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VCE expanding beyond Cisco?

EMC-owned joint venture could now produce platforms using NSX networking, Lenovo servers

Now that Cisco has sold most of its stake in VCE to EMC, expect Cisco’s server and networking exclusivity in VCE products to erode.

Cisco has an exclusive agreement to be the server, and network switch and fabric supplier to VCE’s Vblock converged infrastructure platforms. Vblocks are expected to be a key channel and platform for Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure fabric.

But that does not preclude EMC from developing X, Y or Z blocks that combine EMC storage and VMware hypervisors with EMC servers (from Lenovo), VMware’s NSX network virtualization, and physical switches from any vendor NSX runs on.

Vblocks specifically will retain Cisco compute and networking exclusivity, a VCE spokesperson confirmed without ruling out VCE product line expansion:

The core of VCE’s offering will remain with Vblock Systems, which will continue to be based exclusively on EMC, Cisco and VMware technology. While we have no specific plans at this point, over time, we expect that both Cisco and VCE will continue to evolve their product strategies to best respond to customer requirements and market opportunities.

Opening up its converged infrastructure systems to non-Cisco compute and networking could open up more of the cloud and SDN market to VCE. Some analysts have noted that VCE’s closed Vblock approach was cutting the system off from a sizable chunk of the market.

That may soon change, and the writing's been on the wall for a while. VCE parents Cisco and EMC have been adopting a more adversarial approach ever since EMC’s VMware bought network virtualization start-up Nicira for $1.26 billion, effectively becoming a networking competitor to Cisco. Cisco got closer to EMC rival NetApp. EMC then entered into an agreement with server vendor Lenovo, Cisco cozied up to hypervisor vendors Citrix and Microsoft, and then bought its own flash memory company in WHIPTAIL.

Indeed, a recent EMC announcement on a software-defined data center from its federation of companies – VMware, Pivotal and yes, VCE – endorses running VMware NSX on VCE (Cisco server, switching) hardware.

“Cisco and EMC already are pursuing their own parallel paths in providing converged infrastructure and software-defined datacenters,” says IDC analyst Brad Casemore. “In taking control over VCE, EMC clearly has the latitude to use VMware’s NSX in conjunction with VBlock hardware, including the underlying network fabric. Remember, though, that VCE is integrated infrastructure, very much a hardware play. You’ll still need an underlying fabric, even if you have NSX as the overlay for network virtualization. It will be interesting to see how things evolve from here.”

And in an added twist, NetApp may soon unveil its own internally developed server, ostensibly to work with a converged infrastructure reference architecture like the FlexPod system it markets with Cisco. Up to now, FlexPod’s used Cisco UCS servers exclusively.

NetApp did not respond to a phone call inquiring about the server.

Cisco’s been discussing winding down its VCE investment and ownership stake for the past six months, sources say. The joint venture’s been a money loser for Cisco since it was launched in 2009.

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