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August, 2016

Cisco Loves HCI Choice, Except When They Don’t


Correction: I mistakenly said that only AHV was supported on UCS.  That is incorrect.  Nutanix supports vSphere, Hyper-V, and AHV on Cisco C-Series.

Late last week Nutanix officially announced support for AHV vSphere, Hyper-V, and AHV on Cisco UCS C-Series servers.  This was, unfortunately, not a joint effort between the two companies.  Nutanix has independently handled the testing themselves without the support of Cisco.  It also leaves customers with a split support model where Cisco should handle the hardware and Nutanix the software.  

It has been reported, and I can neither confirm nor deny, that Cisco is going on the offensive with their partners to make real damn sure they understand that there is no OEM or license agreement and that there are no validated designs or joint testing and support.  Given that this should be nothing but good for Cisco’s server business…why the outrage?  Obviously there is customer demand.  I’ve seen it myself many times.  Why not make customers happy?

For a while Cisco has had a very weak position with HCI (Hyper-converged Infrastructure).  Initially there was the joint license agreement deal with SimpliVity that is still going, though probably under a lot of strain due to the SimpliVity lawsuit against Springpath.  Then Cisco entered an exclusive arrangement with Springpath.  During all of this there were constant, and very strong, rumors that Cisco was working to acquire Nutanix.

Recently at the Think AHEAD 2016 Summit in June I had the chance to moderate a panel on HCI.  It is available here.  On the panel was Matt Smorto of Cisco, Chad Sakac of VCE, and Dheeraj Pandey of Nutanix.  Out of the gate the topic of Cisco’s strategy came up and the response was that they wanted to offer customers choice when it comes to HCI.  I pushed but never got what I considered to be a reasonable answer to why Cisco didn’t just buy Springpath.  Maybe there were technology concerns.  Maybe they still were looking around to make sure they had the right target in mind.  Maybe they wanted to take it slow so they didn’t end up with another Whiptail/Invicta fiasco.

But what does this mean to customers?  What interests me is the contrast between Cisco’s messaging and that of VCE/EMC/Dell.  Luckily for me, the Nutanix.Next conference was the week before the Summit and during that conference it was announced that Dell and Nutanix had extended their OEM agreement.  During the panel I had the opportunity to ask Chad Sakac about that and what they thought.  It’s no secret that over the last few years that EMC and Nutanix were very fierce competitors.  But Chad did what he always does and gave a very well thought out and reasonable answer.

You don’t punch customers in the face.

If something is working and there is demand you don’t stop it.  You don’t try and fight it because you won’t win.  And I think that’s what we’re going to see here.  Eventually Cisco will give in.  They’ll come back and talk about how there was great customer demand and how they really want to provide customers the correct solution for the right workload.

This is exactly what Dell Technologies is doing.  VCE has their own offerings in VxRail (VMware/VSAN) and VxRack (VMware/ScaleIO).  They could easily push back as Cisco is doing but instead they are going to work with customers and offer Nutanix on Dell through the same sales teams and partners.

Cisco has gaps in their hybrid cloud strategy.  They have made some good acquisitions but integration has been very slow.  My opinion is that large infrastructure manufacturers need to offer a full stack solution, or something close to it.  Right now Cisco still doesn’t have storage outside of their HCI offerings.  Their cloud management is fragmented and not well understood by most of their sales teams.  It’s not all bad, for sure.  ACI is coming along very well.  They continue to dominate the data center switching space and their servers are still excellent, though innovation has greatly slowed.

The question is just going to be…  How long will it take Cisco to come around?  And will it be too late?

3 thoughts on “Cisco Loves HCI Choice, Except When They Don’t”

  1. Hi Jason, Kelly here. I work for Nutanix.

    Just wanted to point out that Nutanix supports all 3 hypervisors on the Cisco C series servers, not just AHV.

  2. Just a tiny correction – Nutanix announced support for ESXi and Hyper-V on UCS, in addition to our own hypervisor, AHV!

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