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Cisco's storage alliances safe... for now

$415 million WHIPTAIL buy will be played carefully but eventually ignite tension with EMC, NetApp

Will Cisco's acquisition of flash memory company WHIPTAIL strain relations with storage partners EMC and NetApp - anymore than they are already strained? Perhaps so, but only when those companies ramp up their own flash storage products, writes Wikibon analyst Stu Miniman.

Cisco bought WHIPTAIL, a company some believe Cisco already invested in, for $415 million to add storage to its Unified Computing System server, switching, virtualization and now storage platform. Previously, UCS provided only storage access.

[MARKET INSERTION: Is Insieme inserting Cisco into storage?]

Adding high performance scalability and capacity flash storage to UCS represents the server platform's ascension into big data analytics and public cloud applications from its initial target market of private cloud and virtualization, says Cisco Data Center SVP Paul Perez in this blog post:

In our customer interactions it became very clear they view application acceleration using persistent solid-state memory as a use case that belongs in the server tier, not the storage tier...We arrived at the conclusion that UCS needed to be best-in-class at accelerating hot data layers. Hot data is closest to applications and therefore has high affinity for the server tier.  Hence WHIPTAIL

Perez says Cisco's vision and intent is to integrate UCS computing and WHIPTAIL solid-state memory over a Nexus fabric to create scalable persistent memory systems. All together now: I-N-S-I-E-M-E.

But Cisco is intent on keeping WHIPTAIL in the memory hierarchy in the compute tier vs. storage hierarchy. This allows customers to accelerate application performance while retaining investments in back end storage, Perez writes.

It might also help keep the peace with EMC and NetApp... for now, anyway. Miniman writes that, by positioning WHIPTAIL specifically for UCS, Cisco can maintain its UCS back end storage partnerships - VCE and VSPEX with EMC, and FlexPod with NetApp do not revolve around flash. But as EMC's XtremIO and NetApp's FlashRay all-flash products gain traction in the market, the competition will intensify, he expects.

While this is not a declaration of war against its storage partners, Cisco's acquisition will add to competitive tension as the boundaries between layers of the stack are blurred and account teams fight for the same IT dollars.

For now though, Cisco is playing WHIPTAIL very close to its UCS vest in order not to disrupt billions in sales assisted by these storage partnerships. 

UPDATE: A VCE official was unequivocal in the joint venture's stance on WHIPTAIL: since it will be the memory within upcoming fabric technology from Cisco, and VCE uses only compute and fabric technology from Cisco, it will "leverage" WHIPTAIL when it's embedded in it. VCE will rely on storage and data protection from EMC, and virtualization and virtualization management from VMware. VCE will provide hooks to VMware's NSX network virtualization platform from Cisco/Insieme's Application Centric Infrastructure fabric where appropriate, the official said.

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