Springpath Will Drive HyperFlex Innovation, Giving Cisco More 'Firepower' Against HPE-SimpliVity, Partners Say

Partners are bullish on the future of Cisco HyperFlex as the networking giant acquires hyper-converged software developer Springpath for $320 million and doubles down on UCS innovation through its new UCS M5 product line.

Solution providers said they are expecting to win more hyper-converged deals within the next 12 months and have more "firepower" against competitors like Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) thanks to bringing Spingpath in-house with the potential of ramping up the HyperFlex innovation engine.

"Cisco really needed a solid play in the hyper-converged infrastructure space. With SimpliVity getting snapped up [by HPE] and Nutanix building its business to stand alone, Cisco needed to do an acquisition to land them squarely in this space," said Michael Knight, CTO of solution provider Encore Technology Group, a Cisco Gold partner.

[Related: 5 Ways Partners Can Drive UCS Refreshes And New Wins With Cisco's M5 Servers]

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Springpath's software helps enterprises turn standard servers into a single pool of compute and storage resources. Its software platform eliminates the need for dedicated network storage and integrates into existing management tools. The company's early claim to fame was that of helping enterprises avoid vendor lock-in when it comes to network infrastructure.

Also of note, though, is Springpath's ability to add new capabilities to its shared, converged infrastructure. The networking vendor could eventually include artificial intelligence (AI) for greater automation of networking security and computing, according to partners. The partner ecosystem could also build AI integrations into the solution, which would add greater value for customers and give partners a leg up against the competition.

"Springpath allows them to drive more product innovation and they'll also own all the intellectual property," said Kent MacDonald, vice president of business development at Long View Systems, a Calgary, Alberta-based and top Cisco partner. "I'm excited to see how they can use the Cisco Innovation labs to drive even greater acceleration for feature functionality."

HPE's Channel Chief Terry Richardson spoke with CRN this week about the company's 100 percent channel pledge for Nimble and SimpliVity. Richardson said the Nimble, SimpliVity pledge is aimed at Cisco.

"A lot of [SimpliVity and Nimble's] success really grew up on what I would describe as the backs of the traditional legacy Cisco partner base," he said. "Those partners were wise in choosing those technologies. Now that both those companies are part of HPE what I have seen is a real shift in interest from those partners not only continuing the relationship with SimpliVity and Nimble but getting more interested in HPE."

Cisco didn't comment on Richardson's statement.

One top executive from a solution provider that partners with both Cisco and HPE said the networking giant needs Springpath in its arsenal to fight off HPE-SimpliVity.

"Springpath gives Cisco that firepower in its in-house portfolio to have a more compelling story against the HPEs and Dells of the world," said the executive, who did not wish to be named. "Cisco can now say they own 100 percent of their hyper-converged [solution] … That speaks volumes about their commitment. Not only that but with the Cisco-SimpliVity partnership done with, it was a much-needed play for the channel."

Although Cisco's data center sales dropped 4 percent to $837 million year-over-year during its fourth fiscal quarter, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said the company saw "solid traction" in HyperFlex bookings, although no official numbers were reported.

"HyperFlex, our hyper converged offering combined with CloudCenter, is gaining traction with customers benefiting from simplicity and scalability to support their hybrid cloud strategy," said Robbins during Cisco's fourth quarter earnings conference call.

In an interview with CRN, Todd Brannon, Cisco's director of product marketing for UCS, said the company just passed the 60,000 UCS customer mark thanks to an uptick in HyperFlex clients.

"So we just passed 60,000 customers on UCS and 1,600 of those are HyperFlex," said Brannon. "We're seeing increased traction there. What's interesting about our HyperFlex business, is that about 30 percent of the customers that are coming in on HyperFlex are brand new to Cisco in terms of computing. They're not from our UCS install based. So 30 percent of those HyperFlex customers are actually brand new computing customers from Cisco."

HyperFlex consists of UCS servers and software-defined storage technology from the hyper-converged startup Springpath. Cisco launched HyperFlex in March 2016 thanks to the strategic partnership with Springpath, which was founded by former VMware storage engineers.

In March 2017, Cisco unveiled HyperFlex 2.5 that contained new features and capabilities such as the addition of high-capacity all-flash nodes and the HyperFlex Connect product.

Long View's MacDonald said Hyperflex is resonating with customers seeking to reduce complexity in their data center.

"We're seeing one of the motivating conversations with customers is, 'I want to take cost out of my IT, and I want to reduce complexity.' That is where we're seeing HyperFlex becoming a contender," said MacDonald.

Regarding feature set, Springpath is on par with competitors Nutanix and SimpliVity, but the product isn't quite as mature, according to solution providers. Together with Cisco, HyperFlex will become a native product and more developed with deeper integrations across the Cisco stack. "There will be more partner adoption once Cisco owns the technology," Encore's Knight said. "I think there were a lot of partners that wanted to see what was going to happen before they went all in."

Cisco expects to complete the acquisition of Springpath by the end of its fiscal 2018 first quarter in October. Cisco already owned an undisclosed stake in Springpath, and the vendor was rumored to be on the brink of acquiring Springpath as long ago as August of last year.

The Springpath team will join Cisco's Computing Systems Product Group which is led by Liz Centoni, senior vice president and general manager of the group.