In the past, Cisco has attempted to introduce competitive solutions in the enterprise storage market. First, Cisco and NetApp teamed up on Flexpod, an all-Flash UCS module, that did not succeed as an enterprise solution. Additionally, in 2013, Cisco acquired the All-Flash Array (AFA) company Whiptail to try to create AFA enterprise business solutions, but integration issues and support challenges eventually shut down the Invicta product line.
Now, there has been more movements by Cisco into the enterprise storage market with the introduction of Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS) which utilizes blade servers that meet current industry standards, and have been widely popular across several companies.
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Its UCS server platform has actually already set Cisco apart as a bigger contributor to the enterprise storage market. Cisco has built an estimated $1 billion business via its UCS server platform. In fact, according to an IDC report, the performance is now high enough to place Cisco in fifth place in the server market behind first place HPE, Dell, IBM, and Lenovo. Success that has been unseen before now in this technology market niche.
The x86 server market has become increasingly important in the enterprise data center especially in the area of storage. In fact, there seems to be a growing list of storage providers that base solutions on standard data center servers. Because of this trend as well as the Dell and EMC deal, there has been speculation for a while that Cisco is considering purchasing the last available independent storage provider, NetApp, especially since the stock price has been decreasing.
Within the storage niche, Cisco has an obvious opportunity in hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). It’s proven to be successful with solutions coming from upcoming companies like SimpliVity and Nutanix. The success of VCE has also solidified this market; they have a reported run rate of $3 billion.
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So far, Cisco has approached developing HCI solutions by partnering with other technology providers. For examples, VCE leverages the Cisco UCS servers for the Vblock converged platform. Vblock utilizes EMC storage and some Cisco network gear. Cisco has also collaborated with SimpliVity to offer a pure converged infrastructure solution. Cisco sells a Cisco and SimpliVity co-branded OmniStack solution, which integrates with the Cisco UCS platform.
Omnistack works for the benefit of customers by equipping them with Cisco’s global support and SimpliVity’s IP. According to Cisco, one of the drawbacks to the OmniStack product is the revenue mix; for resellers, the Omnistack had limited channel appeal due to the revenue agreement.
Cisco’s 2nd major attempt at HCI has been the HyperFlex, which has been developed with hyperconverged software vendor SpringPath, which utilizes the SpringPath software. Hyperflex is obviously a larger focus due to its increased presence on the website; it is a newer solution and product of the Cisco partnership ecosystem.
Cisco recently announced a MapR-based SAP HANA appliance product offering. MapR is described as a converged data platform, and Cisco is leveraging the platform to create a dedicated x86-based SAN for the SAP HANA MapR NFS-persistent layer. A major difference between HyperFlex and the MapR-based appliance is the storage and compute nodes are specifically separated; MapR has a dedicated layer for storage separate from application servers.
If the sheer volume of Cisco projects has given you whiplash (like it has me), then imagine the cross-eyed executives of the company trying to keep track of it all. They say don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but don’t have too many baskets that you leave a few behind either.
If Cisco would like to create a competitive, software independent data center in the enterprise marketplace, their storage strategy needs to evolve. The history of the company’s storage approach is complicated and its current goals are narrowly focused on specific verticals. For now, Cisco needs to put some development and investment to make it its own software and hardware before they can compete without the support of specific, tailored partner choices.