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Why Cisco Is Smart to Throw in the Towel on Flash Storage

NEWS ANALYSIS: Cisco wanted to control its own flash array destiny, but the fact is that it could have OEM-ed the flash option to UCS customers and come out ahead.

Although it will cost several hundred employees their jobs, Cisco Systems is doing the wise thing by dropping its NAND flash storage array business. There are simply too many competitors who do solid-state storage better and more profitably.

Less than a week after the San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant sold its TV set-top box business to French media vendor Technicolor for $600 million, the company also decided July 27 to drop its problematic Invicta storage array line, which Cisco launched after its $415 million acquisition of Whiptail in 2013.

The division cutbacks are two of new CEO Chuck Robbins' first big decisions after taking over for longtime company leader John Chambers last month.

Cisco's idea in acquiring Whiptail was that it brought integrated solid-state memory into its United Computing System (UCS) converged data center systems. It also was seen as a move that would bring it into closer competition with storage partners EMC and NetApp.

Arrays Couldn't Scale Well Enough

But it never panned out the way it was planned. Whiptail's machines weren't scalable enough and were no match for established NAND flash array producers such as Toshiba, Sandisk's Fusion-io, Violin Memory, Tegile, EMC's XtremIO, Seagate, Nimbus, Pure Storage, and several others.

Older-line storage makers Dell, NetApp, Oracle, IBM, HP and Fujitsu also have competent NAND flash options. Cisco Systems wanted to control its own flash array destiny, but the fact is that it could have simply OEM-ed the flash option to UCS customers and come out way ahead. That's what it now will do.

Data streams of all types into enterprise storage systems have been increasing in capacity and velocity for several years, due mostly to the explosion in the sheer number of cloud service providers and connected mobile devices globally. In an enterprise, if a storage system cannot expand to take on unexpected storage loads on short notice, the result can be chaos in the IT department.

The Invicta product line was launched by Cisco in January 2014. Cisco marketed a stand-alone Invicta appliance for small- and medium-sized businesses and remote offices; it has a second model available to scale out to large numbers of users.

The scaling problems happen when two or more Invictas are connected to get up to a 40TB or larger configuration.

The word is that Cisco is not finished trimming sections of the company, the main campus of which sprawls as far as the eye can see in north San Jose.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...