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Greg Ferro
Greg Ferro
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VCE Chooses Cisco SDN Over VMware NSX

VCE, maker of integrated Vblock systems, will use Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure for SDN. So what about customers who want NSX?

VCE, maker of Vblock integrated systems, has chosen Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) over VMware NSX for its software-defined networking (SDN) strategy. The decision was outlined by Trey Layton, VCE’s VP and CTO. Customers may be confused and disappointed by this decision.

VCE is an agglutination of VMware/Cisco/EMC products that sell to the premium end of the market. The VCE business model is basically the same as any other reseller—hardware leads professional services revenue. VCE sells a strictly limited number of products that it calls "best-in-class production ready technologies," where "best" means just one product in each category.

VCE builds a profitable services business by rigidly restricting its product and vendor partnerships. This limited product selection means that internal technology, business and service skills run deep on the few products that are offered in the Vblock systems.

In keeping with this model, VCE will choose just one SDN networking technology—and that’s Cisco’s. Cisco is the networking partner in the VCE relationship and can make strong claim to setting the network strategy. It’s likely that Cisco holds a larger share in VCE than VMware, and may own the board seats to push ACI onto VCE.

[VMware NSX may upend networking. Greg Ferro offers details in “VMware NSX: Game Changer for Data Center Networks.”]

Selecting Cisco ACI for the networking component is a decisive move at an early stage. While Cisco has announced some elements of its SDN portfolio, the market is waiting to see what emerges from its Insieme effort, which will be officially announced in November.

This decision has ramifications for Vblock customers. Part of the VCE pitch is that its infrastructure is the best platform for VMware, so many customers will likely want to use VMware NSX for networking. Being forced into Cisco ACI may alienate customers.

VCE says customers can deploy VMware NSX onto a Vblock if they choose, but VCE won’t provide support for NSX. That defeats the whole purpose of a Vblock: The primary value of VCE is the "pig-to-bacon" professional services package.

While VCE’s SDN choice may sting some customers, it may not mean all that much to VMware because VMware would get limited revenue from VCE. A "billion-dollar annual run rate" suggests that sales were $250 million in the last quarter, and I’d guess the majority of that revenue would have been hardware, not VMware licenses. It’s doubtful that VCE is a significant-enough VMware partner to make the decision too painful.

Cisco has hinted that its SDN strategy will be hardware-centric by claiming that a software-only network doesn't scale. Hardware suits the VCE business because, as the company says, infrastructure matters. Specifically, hardware infrastructure is key to its business and this leads to the conclusion that Cisco's SDN solution suits the VCE revenue opportunity better.

So be it. VCE has an internal motto of "Game On." Well, it has placed its bets and customers have to go with Cisco or fall out of the supported configuration. VCE sets the rules of the game on its “approved” technology. If you want VMware NSX, then Vblocks should not be part of your game plan because it’s not a supported product.

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Rob Parten
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Rob Parten,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/1/2013 | 9:43:03 AM
re: VCE Chooses Cisco SDN Over VMware NSX
This doesn't surprise me, Cisco pushing their way into being the "supported" version of SDN in the vBlock. It would suffice to say I am disappointed by this decision; however, it isn't entirely a game changer either.

Personally, I see absolutely no value in Nexus 1000v for the needs of most businesses. From past experiences when we had the Essentials version of 1000v or vDS, I always say the business choose vDS and in most cases vDS favored over Advanced 1000v.
In a world where engineers are "seeing the light" and learning to be more vendor neutral and/or multi-vendor capable, you're finding the value proposition of "It has that familiar feel and look" slowly disappearing.

None-the-less, it does suck it went this direction; however, as a soon to be network architect who has to support a vBlock in his environment, I don't feel "left out" by our choice to move towards NSX and the vCloud suite of products. I have a firm belief VCE will work in lockstep with us and VMware in deployment, support, and troubleshooting of our implementation that won't be Cisco centric in terms of SDN. I do believe VCE will see more customers nix the Cisco offering in favor of a more Vmware centric offering.

Finally, I agree with Greg, most customers buy vBlock as a VMware offering, not a Cisco offering. This is NOT to say that Cisco brings no value to the hardware offering, it does. However, this is a beautiful thing because it means more people are looking at the vBlock offering as "just compute, networking, and storage", which isn't a bad thing, it is a great thing! It is great because the "commodity attitude" is growing; thus, making not only the compute, but storage and networking a commodity service. This isn't to say we should all ditch our Cisco gear in favor of open market switches with Linux based software, enterprises still need a single throat to choke and reliable hardware; however, it no longer means we must stick with one vendor, especially as NSX hits the market. Either way, both are great offerings; however, I see the network becoming a commodity thanks to NSX and you're either on board with this, left behind, or you're in a race with VMware to build market share in the SDN world.
Etherealmind
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Etherealmind,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/29/2013 | 6:26:17 PM
re: VCE Chooses Cisco SDN Over VMware NSX
It's my view that the majority of customers buy VCE as a VMware "product". By moving to Cisco ACI VCE risks alienating all those customers who want to use vCloud Director, vCAC etc.

I guess its just a game to VCE (#gameon) but it's a brave game choice to select Cisco ACI and field a new pitcher. Most ppl would say that VCE will take on a role of selling the solution to customers against a better opponent.

I trust that Cisco ACI works well and you have a solid product to offer customers. I look forward to learning more whenever Cisco announces the product.
Etherealmind
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Etherealmind,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/29/2013 | 6:22:14 PM
re: VCE Chooses Cisco SDN Over VMware NSX
Yep, that's a good summary. For most customers, vCloud Director, vCAC and the entire automation piece is very valuable.

We don't know how Cisco ACI will integrate with vCD/vCAC/vCOps and how cloud orchestration will work with Cisco networking. Cisco's track record on releasing products on time and production ready is quite poor, so few people will plan to use ACI until the bugs and early adopters are solved.

Meanwhile, NSX is proven and much more likely to work first time.

Brave call by VCE but one wonders if it is a wise one.
Jay Cuthrell
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Jay Cuthrell,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/29/2013 | 4:33:44 AM
re: VCE Chooses Cisco SDN Over VMware NSX
It's late... but I really do appreciate you elaborating :-)

Just taking this opinion by opinion... and leaving out the ones that I don't think warrant an attempt at fruitful discussion because we'll probably just end up agreeing to disagree ;-)

"customers didn't buy VCE as a network platform but as a VMware platform that had fully supported storage, compute and networking"

I think you are limiting scope in that statement and underestimating both the breadth and variety of the customer base as well as their own use cases for VCE Vblock Systems.

"When VCE chooses to go forward with non-VMware software then this will be damaging to customers"

You do realize that VCE has been shipping with alternative MPIO (PP/VE) and vDS (N1Kv) since the inception of the company? Can you elaborate on this further damaging non-VMware software conundrum?

"VCE value is limited to the professional services package that comes with the off the shelf hardware offered."

Again, I think you are characterizing VCE and Vblock Systems inconsistently. Vblock Systems address the ever growing demand for converged infrastructure. A professional services package is typically associated with post deployment and implementation of converged infrastructure. What led you to view VCE as a professional services package?

"This will lead to impacts on buying cycles and purchasing decisions because the decision becomes orders of magnitude more complicated."

Apologies, but, I lost track of what decision you were referring to in this instance. Are you saying that buying converged infrastructure is no longer about buying converged infrastructure alone?
Mordock
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Mordock,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/28/2013 | 5:47:02 PM
re: VCE Chooses Cisco SDN Over VMware NSX
I guess I don't understand the decision. It seems to me that rejecting NSX is also rejecting the entire VMware vCloud infrastructure that is built around vCloud Director (vCD), vCloud Automation Center (vCAC), and the entire vShield Security product. Are they also going only with Open Stack instead of vCloud? Until VMware supports the Cisco Solution, their decision makes no sense.
Etherealmind
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Etherealmind,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/28/2013 | 10:40:01 AM
re: VCE Chooses Cisco SDN Over VMware NSX
Hey Jay

The point I'm making is that customers didn't buy VCE as a network platform but as a VMware platform that had fully supported storage, compute and networking.

When VCE chooses to go forward with non-VMware software then this will be damaging to customers who want the VMware lifestyle. ( Cisco ACI is a software product and not hardware as Cisco is pitching it today).

I agree that this is tough call for VCE since you don't have enough resources or a business model to support both NSX and ACI. I imagine that VCE will be expecting to lose customers as a result of this choice and I wouldn't blame the customers. VCE value is limited to the professional services package that comes with the off the shelf hardware offered.

VCE will have to work hard to convince customers that Cisco's ACI strategy is a worthy product. Given that the most trenchant features of Cisco ACI is it's multi-vendor and multi-platform capability, this is not aligned with the VCE strategy of limited choices and better focus.

VCE is not a networking company and will need to build a new team with competency in SDN networking on virtualization systems. Not an easy task in the current financial climate and as you fight to achieve sustainable revenue.

The way I see this is that it's bad for most VCE customers who are VMware aligned and not Cisco aligned. The Vblock network of today is a trivial and non-core activity that exists at the edge of the existing network strategy and receives little or no focus during the purchase cycle. A couple of Nexus 5K in a rack of servers is not a significant change. By comparison, Implementing Cisco ACI has much deeper ramifications on network strategy across the entire company. This will lead to impacts on buying cycles and purchasing decisions because the decision becomes orders of magnitude more complicated.

I wish you the best of luck in finding the value proposition and use cases that will encourage customers to maintain the VCE value proposition with Cisco's ACI. There are plenty of smart people in the company but it is not immediately obvious that this is the right decision for customers.

I look forward to watching how it turns out.

greg
Jay Cuthrell
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Jay Cuthrell,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/28/2013 | 4:44:45 AM
re: VCE Chooses Cisco SDN Over VMware NSX
#include "disclosure.h"
#include "disclaimer.h"

Hey Greg,

Jay from VCE here!

Again, I really appreciate you taking note of VCE's blog post regarding CiscoG«÷s Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) as part of future Vblock Systems... as well as your use of the word "agglutination" -- though I still prefer "amalgam of judicious inclusion" ;-)

Also, I'm assuming you were sent guidance previously but I also want to make sure anyone reading this article doesn't confuse your opinion piece with an actual VCE interview. So, I want to leave two quick comments for clarity (just in case anyone still read comments):

1) If a customer chooses VMwareG«÷s NSX Virtual Networking Technology, VCE will continue to support the deployment of a VblockGšů System up to and including the hypervisor, and any VMware virtualization management technologies sold as part of the Vblock bill of materials.

2) Customers who have chosen VMwareG«÷s NSX Virtual Networking Technology must obtain deployment services and technical support for NSX directly from VMware, facilitated through the VCE and VMware Cooperative Support Agreement.

To recap, I hope this clarifies any outstanding questions for readers regarding VCE's statements on technology direction.

Thanks,
Jay

--
Jay Cuthrell, Office of the CTO at VCE
http://vce.com
http://fudge.org (Blog)
+1-415-763-8343 (Global Mobile)
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