Cisco, EMC, VMware Partners: We'd Like Some Vblock Details, Please

Solution providers are giving a thumbs-up to the new integrated, virtual data center coalition formed by Cisco, EMC and VMware but say details on the initiative are lacking.

Meanwhile, distributors say they are struggling to see how they fit in with the new coalition.

Cisco, EMC and VMware Tuesday unveiled Vblock Infrastructure Packages, a series of preconfigured, pretested solutions based on Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) and networking switches, EMC's Symmetrix or Clariion storage arrays and VMware's vSphere server virtualization platform.

They are aimed at helping customers build virtual data centers and private computing clouds.

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The Vblock Infrastructure Packages, along with Acadia, a joint venture that Cisco and EMC plan to form next year to bring the solutions to market, are aimed squarely at helping ensure channel partners are the primary go-to-market focus for the coalition, the vendors' channel chiefs said.

The concept of the Vblock Infrastructure Packages is helping better explain what the three vendors are doing to help advance the idea of a virtual data center, said Ian Jones, vice president of IT solutions at Coleman Technologies, an Orlando, Fla.-based solution provider that partners with all three vendors.

Until the Vblock announcement, the three vendors have referred to themselves as "VCE," or "VMware-Cisco-EMC," or "Virtual Computing Environment," Jones said.

"Many members of our sales teams and customers have been having trouble understanding what 'VCE' means," he said. "Vblock is an easy way to talk about private clouds."

Private computing clouds and virtual computing environments are becoming very important to customers and are a part of any discussion about building a new data center or expanding an old one, Jones said. "Vblock will provide a lot more definition around virtual computing environments," he said.

The coalition comes at a fascinating time in the market as customers seriously look at how to integrate networks, storage and servers as a single solution, said Richard Zimmermann, vice president of the Network Solutions Group at Forsythe, a Skokie, Ill.-based solution provider and partner to the three vendors.

However, the kind of solutions being offered with the Vblock Infrastructure Packages are similar to the solutions channel partners like Forsythe are already building with the three vendors, Zimmermann said.

"We take these products and use them to add value every day," he said. "Cisco, EMC and VMware are trying to do the same thing by integrating them as building blocks. So there's some redundancy there for us."

While Vblock has no secret ingredients, it is convenient for the channel, Zimmermann said. "The convenience is in the preconfiguration and predesigning," he said. "We can do the same things individually, but this has the blessing of the manufacturers."

However, Zimmermann said, he likes the idea of the consolidated technical and sales support promised by the new Acadia joint venture.

Forsythe, which also partners with Cisco and EMC competitors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, is evaluating which customers are best suited for the Vblock Infrastructure Packages, Zimmermann said.

Next: Partners Await Details Of Vblock Rollout

Information about how the coalition will work is still sketchy, solution providers say.

For instance, despite having the preconfigured Vblock blueprints, solution providers will still have to acquire their Cisco, EMC and VMware products from separate sources, bringing into question how much partners can benefit from the coalition, especially in terms of dealing with the vendors, Coleman Technologies' Jones said.

"Today, to sell Vblock, we need three separate PO's, and three separate deal registrations," Jones said. "We have to present three separate manufacturers. My understanding is we'll be able to register as a Vblock partner. But for now, it seems like I have to deal with three separate vendors."

Each individual vendor has its own channel policies, structure, rebates and registering, but they seem to have a plan to work together on these details, said Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of Worldwide Technology, a St. Louis-based solution provider and partner to the three vendors.

"I've spent quite a bit of time with a number of Cisco executives over the last few weeks, and they have been as transparent as they can considering a situation like this where it's not just Cisco," he said. "They've committed to us that this will be something favorable for the partner community as they evolve it. I think they'll live up to that commitment."

A Cisco spokesperson, in an e-mailed response to such questions, wrote that Cisco partners can go to Cisco's partner portal and click on a link to download a registration form, complete the form, and fax it to a group that will register for them.

Over the next 90 days, Cisco plans to have a portal for partners to complete the registration online, and EMC and VMware are providing similar capabilities for their partners, the spokesperson wrote. Eventually, all the deals will be centrally registered.

Less sure about the impact of the coalition are the distributors.

Ingram Micro has already hosted what Holly Garcia, senior director of Ingram Micro's Cisco Business Unit, called "VCE road shows" all around the U.S.

While complete Vblock packages are not available through distribution, Garcia said Ingram Micro is anticipating "heightened interest around the things we're doing" and is bringing executives from Cisco, VMware and EMC to talk about their individual data center products at these road shows.

"We saw an interest in VARs who wanted to leverage Cisco solutions, and knowing that Cisco stand-alone couldn't compete against HP and IBM unless they had partners they could leverage, we saw this [partnership] as a path they were going," she said. "We didn't have any specific insight or proprietary information from Cisco; we just have a number of partners who sell Cisco, EMC and VMware. Now that the partnership has been announced, we can take these road shows to the next level and talk to VARs about these solutions."

Garcia said she was waiting on more information from the vendors as to how complete Vblock packages would move through distributors in the future.

"It's not entirely clear to me how that's going to come through distribution," she said. "I think in the short term, we can leverage some of the messaging and help VARs understand those bundles without specifically being able to offer them. You're asking me some of the same questions I'm asking Cisco already."

Arrow ECS, EMC's largest North American distributor and VMware's largest worldwide distributor, as well as a Cisco OEM distributor, already bundles similar virtual data center solutions, said Andy Bryant, president.

Bryant said it's still too early to know how distribution will be impacted by the new coalition and its Vblock offering.

Still, he said, it will be exciting to be a part of industry efforts to bring such solutions to market. "All of the enterprise suppliers are looking for ways to help their partners virtualize their environments," he said.

"In general, customers with highly scaled computing needs will find this an attractive solution," he said. "Especially those who need to regularly spin up or decommission capacity to meet business needs."

Kavanaugh said Worldwide Technology has been building its data center practice and virtualization capabilities over the past 18 to 24 months and believes that a reference architecture like Vblock will be a real benefit to customers.

"Everything to date is individual product solutions that need to be integrated," he said. "There's still work needed and a lot of consulting for Vblock and the reference architecture, but it's a major step forward."

Kavanaugh said it is still too early to know who the potential Vblock customers will be. "From my understanding, primarily through what I've heard through Cisco, the target is going to be the large enterprise," he said. "That might be commercial, federal, state and local, but the initial appeal is going to be for large enterprise accounts."

However, he said, the branded cachet that comes with Cisco and VMware and EMC will generate a lot of interest in the market and grab customers' attention.

"Being a big Cisco partner, [we have seen] healthy interest in demand for their UCS," he said. "I think this coming not necessarily on the heels but as part of this go-to-market is going to bode well. We really have seen a lot of interest for the UCS out there in the market."

Bob Cagnazzi, CEO of BlueWater Communications, a New York-based solution provider and partner to the three vendors, wrote in an e-mailed response to that he is seeing a focused move in the data center to bring together networking, storage, virtualization and compute environments into a single strategic platform.

The alliance takes this move a step further and provides an end-to-end solution for data centers, Cagnazzi wrote.

"Their shared vision for cloud computing combines the reliability, security and control of a traditional data center with the flexibility, scalability and on-demand computing of a private cloud environment. BlueWater is excited to be one of the first partners participating in this program and we believe the alliance and offerings such as Vblock architectures can provide tremendous value to our clients."