EMC/Cisco/VMware vBlock – The Data Center Virtualization Perspective

Well the cat is well and truly out of the bag now, after several months of serious courting and getting caught behind the bike shed a few time, the worse kept secret in IT has arrived.  Cisco, EMC, and VMware have entered into a joint venture arrangement called V-block, so what is it and how exactly does it affect the state of play?

John Chambers (Cisco) stated that basically it is a set of building blocks sized to help provision the Cloud, stirring words indeed, but how is this different from any-other SI designing a boxed solution?  Firstly you get a Vblock,  this is a pre-configured and validated set of hardware consisting of EMC and Cisco devices, coupled with VMware vSphere as the Glue that binds them together  The picture below shows their thoughts on general sizing.


One thing that is lacking here is the meat on the table,  nobody actually knows what components actually make these blocks, although that said, VMware, Cisco and EMC are currently working on these the first has been released.  The Reference Architecture for VMware View 4, which can be downloaded here, makes use of the V-block components.

So that is what it is but what does it mean, who are the winners, who are the losers,  and how will this affect if at all the market place?

Well the obvious winner is Cisco with their UCS and Nexus packages as this announcement further raises the profile of the UCS and Nexus offerings.  This also gives Cisco greater leverage over the other two and as the bigger and more powerful partner,  increasing their influence on VMware without having to buy more shares.  In fact Chambers even pulled Tucci”s leg about the measly “few Percent Stake” EMC had allowed Cisco.  There has been a significant amount of rumour about Cisco making a play for EMC. The VBlock announcement has put this to bed for the short term.

After ribbing Tucci about only giving Cisco a few per cent stake in VMware, Cisco’s CEO said customers of EMC and Cisco alike had been asking for them to offer a more integrated setup for virtualized server and storage. Apparently their customers, have in a “not too gentle nudge,” Chambers said, been telling them if they just integrated the components, they would buy more. Hence, V-block infrastructure stacks.

What do EMC gain? The Storage giant has been loosing share to the likes of  NetApp in the lower to mid range market arena for the last couple of years, although they are still dominant in the High end storage arena.  This tie in will at least guarantee them share on all Cisco UCS wins under the Arcadia banner, this is not an insignificant number as Cisco is being very aggressive in their UCS marketing.

So what does VMware get out of this partnership? They are the glue that binds the infrastructure together, so every V-Block sold will result in vSphere licensing revenue,  not a bad little proposition.   However VMware are also potentially the biggest losers here as they are seriously running the risk of alienating their other major partners such as HP, IBM and Dell.  It will be interesting to see what their responses will be.  HP has recently announced the purchase of 3Com which will firm up their Network offering under the ProCurve banner.  HP, with the exception of the virtualisation stack, already has the components for an alternative offering with the c3000 chassis, vConnect, and MSA, EVA or XP storage.  Could HP finally buy Citrix to complete the stack?

IBM is also in the same position having their own blades and storage,  but they are missing the network stack and a virtualization stack.  Possibly they could go for Blade Technologies or Juniper for the network stack, and perhaps Citrix.

Dell – well they are not really in the same league as HP or IBM but are still in a position to hurt VMware if they start to focus on XenServer or more likely, given their history, Hyper-V.

In fact Tucci and Chambers appeared to be thoughtful about the position of VMware by stating “their Partner VMware” potentially distancing VMware from the Triumvirate.  there is more evidence of this proposition shown in this slide which clearly states “Minority Investment” in the Arcadia venture.


At the end of the day the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  The history of IT is littered with failed “joint ventures”,  however this one does have a particular synergy and resonance in the marketplace today.  To me the greater question is how will the competitors react to this announcement,  we could be in for an interesting couple of years with consolidation being the order of the day.

This is evident already with HP buying EDS and Dell reacting and buying Perot.  HP have also purchased 3Com. Dell has also made their first move into the storage market with the Equilogic purchase.

Interesting times indeed.

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