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Cisco's Whiptail Buy Will Bolster UCS, Could Hurt EMC Partnership

The networking vendor will integrate Whiptail’s technology into the UCS, but where does that leave storage partners EMC and NetApp?

Since launching its Unified Computing System in 2009, Cisco Systems has increasingly found itself in competition with companies that had been strong data center partners.

The UCS—an integrated infrastructure solution that included Cisco-branded servers as well as networking gear—put a wedge in its relationship with longtime server partner Hewlett-Packard. With its $415 million acquisition of Whiptail, which makes solid-state memory systems and storage products, Cisco may find itself in greater competition with storage partners EMC and NetApp.

Cisco officials said the company bought Whiptail to bolster the UCS offerings by integrating solid-state memory into the infrastructure's computing fabric.

"Whiptail is a perfect architectural fit for UCS because, together, the two combine a clustered architecture with fabric-based acceleration—all of which is automatable via the UCS Manager and UCS Director," Hilton Romanski, senior vice president and head of business development at Cisco, said in a post on the company's blog. "The end result is to deliver optimized performance on top of UCS for emerging and business-critical applications, such as virtualized, big data, database, high-performance computing and transcoding workloads."

Whiptail, founded in 2008, makes data storage systems based on solid-state memory, which offers a faster and more efficient way to move more data through servers in the data center. The technology is becoming increasingly important as workloads in the data center change and new applications such as virtual desktops and big data put greater demands on storage systems, according to Cisco officials.

Integrating Whiptail's memory systems into the UCS will enable Cisco to offer businesses the technology needed to handle the new demands.

"We are focused on providing a converged infrastructure, including compute, network and high-performance solid state that will help address our customers' requirements for next-generation computing environments," Paul Perez, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Computing Systems Product Group, said in a statement. "As we continue to innovate our unified platform, Whiptail will help realize our vision of scalable persistent memory which is integrated into the server, available as a fabric resource and managed as a globally shared pool."

The deal is expected to close in the company's first fiscal quarter, after which Whiptail's employees will be moved into Perez's business unit.

The Whiptail acquisition once again raises questions about Cisco's partnerships. The UCS has made Cisco a significant player in the x86 server space, where it competes against the likes of HP, Dell and IBM. After the launch of the UCS, HP upped its networking capabilities by buying 3Com, increasing its competition with Cisco in that space.

More recently, speculation about Cisco and its alliances was raised when EMC partnered with Lenovo on servers, and in August when VMware unveiled its NSX virtual networking platform along with such hardware partners as Dell and HP, leading analysts to contend that the alliance between Cisco, VMware and EMC was all but over.

VMware and EMC have been key partners in Cisco's UCS offering, and the three vendors created VCE, a company that sells converged data center solutions called Vblocks.