Cisco: Invicta All-Flash Storage Won't Upset EMC, NetApp Partnerships

Cisco's flash storage technology, the former Whiptail line that late last month quietly was relaunched as Invicta, has finished its transformation from a stand-alone storage line to become a performance feature in the vendor's Unified Computing System server line.

Despite earlier concerns by industry and channel observers that Cisco's 2013 acquisition of flash storage vendor Whiptail would make Cisco a storage vendor and potentially upset partnerships with EMC and NetApp, the technology is now part of a two-pronged effort to increase performance of Cisco UCS servers and of the converged infrastructure built around them, said Todd Brannon, director of product marketing for the UCS line.

The Whiptail acquisition and the repurposing of the technology to be part of Cisco UCS was made in direct response to customers' requirements, Brannon said.

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"Flash is an emerging technology," he said. "Customers are looking at how to deploy flash storage. But we'd be going in the wrong direction if we wanted to stand up flash as a separate system. We want to deploy it to accelerate applications."

Cisco UCS servers form a major component in converged infrastructures developed with such storage partners as EMC, NetApp and Hitachi Data Systems, and those partnerships will continue, Brannon said.

"We will continue to certify partners' storage products with UCS," he said. "Also, the governance model we have with EMC, NetApp and Hitachi will continue."

So far, it is too early to tell whether reference architectures such as VSPEX with EMC or FlexPod with NetApp will include Invicta, Brannon said. Invicta also is under consideration as part of the Vblock solutions from VCE, he said.

Solution providers that work with Cisco and one or more of its storage partners say that, for now, Invicta does not appear to be a competitive threat to the company's storage partnerships. They are, however, concerned about the possibility that industry dynamics between the vendors could change with the increased adoption of flash storage.

One solution provider partner of Cisco, EMC and Whiptail, who asked to remain anonymous, said chances are low that Cisco will make Invicta a stand-alone product, if for no other reason than the line does not have all the features of a stand-alone flash storage array.

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"Cisco's Whiptail technology will be more of an opportunistic sales situation," the solution provider said. "If a Cisco account team gets too aggressive against EMC, EMC can call Cisco to handle it from the top down."

There is always the possibility that Cisco eventually might buy another storage company, the solution provider said. "I could see them buying a company that could make Whiptail more like a tiered storage offering," the solution provider said. "They may some day buy a software company with dedupe and replication technology. But not a disk-based storage company."

Another solution provider partner of both Cisco and EMC who also asked to remain anonymous said Cisco's Invicta offering could lead to a "co-opetive" relationship between the two vendors, but would not likely lead to a rupture in the partnership.

Cisco's Invicta platform comes in two versions due to the fact that the original Whiptail technology included two versions of the storage operating system, Brannon said.

One version of the operating system, found in the new UCS Invicta C3124A appliance for I/O acceleration in medium-scale environments, was focused on high-performance applications such as batch processing and databases.

The other, featured in the UCS Invicta Scaling System for applications requiring enterprise-class scalability, capacity and performance, features data reduction technologies for such applications as virtual desktops and email, he said.

"You can combine data reduction nodes and performance nodes in the fabric, and associate with the different applications as needed," he said. "For example, a full-width blade server running Oracle Database can be associated with a performance node. Or a rack server running Microsoft Exchange can be associated with a data reduction node."

Since its acquisition of Whiptail, Cisco has focused development of the flash storage technology on repurposing it as nodes to the Cisco UCS platform, and on extending integration of the technology into the Cisco UCS Director management system, Brannon said.

"Through 2014, we have a robust road map for integration into our UCS Manager and into our services profiles," he said.

Cisco still offers stand-alone Whiptail all-flash storage arrays to existing Whiptail customers if they do not have a UCS environment, Brannon said. "Otherwise, the technology is only available as part of UCS," he said.

Cisco also still offers Fusion-io flash storage technology as an option for server-side flash acceleration to customers who prefer that vendor's solution, Brannon said.

In the end, customers are going to be working with a wide range of storage technologies, flash or no flash, and no single solution will work for everyone, Brannon said.

"Customers are not going to choose between an all-flash or an all-spinning disk data center," he said. "It's not an either/or. It's a question of where customers want to deploy the flash."