutions.

What's more, Cisco said a number of integrated Microsoft and Cisco products have already been validated by the two companies through the Microsoft Fast Track and Cisco Validated Design (CVD) programs. These products will be included in Cisco's Solution Incentive Program (SIP), allowing partners to earn additional financial rewards for selling them.

Cisco announced a similar initiative with Microsoft last year. The companies, at the time, pledged to continue investing in a joint channel program, after running a 10-month pilot program designed to drive more collaboration between the Microsoft and Cisco partner communities. The pilot program also armed partners with more training resources on bundled Cisco-Microsoft solutions, such as Cisco's Unified Data Center architecture with Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V and System Center 2012.

Lane Irvine, network business solutions director at Long View Systems, a Cisco and Microsoft Gold partner headquartered in Calgary, applauded Microsoft and Cisco's efforts to further integrate their solutions, as it will make it easier and faster for partners to go to market. He said bundled Cisco-Microsoft solutions would likely see the same success in the market as other bundled Cisco UCS solutions for the data center, such as VCE's Vblock or NetApp's FlexPod.

"With Cisco becoming such a strong player in the server market, there is no question that the Windows operating system and Server operating system is a huge component of those deployments," Irvine told CRN. "By bundling them together and having them work together, I think customers end up with a better solution, and it makes it easier to go to market with."

Cisco said the new agreement with Microsoft is part of its continued investment in ensuring it delivers the "optimal infrastructure" for Microsoft Windows Server workloads.

"We have focused heavily on infrastructure solutions for the Microsoft ecosystem over the past ~2 years and now that our UCS integrated infrastructure architectures are proven we will be putting more emphasis on discrete Microsoft workload solutions," wrote Jim McHugh, vice president, product and solutions marketing, Unified Computing Systems, at Cisco. "Our initial focus will be on Microsoft SQL Server 2014 and how UCS and its differentiated features, such as Service Profiles and Cisco SingleConnect, deliver improved performance, availability, and scalability."

Microsoft and Cisco said the new agreement will last three years. In the first year, they are specifically targeting customers and partners in the United States, Canada, U.K., Germany, France and Australia. Expansion into further countries is planned for the second and third years, the companies said.