Watch Out VCE! IBM, Cisco Partner On VersaStack

Big Blue and networking giant Cisco Thursday announced VersaStack, an integrated infrastructure solution to take on rival storage company EMC. The move pairs IBM's Storewize V7000 storage offering with Cisco's UCS compute system to help channel partners drive big data and mobility solutions to their customers.

The move, pundits say, will place further strains on the quickly eroding partnership between Cisco, EMC, and VMware that together make up the company VCE that sells a near identical offering. In October Cisco reduced its ownership stake in VCE to just 10 percent.

Similar to VCE Vblocks, the VersaStack offering is a hardware system that contains server hardware, a disk storage system, networking equipment, and systems management software all integrated into a single platform some partners refer to as "cloud in a box."

[Related: Partners Mull VCE Future Without Cisco Funding]

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VersaStack and its partnership with IBM doesn't diminish its commitment to VCE, rather it is a broadening of Cisco's storage partnerships, said Satinder Sethi, vice president, Engineering at Cisco. Cisco also has a similar partnership with storage firm NetApp called FlexPod it formed in 2010.

Robert Verola, CEO of Vicom Computer Services, a Farmingdale, NY-based Cisco and IBM partner said VersaStack will be a "big opportunity" for his company, giving his sales team new ammo to win business from a growing list of customers eager to save money and virtualize traditional hardware.

"IBM and Cisco will give us what we are looking for to reach new customers," Verola said. VersaStack, he said, is a trusted reference architecture that enables his sales teams to reach customers with verifiable performance claims as opposed to an ad-hoc network infrastructure solution.

Verola said his firm has been a longtime customer of FlexPod. "VersaStack will allow me to reach those IBM customers that are not only looking for infrastructure solutions, but that are also seeking IBM-centric solutions that complement their existing IT infrastructure.

"These are big companies (IBM and Cisco) looking for new ways to get into the new century," Verola said. "Not one company these days does it all."

IBM and Cisco said VersaStack is an attempt to crack open the fast-growing market for converged infrastructure solutions to tackle big data, analytic, and software defined solutions. According to IDC, total worldwide spending on integrated systems is growing more than 34 percent annually, worth $14.37 billion by 2017 compared to $5.4 billion in 2013.

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VersaStack, IBM and Cisco tout, will deliver ease, efficiency and versatility for companies rolling out datacenters focused on analytics, cloud, big data, and mobility-related workloads.

"From a Cisco perspective, [the] customer gets one common management platform for compute, network storage, and enterprise-class virtualization. From an IBM perspective, VersaStack includes the IBM Storewize V7000 storage with capabilities on storage virtualization, storage tiering, and real-time compression," said Satinder Sethi, VP of Engineering at Cisco.

The two firms have worked together for over a decade on various solutions and have 4,500 shared customers, Sethi said. This latest partnership, he said, will help both crack open new opportunities in the emerging markets.

From a partner perspective, the combined Cisco and IBM reference design is uniquely suited for partners to sell, said Laura Guio, VP of Storage at IBM.

"Our business partners play a critical role in how this is brought to market," Guio said. "If you factor in the value-add a channel partner can bring to this solution it really does start to add up to a compelling story for channel partners to talk about with their customers," she said.

Guio said IBM will sell a similar integrated infrastructure solution leveraging its own PureSystems technology and also with Lenovo, which bought IBM's x86 server business earlier this year.

"It comes down to choice and differentiation and what a client is looking for," Guio said.

One large IBM partner said the landscape is shifting at lightning speed when it comes to integrated infrastructure, so much so that big brands such as IBM have lost the clout they once had.

"IBM is challenged by today's environment. The old joke was you couldn't get fired for buying IBM. Now nobody asks who is your infrastructure partner?" said one large IBM partner that asked not to be identified.

"The only letters anyone cares about when it comes to infrastructure is RTO [recovery time objective] and RPO [recovery point objective] and what the uptime is," said the partner. "IBM insiders tell us they [IBM] are not participating in this market as aggressively as they'd like."