Cisco Partners Hope Networking Giant Will Make Big Moves In Hyper-Converged Market

Cisco Systems is one of the few server vendors that doesn't have its own hyper-converged infrastructure offering, and some channel partners are calling on the vendor to show it's serious about one of the industry's hottest segments.

Officially, Cisco pitches its UCS server line as a "an ideal platform" for hyper-converged infrastructure," Todd Brannon, Cisco's marketing director for UCS, said in an email Thursday. Cisco partners with StorMagic, SimpliVity, EMC (ScaleIO) VMware (VSAN) and Maxta to provide technology for UCS hyper-converged offerings.

While Brannon said Cisco's UCS ecosystem is "expanding," several Cisco partners told CRN they see cracks forming in some of these relationships. As the hyper-converged market gains momentum, they think Cisco needs to build or buy new technology to establish itself as a bona fide player in the space.

[Related: Cisco Resumes Shipping UCS Invicta All-Flash Array That Spent Six Months On Hold]

Sponsored post

"Cisco’s message on hyper-converged so far has been poor and lacking," one Cisco partner told CRN, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They need to do something in this space or risk getting left behind."

Hyper-converged infrastructure refers to compute, storage and networking running in virtualized form on industry-standard server hardware. These products are typically cheaper and take up less room than converged infrastructure offerings from companies like VCE and Hewlett-Packard.

Cisco partnered last September with SimpliVity, a hyper-converged startup that has raised more than $276 million to date, to package its OmniStack software and proprietary hardware card with UCS servers.

The SimpliVity partnership was supposed to give Cisco a path to the hyper-converged market. Some partners even saw it as a trial run for a potential acquisition.

However, while the SimpliVity partnership has generated interest from customers, this has not translated into meaningful sales, three Cisco partners familiar with the matter told CRN this week.

A SimpliVity spokesperson said there is "significant market demand" for SimpliVity running on Cisco UCS, but declined to further quantify how much business the partnership has generated.

Cisco's relationship with EMC and VMware has also seen better days. Cisco sold off most of its stake in the VCE converged infrastructure joint venture last October.

EMC recently unveiled a vBlock-like offering with pre-integrated VMware NSX software-defined networking, instead of Cisco's competing Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) technology, the standard for Vblocks.

VMware has its EVO:RAIL software stack for hyper-converged infrastructure, and EMC is using it in its VSPEX BLUE hyper-converged appliance. Cisco is one of the only major server vendors that isn't on board with EVO:RAIL.

Sources told CRN that VMware would like to have Cisco as an EVO:RAIL partner but does not envision that happening anytime soon, in part because of competitive frictions between the vendors in software-defined networking.

Meanwhile, longtime Cisco ally NetApp is also planning to release an EVO:RAIL based hyper-converged product that runs on its storage hardware and software.

Cisco has relied on NetApp for storage for years, but now it needs technology that goes beyond what NetApp has in its portfolio, according to one Cisco partner with knowledge of the matter.

"If you look at what Cisco is saying and doing around ACI and [cloud computing], you can see where there are holes in their current product family. NetApp fills some of them, but not all," said the partner, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with Cisco.

The partners said they believe Cisco needs to pave its own way to the hyper-converged market, either by partnering or acquiring a vendor that's already in this space.

One startup Cisco partners are watching closely is Stratoscale, an Israel-based startup in which Cisco is already a strategic investor. Stratoscale's software converges compute and storage on industry standard server hardware, supports OpenStack and Docker containers, and includes its own custom hypervisor built on KVM.

Stratoscale has designed its software to extend hyper-converged infrastructure across an entire rack of servers, and it's seen as a potential challenger to VMware's EVO:RAIL software.

Cisco partners are also keeping an eye on SolidFire, a Boulder, Colo.-based storage startup that sells all-flash arrays.

SolidFire last month unveiled a software-only version of its product, called Element X, which has already been validated for use with Cisco UCS servers and Dell R630 servers. The software runs on industry-standard servers and is aimed at hyper-scale data centers, service providers and OEMs.

SolidFire also plays well with OpenStack, a growing area of focus for Cisco. "SolidFire would fit a lot of Cisco's target service provider customers perfectly," one Cisco partner told CRN.

Cisco has its own Invicta all-flash array from its 2013 acquisition of Whiptail, but the technology has been delayed by technical glitches that led to one product being pulled from the market for more than six months.

Since acquiring Whiptail, Cisco has performed a delicate dance around Invicta to avoid upsetting its storage partners, pitching the technology as a performance booster for apps running on UCS.

But in light of the hyper-converged moves EMC, VMware and NetApp are making, and the rapidly growing popularity of hyper-converged technology, partners told CRN that Cisco may be ready to ruffle some features in order to secure its spot in the market.

Additional reporting from JOSEPH F. KOVAR