EMC teams with Avaya (not Cisco) on communication pods

Is EMC/VMware partnership with Avaya a snub to Cisco?

Two stalwarts in the enterprise IT market joined forces today to release a unified communications stack that integrates hardware from EMC, virtualization technology from VMware and communications apps from Avaya. Perhaps most interesting about the news, though, is a company that was not involved: Cisco.

EMC, VMware and Cisco are longtime partners -- the three businesses joined forces to create VCE, a spinout offering converged infrastructure hardware with baked-in Cisco networking gear. Cisco and Avaya compete on communications products, so the fact that EMC and VMware (which EMC owns a majority stake of) are partnering with Avaya and not Cisco, has some raising questions about the health of the EMC-Cisco relations.

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The collaboration pods announced today include Avaya's flagship Aura communications applications, meant to be used to power internal communications services for medium and large businesses, or to be the backend technology behind large contact center operations. By incorporating EMC storage and VMware virtualization management, the collaboration pods can support up to 12,000 users for each rack, and multiple racks can be connected together to scale the system up. Avaya provides networking functions, including session border controls and an optional Aura messaging server. This combined hardware-software stack allows Avaya communications apps to run seamlessly on the pod, including voice with call control, presence, instant message, email, video, along with recording and reporting features. Collaboration pods start at between $400,000 and $500,000.

So is it a snub to Cisco? Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, doesn't view it that way. "This is really the next logical step for Avaya's collaboration pod," he says. During the past year or so, Avaya has been working to ensure its Aura UC apps can run in virtualized environments. That work has focused mostly on deployed Aura apps on top of the Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor, but more recently Avaya rolled out support for Aura to run on VMware hypervisors. Creating a pre-integrated product with EMC hardware and VMware virtualization technology is a natural progression of the service offering, Kerravala says. It's a win-win for both companies, he adds; Avaya ensures its apps run on popular EMC hardware and EMC pushes its hardware into the UC market where Avaya has a strong presence, especially since its 2009 acquisition of Nortel.

Cisco, meanwhile, Kerravala points out, has similar solutions for its communications platform to run on NetApp equipment, an EMC competitor.

EMC and Avaya executives played down any potential straining of relations between EMC and Cisco as well. "Absolutely not," said Anton Prenneis, an OEM evangelist for EMC, who notes that EMC is willing and looking to partner with a broad range of application providers to ensure their software runs smoothly on EMC hardware. Prenneis added that EMC and Cisco have a "very strong" partnership, pointing to the VCE venture, for example. "We didn't sit back and select Avaya out of some strategic marketing campaign, we have a good relationship (with them)," he said. When asked if EMC and Cisco would work on a similar analogous pre-integrated package for Cisco UC offerings, Prenneis said he couldn't comment.

The EMC-Cisco relationship has gone through some rocky times in the past year or so. EMC boss Joe Tucci even admitted so. "There are some strains there," Kerravala says about the state of EMC-Cisco affairs. Cisco likely isn't thrilled that VMware spent $1.2 billion to buy virtual networking company Nicira. But, Kerravala says that's the reality of business today: On some projects two companies can be friends; on others, competitors.

Network World senior writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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