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Cisco flexes some data center muscle at Partner Summit 2016

The event kicks off today and has already seen Cisco make a couple of significant announcements in the data center.

Cisco’s reseller event, Partner Summit, kicked off this week in San Diego. The event is normally a big one for Cisco as thousands of its resellers gather to be updated on the latest, greatest plans for Cisco. All eyes are on Chuck Robbins as this is the first Partner Summit held under his watch as the company’s CEO. The event kicks off today and has already seen Cisco make a couple of significant announcements in the data center.

This morning Cisco announced its intention to acquired Silicon Valley based, CliQr Technologies for $260 million. The 105-person company provides application centric cloud orchestration that enables customers to model, deploy and manage across bare metal, virtual and container environments regardless of whether the infrastructure is on premise or in a private or public cloud. The technology will be used to help Cisco customers move to a seamless hybrid cloud model where the information can be moved between clouds, and resources can be provisioned across clouds. CliQr’s technology is already tightly integrated into a number of Cisco data center products including ACI (Application Centric Infrastructure) and Unified Computing System (UCS).  

CliQr complements Cisco’s current data center portfolio nicely. ACI enables customers to automate the provisioning of data center infrastructure through policies driven from the infrastructure up. CliQr uses a model-based approach and is more top down and uses application or business policies to provision. Cisco ACI has broad appeal with traditional network and data center operations personnel, where CliQr is DevOps and application focused.  

The acquisition of CliQr will certainly fuel the Cisco-VMware fire, as CliQr’s primary competitor is VMware’s vRealize cloud management suite. While the talk track from the two vendors is similar, the approach is quite different. VRealize presumes the world is all VMware centric where CliQr was designed to work across multiple clouds and multiple cloud types. CliQr works with a wide range of public and private clouds including VMware, Azure Pack, OpenStack, Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, RackSpace, Dimension Data as well as some specialty clouds like Microsoft Azure Government.

For Cisco’s channel partners, the acquisition provides some interesting opportunities. First and most obviously, CliQr can be used to help customers move to a scalable hybrid cloud model comprised of on premise, private and public clouds. Because CliQr is an “up the stack” solution, Cisco partners can now start dialoging with line of business managers, application developers or DevOps. Also, CliQr can be used to facilitate the customer moving to managed service where the partner can work with the customer to set up the policies and manage it for them.

One of the more intriguing elements of the acquisition is what the combination of ACI and CliQr could offer.  Currently, CliQr is an “as a service” offering with the software being deployed on premises or in the cloud.  ACI, however is deployed in the customer data center so the model would be run CliQr as a service on top of ACI.  In the future, a partner could offer “ACI as a service” using CliQr to manage infrastructure that was partner or service provider hosted.  The multi-cloud capabilities of CliQr creates a number of options for Cisco and its partners. 

The second interesting piece of data center related Partner Summit news is that Cisco is jumping into the hyperconverged market through an OEM agreement with Springpath. There has been wide speculation that Cisco would be moving into hyperconverged and even some rumors that it would acquire either SimpliVity or Nutanix.

While Springpath doesn’t have the brand name of the hyperconverged market leaders, it’s a better fit for Cisco as it has made investments in the company and has likely heavily influenced the direction of the product. Under the terms of the agreement, Cisco has the option of acquiring Springpath if it meets certain financial goals. In many ways, this is similar to the model that Cisco used to bring Insieme and Andiamo into the company.

The new Cisco HyperFlex hyperconverged systems are part of a larger converged strategy that includes Nexus and UCS. Cisco’s unique differentiator is that it can move hyperconverged from being a standalone technology to being part of a larger converged architecture where converged and hyperconverged systems can be managed through a single, policy driven console offered via Cisco Enterprise Cloud Suite.

Because HyperFlex is a complement to UCS, the obvious “low hanging fruit” for Cisco’s partner community is to take the hyperconverged solution into the massive base of UCS customers first. While Cisco is late to the hyperconverged party, I certainly don’t think they’ve missed the opportunity. The first wave of hyperconverged was sold into smaller businesses that wanted the ease of deployment. Now hyperconverged is moving up the market and is an important part of having an agile infrastructure than can meet the needs of DevOps. This is the wave that Cisco is trying to catch and appears to have the right strategy in place.

Lastly, no Cisco event would be complete without a networking announcement.  At the event the company announced its next generation of Nexus Switches and Software.  These new products are built on Cisco’s latest ASICs (Tahoe) and are the first switching products specifically built for cloud scale. Cisco is bringing 25/50/100 Gig capabilities to the data center at the same costs and density of current 10/40 Gig products. This is an increase in up to 10x the bandwidth at the same costs.

The new version of its flagship switch, the Nexus 9000, includes three modular and two fixed form factor units. The products offer 100 Gig performance with 25% more non-blocking performance over the merchant silicon solutions. The new Nexus also includes real time network telemetry with pervasive NetFlow at 100 Gig speeds for better network security and network wide troubleshooting. 

Cisco also added a number of other features designed for supporting cloud deployments including the ability to scale up to 10x in IP addresses, support over 1 million containers in a rack and has adaptive capacity and congestion control. The last feature is important for running IP storage, converged and hyperconverged infrastructure on a single unified fabric.

Last week Jim Duffy wrote this post that cites research from Synergy that highlights that despite the onslaught of new competitors, SDN and white box, Cisco has maintained its dominant position. I contend that Cisco’s homegrown ASICs are one of the key reasons for this. I did some research last year that indicate that Cisco consistently maintains an 18 to 24 month advantage over merchant because its ASICs allow it to get more features to market faster.

In addition to the 9000, Cisco also announced it was finally had ACI support for Cisco Nexus 7000 switches, something customers and channel partners have been asking for. For customers that have purchased the 7000, this news offers a degree of investment protection.

Lastly, for customers that want a merchant silicon product, Cisco announced new Nexus 3000 data center switches built on Broadcom’s Tomahawk silicon to deliver 25/50/100 Gig.

This may be Chuck Robbins first Partner Summit as CEO but there’s certainly as much or more news coming out of this one as I’ve seen in a long time.

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