Cisco, VMware, EMC Detail Ambitious Vblock Expansion

Cisco, VMware and EMC's heavily touted VCE coalition has ambitious ramp-up plans for Vblock, the vendors' pre-tested, pre-configured virtualized data center package. According to the vendors, 45 partners and six system integrators are currently selling Vblocks, and some 200 more partners are in the pipeline, with Vblocks about to start moving through two-tier distribution.

"What we've found is a tremendous amount of interest at the very top of the solution level on the topic of private clouds," said Rob Lloyd, Cisco's executive vice president, worldwide operations, at the Cisco Partner Summit in San Francisco Tuesday. "With so much conversation around cloud computing and cloud infrastructure, we've seen our value proposition resonate more clearly."

The three companies debuted Vblock in November. As an infrastructure package, it combines in three different configurations (dubbed Vblock 0, VBlock 1 and Vblock 2) Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) and networking switches, EMC's Symmetrix or Clariion storage arrays and VMware's vSphere server virtualization platform.

At the time of Vblock's announcement, many VARs and distributors told Channelweb that their excitement was limited by a lack of details as to how Vblock would move through the channel.

Sponsored post

According to Lloyd and several representatives from Cisco, EMC and VMware, fully configured Vblock packages will be available from Avnet starting in the second half of calendar 2010, with other distributors to follow. Vblock is also available through Acadia, the joint venture formed by Cisco and EMC to help bring the package to market.

Lloyd said the vendors had seen strong market acceptance for Vblock and the VCE coalition in North America and Europe, especially, with broad interest among solution providers, integrators and service providers. One solution provider, Wipro, had already built a private cloud practice based on Vblock, he said.

With more exposure, Lloyd and other executives advised, the confusion around Vblock will start to disappear.

"It is not a cloud, and it does not create a cloud environment. On top of a Vblock is a lot of opportunity for people to add value both in services and in software, customized for a vertical market," said Dennis Hoffman, senior vice president, virtual computing environment coalition, for EMC.

How do partners qualify to sell Vblocks? Imagine a Venn diagram, urged Manjula Talreja, vice president for the virtual computing environment coalition for Cisco. Partners who have specializations with EMC, Vmware and Cisco in each of the technologies required for Vblock deployment can play.

Does that make it inconvenient for partners?

"You have to have the depth of knowledge of all three," Talreja said.

"We know we're asking an awful lot here, but on the other hand, we're trying to deliver a lot," Hoffman added.

NEXT: Vblock: Open Architecture or Proprietary Solution?

As to whether Vblock positions Cisco, EMC and VMware as effective competitors against other data center architectures, Lloyd urged observers to focus on Vblock as a specific, value-added system offering from those three vendors, not an end-all, be-all.

"We think we've added a new choice on top of what's in the marketplace right now," Lloyd said. "If a customer likes VMware vSphere and they've had a good experience with EMC and they like Cisco networking, they're intrigued by the value proposition."

Lloyd also scoffed at the idea that Vblock was a proprietary solution being used by the vendors to box out potential competitors.

"It isn't proprietary, because customers can buy our technologies independently," Lloyd said. "They make a choice because of our reputation as technology innovators. We all maintain an open ecosystem of relationships with other companies. We're very open, but I think we've added value here."

"The level of commitment around joint selling, single support and a roadmap -- from a competitive perspective, you'd be hard pressed to find other competitors that provide that," offered Hatem Naguib, vice president of alliances at VMware.

The three vendors also dismissed the idea of Vblock limiting VAR choice of vendors for data center solutions.

"Our customers may decide they want VMware, Cisco and NetApp," Lloyd offered. "That can absolutely be what we think is a customer choice, but it isn't Vblock. Vblock is a specific management system, a security architecture and is an entirely integrated package. It's not a marketing announcement, it's a deep integration of some solid technology innovators."

"We all offer a la carte menu to put technologies together. There's not just one way to get to the nirvana of the private cloud, but we do believe there's a faster, less risky way," Hoffman said. "I would encourage you to test against those criteria. Is there a single selling entity? A single support organization? Joint venture services activity if required? What degree of ecosystem leverage is there?"

Lloyd declined to offer projections on the percentage of Cisco UCS sales that will end up going through Vblock. He did, however, confirm that new UCS blades will be using Intel Westmere CPUs, but said there were no plans to offer UCS powered by AMD or other chipmakers.

"We're in the very early days with the UCS portfolio and we're excited by its market acceptance with our partners," Lloyd said.