Cisco Systems and IBM are partnering on a new integrated data center solution that enables the networking giant to grow its converged systems portfolio and gets Big Blue back into the industry-standard server space after it sold its x86 systems business to Lenovo.
The two tech vendors on Dec. 4 introduced VersaStack, a solution that combines Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) integrated offering with IBM's Storwize V7000 storage system. The move comes as the demand for integrated data center systems—which bundle compute, storage, networking, management software and virtualization into a single package—grows among enterprises that are looking for ways to more easily address the rapid changes in their environments brought on by such trends as mobile computing, big data, social networking and the cloud.
Businesses are looking for more contained solutions that are optimized for particular workloads. Cisco is expanding its lineup that already includes the FlexPod systems—in partnership with NetApp—and its work with VCE, a joint venture with EMC and VMware that builds converged solutions called Vblocks. However, that partnership has been strained over the years, with the three vendors increasingly competing in such areas as software-defined networking and the cloud, and Cisco in October announced it was reducing its stake in VCE from 35 percent to 10 percent, selling the bulk of it to EMC.
The VersaStack solution with IBM will increase the competition between the companies.
Satinder Sethi, vice president of data center solutions at Cisco, said the new offering is the latest product from a partnership that dates back more than 15 years and has grown to more than 25,000 joint customers worldwide. The two vendors work together in such areas as business analytics, cloud and collaboration.
"This is another step forward for Cisco and IBM," Sethi told eWEEK.
For IBM, pairing the Storwize 7000 product with Cisco's UCS makes sense for customers that are looking for better performance and easier management in their data center infrastructures, according to Laura Guio, vice president of business line executive storage systems for Big Blue. The Storwize product offers a broad range of features, including data virtualization, real-time compression that reduces by five times the amount of storage required, and the capability to automatically move data between tiers based on how the data is used, Guio told eWEEK.
The VersaStack solution comes into a market that continues to grow, according to IDC analysts. The analysts predict that spending on integrated systems will jump from $5.4 billion in 2013 to almost $14.4 billion in 2017, growing at an annual rate of about 32.8 percent.
"Once again, we witnessed an increasing number of organizations around the world leveraging integrated systems to address longstanding data center infrastructure inefficiencies," Eric Sheppard, research director for storage at IDC, said in a statement in June, after the market research firm released first-quarter numbers that saw revenues increase 38.5 percent. "As such, this market remains one of the fastest growing segments of the overall infrastructure market."
In the first quarter, Cisco's FlexPod was the biggest seller, followed by VCE's Vblocks, according to IDC.
Cisco's UCS has propelled the networking vendor into one of the world's largest x86 server makers, bringing it into competition with Hewlett-Packard, Dell and—at the time—IBM. Cisco officials in September said that over the past six years, the UCS business has seen its customer base grow to more than 36,500 and a run rate of more than $3 billion, with revenues growing at 30 percent a quarter.
The system includes Cisco Nexus and MDS switches—which help form the foundation of the company's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI)—and UCS Director management software. The vendor also has created Cisco Validated Design reference architectures to give customers and channel partners confidence as they look to deliver applications.
The VersaStack solution initially will be aimed at data centers, private clouds, big data and analytics for larger customers. The two companies also will roll out reference architectures in the future. It will be sold via the channel, and support will come through Cisco, IBM and business partners.
The integrated solution gives IBM an avenue back into the data center with an industry-standard server platform. The company in October closed a $2.1 billion deal in which it sold its x86 server business to Lenovo, the latest move by IBM to shed low-margin commodity businesses in order to focus more of its resources on growth areas. IBM did keep its Power server unit, and is continuing to push the OpenPower initiative it launched last year to expand the reach of the Power architecture.