If Cisco Systems wants to compete effectively against Dell-EMC and become a leader in the hyper-converged market, partners say the networking giant needs to up the ante and invest in a software-defined storage play.
"They should continue to stay in front of some of the software-defined storage if they want to have a bright future," said Robert Keblusek, chief technology officer of Downers Grove, Ill.-based Sentinel Technologies, a Cisco Gold and EMC Gold partner. "For them to get into the traditional SAN, I'm a little torn on that because they're following more of a software-defined storage trend. And if you look at future market position, that trend is really where there is a significant amount of growth in storage."
Greg Schulz, senior analyst at research firm StorageIO, said if Cisco wants to grow its footprint and not be left in "the shadows of Dell-EMC," a storage acquisition or internal R&D investment is warranted.
"If they want to really grow, they have to start treating storage as more than an accessory to the network," said Schulz. "They've got a good footprint and they've demonstrated that they can move beyond their traditional networking reach. … They're big. They can survive but, candidly, unless they just want to be comfortable they need to do something around storage."
Cisco declined to comment to CRN on whether it sees a need to improve its storage position.
Partners say most of EMC's storage solutions now fit into some sort of hyper-converged or converged system play, an approach in which Cisco should up its investment. Dell also recently expanded its hyper-converged offering with new technology from EMC, VMware and VCE – in which Cisco owns a small stake.
Cisco unveiled its HyperFlex hyper-converged offering in March, which uses UCS servers and software-defined storage technology from a partnership with startup Springpath. Cisco said it has invested in Springpath, while sources have told CRN that Cisco has the option of acquiring Springpath based on revenue results.
"HyperFlex gives a strong Cisco partner the ability to be less dependent on EMC and Dell," said Ethan Simmons, vice president, East, for Dallas-based Lumenate, a Cisco partner that is ranked No. 145 on the CRN 2015 Solution Provider 500. "As all that storage becomes software-defined or virtualized, I see Cisco wanting to become more and more relevant in that space."
Sources also have told CRN that Cisco is in talks about forming a strategic partnership with hyper-converged superstar Nutanix. Sources say the plan is for channel partners from both vendors to sell Cisco UCS with integrated hyper-convergence software from Nutanix.