Cisco and VMware are going to great lengths to paint a picture of the two companies working together to bring software-defined networking to customers.
In fact, VMware Wednesday went so far as to pledge allegiance to the new Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) in a Cisco press release as one of 20 "leading companies" supporting ACI.
This even after VMware last year spent $1.26 billion to buy software-defined networking innovator Nicira and introduced its own software-defined networking platform at VMworld this summer without Cisco's endorsement.
Beneath the surface, partners are buzzing about a battle that is starting to be waged in the sales trenches between the two respective market leaders for the hearts and minds of IT buyers.
"It grows more and more combative every day even though neither has had a real functional product or [software-defined networking] solution yet released to sell through the channel," said an executive for a top Cisco-VMware partner who did not want to be identified. "Just imagine if and when these things are actually being sold into the commercial and enterprise spaces how bad it will get."
Another partner executive, who did not want to be identified, said Cisco's bid for data center dominance has put the networking leader into a battle with all the major longtime data center players including VMware and EMC, which owns VMware. "Cisco is EMC's biggest competitor right now," said the partner executive. "To scale applications you are going to either buy a ton of [Cisco Unified Compute Systems] or you can build a virtual SAN using EMC products. Cisco is building out a world where everybody lives off UCS. Cisco is building software-defined networking, software-defined storage and flash with Whiptail -- all with UCS. All the major vendors are scrambling to see how their solutions can work together and coexist together."
Another partner, who did not want to be identified, said the SDN battle is coming down to a philosophical war between VMware and Cisco on whether SDN will be a pure software solution or a software solution with hardware that leverages Cisco ASICs. "I personally believe having a lot of that intelligence being put into ASICs like Cisco has done is the true game changer," said the partner. "Cisco just trumped [VMware's] Nicira."
Rob Lloyd, president of development and sales for the $49 billion networking market leader, in response to a question from CRN at the ACI introduction said customers see Cisco's support for both physical networked resources and virtual networked IT resources as a "game changer" versus VMware.
"When we do meet with customers and take them through the material you saw today they say, 'Wow, if I could have that policy implication on the applications I originate in the data center and then extend that out to the policy when I get on the network on the access layer and enforce that policy end to end,' they say -- 'Wow, that's a game changer,'" said Lloyd.
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