Cisco In New Software-Defined Storage, All-Flash Storage Play With Elastifile Investment

Nearly a year after it closed its last all-flash storage venture, data center heavyweight Cisco is signaling increased interest in the software-defined storage and flash storage market with a new investment in Elastifile.

Herzliya, Israel-based Elastifile on Tuesday revealed that Cisco is its newest investor. The new investment comes after a January round of funding in which six unnamed server, storage and data center companies participated in a $35 million round of investment in Elastifile.

Elastifile did not state the amount of funding from Cisco, but Reuters reported that Cisco invested $15 million in the company.

[Related: After Invicta Closes, What's Next For Cisco Storage?]

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Neither Elastifile nor Cisco responded to CRN requests for more information by publication time.

Elastifile develops a software-defined storage technology that allows commodity server hardware to be configured as an all-flash storage array featuring distributed file, object and block capabilities as part of an enterprise-grade, scale-out primary storage solution.

The Elastifile technology supports OpenStack/KVM, VMware vSphere, and Linux containers. The company claims the technology, which converges compute and storage resources, can expand to thousands of physical nodes and provide tens of millions of IOPS with latency of under 2 milliseconds.

The solution is flash-optimized and able to take advantage of commodity SSDs or NVMe or PCIe flash cards.

For Cisco, a leading provider in the server and networking industry, the investment in Elastifile is the latest attempt to make its mark in the storage business.

While Cisco has a strong partnership with storage vendor NetApp in the development of FlexPod converged infrastructure solutions, its relationship with NetApp rival EMC is under pressure as Cisco rival Dell moves to close its planned acquisition of EMC.

Cisco last year ended development of Invicta, its largest venture to date in the storage business.

Invicta, formed from Cisco's late-2013 acquisition of all-flash storage vendor Whiptail for $415 million, never really took hold. Cisco, mindful of its key relationships with most of the top storage vendors, including EMC and NetApp, maintained that the Whiptail technology would not be sold as a standalone storage solution but instead would be used as a storage acceleration technology for its Cisco UCS server line.

However, that technology, which Cisco renamed with the Invicta moniker, was prepped to be offered as standalone storage, but it was never widely available, due in large part to what Cisco characterized as "quality issues in deployments."

Cisco early this year also introduced Cisco HyperFlex, its first hyper-converged infrastructure solution. Cisco Hyperflex combines Cisco UCS servers, Cisco networking and software-defined storage technology from SpringPath in a pre-integrated cluster that scales resources independently. Cisco said it can be up and running, including the networking, in less than an hour.

One executive at a solution provider that has worked closely with Cisco for years told CRN under condition of anonymity that the investment in Elastifile shows that Cisco knows software-defined storage is where the business is going.

"The idea of Cisco investing in a software-defined storage company is, really, 'What took you so long,' " the solution provider executive said.

Cisco has a lot of potential to use the Elastifile software on top of its Cisco UCS server platform to develop object storage and flash storage solutions that could compete with the best in the storage industry, the director said.

Best of all, Cisco could do so without disrupting its partnerships with EMC, NetApp and other storage vendors, the source said.

"There's no reason to not think Cisco won't use it as part of a software-defined storage solution," the executive said. "[Fifteen million dollars] is not a big investment. Cisco could be signaling to NetApp and EMC that it will not compete with them. It might be saying, 'Hey, NetApp and EMC, this is only $15 million. Don't worry about it.' "