Cisco Storage: How To Dominate The Market Without Selling A Single Disk

Few know the ins and outs of being a key part of the storage industry without selling a single disk drive or array. But Cisco does. Cisco, known for its industry-leading networking and communications solutions, has used its fast-growing Cisco UCS server business to turn itself into one of the key players in the storage market.

Cisco has strategic relationships with the storage industry's top three independent vendors, giving its Cisco UCS server offering a huge boost in its competition with full systems vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Oracle.

It also has more recently formed partnerships with a number of smaller storage vendors, often for a specific offering such as virtual desktop infrastructure. Come with CRN on a tour of the relationships that have made Cisco a storage force to be reckoned with.

For a closer look at Cisco's stake in VCE and storage, see a preview of our exclusive report, "For Cisco, Is VCE Just A Stopover On The Way To The Cloud?" The full article is available exclusively in the CRN Tech News app.

Why Storage?

Cisco's move into the storage industry via a series of strategic relationships with storage vendors stems in part from the 2009 introduction of its Cisco UCS server platform. That led to Cisco's early 2010 decision to break its long-term reseller partnership with Hewlett-Packard, which at the time was the largest reseller of Cisco networking gear.

Cisco at that time had a zero-percent share of the server market, which was dominated by such systems vendors as HP, Dell, IBM and others. But for its server business to succeed, it needed a back door into the data centers of enterprises, which are typically loath to change server vendors, especially for an upstart.

Storage was the answer.

Cisco And EMC, Part 1

Cisco and EMC in 2009 started talking about working together on developing a cloud platform, and later in the year unveiled Acadia, a joint-venture company that included VMware as a junior partner.

Acadia eventually became VCE, the developer of the Vblock line of converged infrastructure offerings based on EMC storage, Cisco servers and networking, and VMware virtualization technology.

VCE, however, was not the last word in either Cisco's EMC relationship or its relationship with EMC's rivals.

Cisco And NetApp, Part 1

While VCE gave the impression that Cisco and EMC had welded their storage strategies, Cisco shattered that illusion in early 2010 by signing a strategic relationship with EMC archrival NetApp.

That new relationship resulted in the November 2009 unveiling of the FlexPod reference architecture under which NetApp and Cisco provided the plans for building converged infrastructure solutions for a variety of applications.

Since then, shipments of solutions through the channel based on FlexPod have exceeded VCE Vblock shipments, although it must be noted that a Vblock sale results in higher revenue than a FlexPod sale.

Cisco And EMC, Part 2

While VCE was first envisioned as a developer of reference architecture that would let customers, and presumably solution providers, build converged infrastructures based on the Cisco, EMC and VMware technology, VCE in the end sold complete SKUs that were, and still are, assembled by the company before drop-shipping to customer sites.

The two companies in 2012 went back to those roots with the introduction of EMC's VSPEX reference architecture.

While VSPEX allows for server and networking technology from vendors other than Cisco, it still gives the two vendors an avenue for further developing their relationship even as they pursue other relationships.

And for Cisco, the pursuit this year has shifted into high gear.

Cisco And HDS

October saw Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) unveil its converged infrastructure.

That solution comes in two flavors, including the fully configured Hitachi Unified Compute Platform (UCP) Pro based on Hitachi servers and storage with Brocade networking, and HCP Select, a reference architecture that offers the option of using Cisco UCS servers and networking gear.

While HDS and its HCP Select offering is not as tight a relationship with Cisco as the NetApp-Cisco FlexPod relationship, it does give Cisco bragging rights to seeing its servers and networking equipment available as prevalidated equipment with all three of the storage industry's largest independent storage vendors.

Cisco And NetApp, Part 2

Cisco and NetApp in October introduced an entry-level version of their FlexPod converged infrastructure, dubbed ExpressPod, in a move to expand the market for the combined server, storage and networking solutions to smaller-size business customers.

The new ExpressPod entry-level converged infrastructure solutions target businesses with up to 500 users where the IT department may consist of a single generalist struggling to manage the company's entire IT infrastructure.

Unlike the FlexPod converged infrastructure solution, which provides application integration with software from companies such as Oracle and SAP, cloud integration and flexible configurations, the ExpressPod comes in only two fixed configurations targeting the software needs of the typical SMB.

Cisco And Nexenta

Cisco and Nexenta Systems are partnering in the VMware Rapid Desktop Alliance, a program under which a variety of vendors are offering predefined, orderable solutions for virtual desktop infrastructures for fast deployment using VMware's View 5 technology.

The solution includes the Cisco UCS B230 M2 blade server and NexentaVSA for VMware View software.

NexentaVSA for VMware View includes VMware VAAI (vStorage APIs for Array Integration) support that allows the solution to use the server's integrated storage in lieu of a separate storage device. Nexenta said the solution scales from 50 desktops to "thousands" of desktops.

Cisco And Nimble Storage

Cisco servers are also being married with Nimble Storage by solution provider Presidio with a VMware Rapid Desktop Alliance virtual desktop infrastructure solution.

The solution marries Cisco's UCS B230 M2 servers with Nimble's CS240G, a hybrid storage solution that combines a cache-optimized flash memory layer with disk drives for capacity.

Cisco And ... Cisco

Cisco actually used to have its own storage line, the Cisco Small Business NSS300 Series Smart Storage.

The NSS300 debuted in June 2010, but Cisco in September 2011 announced it would be discontinued. Ordering for the NSS300 ended in February 2012, ending Cisco's own foray into the storage appliance market.

However, the company still develops storage networking switches, as well as software for managing SANs.