Cisco's Chuck Robbins Set To Have Heart-To-Heart With Michael Dell

Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins said he was looking forward to talking with Dell CEO Michael Dell to continue the networking giant's relationship with EMC and VMware going forward.

"We're trading voice mails right now," said Robbins when asked at The Channel Company's Best of Breed Conference in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday if he would be speaking with the Dell founder. "I'm calling him right after this. He called me while I was flying here last night."

Robbins, in a question-and-answer session with The Channel Company CEO Robert Faletra, told several hundred solution providers he was confident that Cisco will remain a partner in the $2 billion run rate VCE (VMware Cisco EMC) converged infrastructure business.

[Related: Partners: Dell-EMC Deal Could Force Cisco To Buy Storage Vendor]

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"I've talked to a lot of EMC execs over the past few days, and I expect that when Michael and I chat that we will talk about the need to continue our partnership," he said.

Even with Dell's blockbuster $67 billion acquisition of EMC, Robbins said expects Cisco to remain part of VCE.

"I think they will continue to evolve to meet the different use cases that they face within their customer base," said Robbins of the Dell-EMC-VMware combination, "but I can't imagine a world where there are customers that aren't asking for solutions with 'C' in it, just like despite the rhetoric and competition that theoretically exists between us and VMware, customers still want both. It's incumbent upon us to make that work."

Sean Thompson, vice president of sales for the eastern region and federal for Sysorex, a Larkspur, Calif., EMC and Dell partner, said it is critical that Cisco and Dell-EMC continue to partner together for the benefit of the partner community and customers.

"It is critical for those two organizations that are leaders in their industry to work together," he said. "From a CIO/CTO perspective, if a customer is not happy then no one wins. EMC doesn't win. Dell doesn't win. Cisco won't win. It makes sense for the executive leadership to create a certain utopia for customers. There is enough business to go around."

Thompson praised Dell and Robbins for setting a great example for the two organizations going forward. "We need barriers removed for us, not barriers put up in front of us," he said.

Solution providers said they expect Cisco to continue its strategic partnerships with EMC and VMware for the foreseeable future.

"I just don’t see that partnership going away because EMC has too much market on the storage side," said Aaron Stone, president and CEO of Netelligent, a Chesterfield, Mo.-based Cisco Gold partner ranked No. 368 on CRN's 2015 Solution Provider 500 list. "My guess is Cisco's not going to go make a huge acquisition on storage, which means they're going to be forced to play well together for the foreseeable future. Obviously ,though, there'll be more competition than they've had in the past."

Faisal Bhutto, vice president of corporate strategy at Houston-based Computex Technology Solutions, which partners with Cisco, Dell and EMC, said Cisco is critical to the VCE solution.

"[Cisco's] UCS has enough market share right now and one of the top blade solutions, so for VCE's viability they can't ignore that, they just can't," said Bhutto, whose company is ranked No. 130 on the CRN 2015 Solution Provider 500 list. "It's kind of like going to market removing the two main components that are in there, which is the Cisco UCS and Cisco networking. … They might have other flavors available now with Dell, which is fine and will address new customer segments and needs, but I think the Cisco play will still be a predominant one."

The networking giant's CEO also said he doesn't expect Dell-EMC to try to steal away Cisco partners to sell its new combined offerings.

"I don't see a tremendous amount of overlap, honestly," said Robbins. "Yes, we've got the x86 piece, but again I think the strength of our partnership with EMC provides us a great opportunity to look at that partnership with the new entity."

Robbins did say that he's willing to defend Cisco's position among partners if push comes to shove.

"I will defend our [standing] with the partner community over the last 15 years if that were to happen, but I don't anticipate that's going to be a tremendous issue," said Robbins.