Cisco Moves Into the Hyperconverged Infrastructure Space

The company at its Partner Summit introduces HyperFlex Systems, which build on the success Cisco has had with its UCS offering.

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Cisco Systems in 2009 made an aggressive move to expand its presence in the data center with the introduction of the Unified Computing System, a converged solution that included the company's own networking and x86 servers along with storage and virtualization from partners.

The move instantly made Cisco a competitor against the likes of Hewlett-Packard and Dell, and gave Cisco a business that executives say is a foundational element of the company's data center efforts.

At the networking vendor's Partner Summit 2016 March 1, company officials announced Cisco's entrance into the increasingly competitive hyper-converged infrastructure space with HyperFlex Systems that build upon the Unified Computing System (UCS) and the company's Nexus networking switches.

It's an offering that includes a software-defined storage (SDS) platform developed in conjunction with SpringPath, a startup in which Cisco has invested. HyperFlex’s SDS platform includes such enterprise-level features as deduplication and cloning, and the new object file system also brings support for containers.

HyperFlex is one of a number of moves that Cisco made during the Partner Summit to expand its data center capabilities. Others include introducing the latest addition to the Nexus switch portfolio, new management software, and additions to the ecosystem around its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), the company's network virtualization effort.

Hyperconverged systems are becoming increasingly popular among enterprises and service providers as tools that enable them to create infrastructures that are easy to deploy and scale, run across multiple sites—data centers as well as remote and branch offices—get rid of silos in the data center, and better run modern applications. HyperFlex is designed to do all that, according to Cisco officials.

The system can be set up in minutes rather than days, can scale not only compute power but also networking and storage capacity, and reduces the data footprint by as much as 80 percent, thanks to deduplication and inline compression. It reduces total cost of ownership by as much as 30 percent and offers 40 percent better performance than competitive systems, Cisco said.

The hyperconverged market is "small but rapidly growing," Todd Brannon, director of product marketing for Cisco's UCS portfolio, told eWEEK, noting that IDC analysts are forecasting the hyperconverged infrastructure market to grow to almost $2 billion this year and almost $5 billion by 2019.

Building HyperFlex from scratch enabled Cisco to offer features and capabilities that other vendors can't match, from SDS to deduplication to container management. It also gives the company a more complete software-defined data center story, from UCS and software-defined networking (SDN)—through its ACI and Nexus switches—and now SDS, with HyperFlex, Brannon said.

HyperFlex includes support for VMware's virtualization technologies via a vCenter plug-in, while support for other hypervisors will come later, officials said.

Cisco officials also made moves in their switching portfolio. They added to the Nexus 9000 lineup, bringing greater capabilities without raising prices—25G capacity at the price of 10G and 100G at the cost of 40G. Compared with competitive offerings, Cisco's switches at 100 Gb/s come with 25 better performance at 50 percent the cost.

In addition, Cisco is offerings software enhancements that bring ACI support to Nexus 7000 switches, which enable customers already running the hardware to use it in SDN environments and adds to the ACI capabilities already found in the Nexus 9000 and 3000 switches. Cisco also is rolling out new Nexus 3000 switches that offer choice to customers by being able to run on Cisco or merchant silicon—already more than 10 million Nexus 3000 ports based on merchant silicon—and can provide 25/50/100 Gb/s.

Such flexibility offers benefits to customers, according to Thomas Scheibe, director of technical marketing and solutions engineering at Cisco. “They’re focusing more on what their networks need to do rather than how the network is built under the hood," Scheibe said.

Cisco also introduced its new Nexux Fabric Manager, which uses a point-and-click Web interface to automate the fabric lifecycle management. According to company officials, it takes an IT manager three steps to fully deploy a VXLAN-based fabric, with zero-touch provisioning and the ability to upgrade all fabric switches with new software releases in four clicks.

In addition, several vendors have joined Cisco's ACI ecosystem, including Infoblox for automated network configuration; N3N for ACI visibility; Tufin for visibility, control and security change orchestration; vArmour for micro-segmentation, and Veritas for data analytics and management.