Cisco Systems CEO Fires Back At Nutanix, Defends Track Record Entering New Tech Markets

Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins has had enough of startup Nutanix's trash-talking his company's entry to the hyper-convergence market, and now he's firing back.

"Someone from Nutanix said that Cisco doesn't have a track record of being very successful when they enter new markets," Robbins said during a Q&A session with press at the Cisco Partner Summit 2016 in San Diego Tuesday

Robbins disputed this and said that during his 18-year career at Cisco, "We've been relatively successful entering new markets."

Cisco unveiled a new hyper-converged infrastructure product line Tuesday called HyperFlex Systems, which marries its Unified Computing System (UCS) servers with software-defined storage developed in partnership with startup Springpath.

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Cisco has also led a previously undisclosed Series C round of funding in Springpath, Sunnyvale, Calif.

[Related: Startup Nutanix To Cisco: Welcome To Hyper-Convergence Market, Good Luck Catching Up With Us]

Earlier Tuesday, Chris Morgan, a Nutanix vice president in charge of channels and distribution, downplayed the competitive threat posed by HyperFlex Systems in an interview with CRN. He said Cisco has had "a history of false starts" when entering new markets and described Springpath as "untested" and its technology as "unproven."

Robbins said Nutanix's comments remind him of the trash-talking Cisco heard from Hewlett-Packard executives when it entered the server business with its UCS product line in 2009. At the time, HP had just begun ramping up its networking business and the fur was flying between the two vendors on a regular basis.

In a 2010 interview with CRN, HP enterprise executive Randy Seidl predicted that Cisco's UCS line would be dead within a year. Instead, Cisco's UCS business has grown steadily and has helped the vendor gain a 6.6 percent revenue share of the global server market, according to recent figures from IDC.

Cisco hasn't had a great track record in storage, however. Its $415 million million acquisition of flash storage vendor Whiptail Systems didn't pan out, and Cisco ended up halting development of products last summer.

Nutanix, which has raised more than $312 million in venture funding, is seen as the leader in the small-but-growing market for hyper-converged infrastructure, which typically refers to compute and storage running together on x86 server hardware.

Nutanix has been clashing publicly with VMware for the past couple of years and has introduced technology that lets VMware customers switch to its own KVM-based hypervisor format. But the friction with Cisco is new, and partners that work with both vendors said they expect it to continue as they grapple for market share.

Faisal Bhutto, vice president of enterprise networking, cloud and cybersecurity at Computex Technology Solutions, a Houston-based Cisco partner, said he thinks HyperFlex can help the networking vendor close the gap on Nutanix and others.

"This doesn't look like something Cisco has done in a hurry," Bhutto told CRN. "The tech community has been wondering for a long time which storage vendor Cisco would invest in. They've thought long and hard and decided that Springpath is the way to go."

Bhutto said he believes Cisco's entry to the hyper-convergence market will validate the market and convince more large enterprises that the technology is suitable for their needs.

Robbins said Cisco took its time in vetting Springpath's technology and "actually looked at all our options" before deciding to partner with the startup. This due diligence, he suggested, will ensure that HyperFlex is unique from existing hyper-convergence offerings.

"When [Cisco's data center product teams] actually took the time to understand the technology Springpath has created, we [realized that] it was next-generation thinking," said Robbins in the press conference.