Let's Make Another Deal: Cisco, VMware And Now NetApp

Cisco, VMware and now NetApp have inked a technology pact, promising to deliver new architectures for increasing data center efficiency, flexibility and security, as well as the ability for any one of the three to handle support calls related to the new agreement.

NetApp and EMC are strong rivals in the storage market, but NetApp is a strong technology partner of VMware, which is majority-owned by EMC.

The agreement follows on the heels of a similar deal between EMC, Cisco and VMware to support Cisco's UCS strategy of bringing server, storage and networking technologies into a single architecture on which data centers can be built.

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

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While Cisco has been trying to overcome the market perception that its UCS strategy is tied closely to EMC on the storage side, Tuesday's agreement with NetApp is the first concrete proof of Cisco's assertions that UCS is open to any storage vendor.

Cisco's approach to the data center embraces open systems, said Ralph Nimergood, Cisco's vice president of data center architecture partner sales and practice management.

"For us, this is not an either/or discussion," Nimergood said. "We have many partners trying to bring solutions to their customers. We're trying to accelerate the adoption of cloud computing with solutions customers can readily deploy and consume."

However, Nimergood said, there is one major difference in between EMC and NetApp in terms of their joint relationship with Cisco: Acadia. Cisco and EMC next year plan to work with VMware and Intel to jointly invest in a new company, Acadia, to work with large customers and channel partners to build, operate and then transfer Vblock infrastructures.

NEXT: NetApp, Cisco, VMware Work It Out

NetApp, Cisco and VMware, meanwhile, will work together to help customers and partners build a secure, multitenancy data center infrastructure with reference designs and a cooperative support agreement, said Jay Kidd, CMO and senior vice president of product strategy development at NetApp.

The three are working together to develop end-to-end validated designs for virtualized data center infrastructures, some of which will form the foundation of cloud computing, Cisco's Nimergood said.

"We want to accelerate the move to private and public clouds where customers can fully exploit the infrastructure, the any-to-any connectivity, while including the security that customers need," Nimergood said. "This has become a key question for customers."

VMware and NetApp have been working for some time on joint support of customers and partners, and the new agreement brings Cisco into the support picture, said Ben Matheson, senior director of global partner marketing at VMware.

"If customers have an issue, they can call any of us, and the three will work together behind the scenes," Matheson said. "We are already doing joint deep technical training between the three of us."

Solution providers are an important part of the deal, Matheson said. MSI Systems Integrators, Trace3, Logicalis Group, Forsythe Solutions Group, Presidio Networked Solutions, ePlus, Long View Systems, World Wide Technology, Lockheed Martin and INX have already signed on.

NetApp and VMware have had a close relationship for years, and the high-profile announcement of a new three-way relationship with Cisco will help solution providers reach out to customers, said Rolf Strasheim, director of client solutions at Peak UpTime, a Tulsa, Okla.-based solution provider and partner to the three vendors.

"With NetApp saying there's an agreement that the three will work together, we as a partner can now point customers to the agreement so they can be assured it will work," he said.

Cisco's UCS strategy, however, is still an issue for both deals, according to Strasheim.

Cisco is introducing its own new line of blade servers as part of UCS and is running straight into the installed base of longtime server vendors such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

"I'm not seeing a big push by customers to bring in Cisco servers because what they have is not broken," he said. "If I'm an end user, why would I adopt a new Cisco server? Instead of making my data center simpler, it would add a new complexity if everything was already working fine."

Strasheim said he is still convinced that Cisco will eventually purchase a storage vendor to go with its UCS strategy, given Cisco's partnering and acquisition history.

"Cisco is one storage company away from being a storage company," he said. "It's happened before. Cisco partnered with all the VoIP companies before they bought one. And Cisco partnered with all the wireless companies until they bought one."

The Cisco and VMware coalitions with EMC and NetApp seem like good ideas, said Keith Norbie, vice president of sales at Nexus Information Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider and partner with all four vendors.

However, Norbie said, he is concerned that VMware is giving the appearance of showing favoritism toward EMC and now NetApp, a perception that could harm its vendor-neutral reputation.

VMware should have made it clear from the start that it is open to working with any vendor, Norbie said.

"Now it seems like they're trying to cut out the channel," he said. "It sounds like they're saying, 'We know better about what you need, that Vblock is right for everyone."