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Acadia VCE: VMware Cisco EMC Virtual Computing Environment

Was today the day the music died? (click here or here if you are not familar with the expression)

Add another three letter acronym (TLA) to your IT vocabulary if you are involved with server, storage, networking, virtualization, security and related infrastructure resource management (IRM) topics.

That new TLA is Virtual Computing Environment (VCE), a coalition formed by EMC and Cisco along with partner Intel called Acadia that was announced today. Of course, EMC who also happens to own VMware for virtualization and RSA for security software tools bring those to the coalition (read press release here).

For some quick fun, twittervile and the blogosphere have come up with other meanings such as:

VCE = Virtualization Communications Endpoint
VCE = VMware Cisco EMC
VCE = Very Cash Efficient
VCE = VMware Controls Everything
VCE = Virtualization Causes Enthusiasm
VCE = VMware Cisco Exclusive

Ok, so much for some fun, at least for now.

With Cisco, EMC and VMware announcing their new VCE coalition, has this signaled the end of servers, storage, networking, hardware and software for physical, virtual and clouding computing as we know it?

Does this mean all other vendors not in this announcement should pack it up, game over and go home?

The answer in my perspective is NO!

No, the music did not end today!

NO, servers, storage and networking for virtual or cloud environments has not ended.

Also, NO, other vendors do not have to go home today, the game is not over!

However a new game is on, one that some have seen before, for others it is something new, exciting perhaps revolutionary or an industry first.

What was announced?
Figure 1 shows a general vision or positioning from the three major players involved along with four tenants or topic areas of focus. Here is a link to a press release where you can read more.

CiscoVirtualizationCoalition.png
Figure 1: Source: Cisco, EMC, VMware

General points include:

  • A new coalition (e.g. VCE) focused on virtual compute for cloud and non cloud environments
  • A new company Acadia owned by EMC and Cisco (1/3 each) along with Intel and VMware
  • A new go to market pre-sales, service and support cross technology domain skill set team
  • Solution bundles or vblocks with technology from Cisco, EMC, Intel and VMware

What are the vblocks and components?
Pre-configured (see this link for a 3D model), tested, and supported with a single throat to choke model for streamlined end to end management and acquisition. There are three vblocks or virtual building blocks that include server, storage, I/O networking, and virtualization hypervisor software along with associated IRM software tools.

Cisco is bringing to the game their Unified Compute Solution (UCS) server along with Nexus 1000v and Multilayer Director (MDS) switches, EMC is bringing storage (Symmetrix VMax, CLARiiON and unified storage) along with their RSA security and Ionix IRM tools. VMware is providing their vSphere hypervisors running on Intel based services (via Cisco).

The components include:

  • EMC Ionix management tools and framework: The IRM tools
  • EMC RSA security framework software: The security tools
  • EMC VMware vSphere hypervisor virtualization software: The virtualization layer
  • EMC VMax, CLARiiON and unified storage systems: The storage
  • Cisco Nexus 1000v and MDS switches: The Network and connectivity
  • Cisco Unified Compute Solution (UCS): The physical servers
  • Services and support: Cross technology domain presales, delivery and professional services

CiscoEMCVMwarevblock.jpg
Figure 2: Source: Cisco vblock (Server, Storage, Networking and Virtualization Software) via Cisco

The three vblock models are:
Vblock0: entry level system due out in 2010 supporting 300 to 800 VMs for initial customer consolidation, private clouds or other diverse applications in small or medium sized business. You can think of this as a SAN in a CAN or Data Center in a box with Cisco UCS and Nexus 1000v, EMC unified storage secured by RSA and VMware vSphere.

Vblock1: mid sized building block supporting 800 to 3000 VMs for consolidation and other optimization initiatives using Cisco UCS, Nexus and MDS switches along with EMC CLARiiON storage secured with RSA software hosting VMware hypervisors.

Vblock2 high end supporting up 3000 to 6000 VMs for large scale data center transformation or new virtualization efforts combing Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS), Nexus 1000v and MDS switches and EMC VMax Symmetix storage with RSA security software hosting VMware vSpshere hypervisor.

What does this all mean?
With this move, for some it will add fuel to the campfire that Cisco is moving closer to EMC and or VMware with a pre-nuptial via Acadia. For others, this will be seen as fragmentation for virtualization particularly if other vendors such as Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM and Microsoft among others are kept out of the game, not to mention their channels of vars or IT customers barriers.

Acadia is a new company or more precisely, a joint venture being created by major backers EMC and Cisco with minority backers being VMware and Intel.

Like any other joint ventures, for examples those commonly seen in the airline industry (e.g. transportation utility) where carriers pool resources such as SkyTeam whose members include Delta who had a JV with Airframe owner of KLM who had a antitrust immunity JV with northwest (now being digested by Delta).

These joint ventures can range from simple marketing alliances like you see with EMC programs such as their Select program to more formal OEM to ownership as is the case with VMware and RSA to this new model for Acadia.

An airline analogy may not be the most appropriate, yet there are some interesting similarities, least of which that air carriers rely on information systems and technologies provided by members of this collation among others. There is also a correlation in that joint ventures are about streamlining and creating a seamless end to end customer experience. That is, give them enough choice and options, keep them happy, take out the complexities and hopefully some cost, and with customer control come revenue and margin or profits.

Certainly there are opportunities to streamline and not just simply cut corners, perhaps that is another area or analogy with the airlines where there is a current focus on cutting, nickel and dimming for services. Hopefully the Acadia and VCE are not just another example of vendors getting together around the campfire to sing Kumbaya in the name of increasing customer adoption, cost cutting or putting a marketing spin on how to sell more to customers for account control.

Now with all due respect to the individual companies and personal, at least in this iteration, it is not as much about the technology or packaging. Likewise, while important, it is also not just about bundling, integration and testing (they are important) as we have seen similar solutions before.

Rather, I think this has the potential for changing the way server, storage and networking hardware along with IRM and virtualization software are sold into organizations, for the better or worse.

What Im watching is how Acadia and their principal backers can navigate the channel maze and ultimately the customer maze to sell a cross technology domain solution. For example, will a sales call require six to fourteen legs (e.g. one person is a two legged call for those not up on sales or vendor lingo) with a storage, server, networking, VMware, RSA, Ionix and services representative?

Or, can a model to drive down the number of people or product specialist involved in a given sales call be achieved leveraging people with cross technology domain skills (e.g. someone who can speak server and storage hardware and software along with networking)?

Assuming Acadia and VCE vblocks address product integration issues, I see the bigger issue as being streamlining the sales process (including compensation plans) along with how partners are dealt with not to mention customers.

How will the sales pitch be to the Cisco network people at VARs or customer sites, or too the storage or server or VMware teams, or, all of the above?

What about the others?
Cisco has relationships with Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle/Sun among others that they will be stepping even more on the partner toes than when they launched the UCS earlier this year. EMC for its part if fairly diversified and is not as subservient to IBM however has a history of partnering with Dell, Oracle and Microsoft among others.

VMware has a smaller investment and thus more in the wings as is Intel given that both have large partnership with Dell, HP, IBM and Microsoft. Microsoft is of interest here because on one front the bulk of all servers virtualized into VMware VMs are Windows based.

On the other hand, Microsoft has their own virtualization hypervisor HyperV that depending upon how you look at it, could be a competitor of VMware or simply a nuisance. Im of the mindset that its still to early and do not judge this game on the first round which VMware has won. Keep in mind the history such as desktop and browser wars that Microsoft lost in the first round only to come back strong later. This move could very well invigorate Microsoft, or perhaps Oracle, Citrix among others.

Now this is far from the first time that we have seen alliances, coalitions, marketing or sales promotion cross technology vendor clubs in the industry let alone from the specific vendors involved in this announcement.

One that comes to mind was 3COMs failed attempt in the late 90s to become the first traditional networking vendor to get into SANs, that was many years before Cisco could spell SAN let alone their Andiamo startup incubated. The 3COM initiative which was cancelled due to financial issues literally on the eve of rollout was to include the likes of STK (pre-sun), Qlogic, Anchor (People were still learning how to spell Brocade), Crossroads (FC to SCSI routers for tape), Legato (pre-EMC), DG CLARiiON (Pre-EMC), MTI (sold their patents to EMC, became a reseller, now defunct) along with some others slated to jump on the bandwagon.

Lets also not forget that while among the traditional networking market vendors Cisco is the $32B giant and all of the others including 3Com, Brocade, Broadcom, Ciena, Emulex, Juniper and Qlogic are the seven plus dwarfs. However, keep the $23B USD Huawei networking vendor that is growing at a 45% annual rate in mind.

I would keep an eye on AMD, Brocade, Citrix, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Huawei, Juniper, Microsoft, NetApp, Oracle/Sun, Rackable and Symantec among many others for similar joint venture or marketing alliances.

Some of these have already surfaced with Brocade and Oracle sharing hugs and chugs (another sales term referring to alliance meetings over beers or shots).

Also keep in mind that VMware has a large software (customer business) footprint deployed on HP with Intel (and AMD) servers.

Oh, and those VMware based VMs running on HP servers also just happen to be hosting in their neighbor of 80% or more Windows based guests operating systems, I would say its game on time.

When I say its game on time, I dont think VMware is brash enough to cut HP (or others) off forcing them to move to Microsoft for virtualization. However the game is about control, control of technology stacks and partnerships, control of vars, integrators and the channel, as well as control of customers.

If you cannot tell, I find this topic fun and interesting.

For those who only know me from servers they often ask when did I learn about networking to which I say check out one of my books (Resilient Storage Networks-Elsevier). Meanwhile for others who know me from storage I get asked when did I learn about or get into servers to which I respond about 28 years ago when I worked in IT as the customer.

Bottom line on Acadia, vblocks and VCE for now, I like the idea of a unified and bundled solution as long as they are open and flexible.

On the other hand, I have many questions and even skeptical in some areas including of how this plays out for Cisco and EMC in terms of if it can be a unifier or polarized causing market fragmentation.

For some this is or will be dejavu, back to the future, while for others it is a new, exciting and revolutionary approach while for others it will be new fodder for smack talk!

More to follow soon.

Cheers gs

Greg Schulz - StorageIO, Author "The Green and Virtual Data Center" (CRC)

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Greg Schulz

Greg Schulz is founder of the Server and StorageIO (StorageIO) Group, an IT industry analyst and consultancy firm. Greg has worked with various server operating systems along with storage and networking software tools, hardware and services. Greg has worked as a programmer, systems administrator, disaster recovery consultant, and storage and capacity planner for various IT organizations. He has worked for various vendors before joining an industry analyst firm and later forming StorageIO.

In addition to his analyst and consulting research duties, Schulz has published over a thousand articles, tips, reports and white papers and is a sought after popular speaker at events around the world. Greg is also author of the books Resilient Storage Network (Elsevier) and The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC). His blog is at www.storageioblog.com and he can also be found on twitter @storageio.

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