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Cisco Buys Whiptail, Plants Flag in New Territory

Cisco announced that it will buy all-solid-state array vendor Whiptail. The cash purchase values Whiptail at $415 million, but the real story is about how owning Whiptail changes Cisco.

This deal is another sign that major industry players are no longer comfortable with their traditional boundaries. Cisco kicked off the shakeup a few years ago when it branched into the server business. Then VMware, which is majority-owned by EMC, got into the networking business via its Nicira acquisition, which flowered into NSX. Cisco has returned the favor by adding storage to its portfolio.

Cisco as a server and networking vendor was great for the storage industry. Because Cisco was the only name-brand server vendor without a storage division, it could play Switzerland by certifying reference architectures with storage vendors, from startups to big-name vendors such as EMC and NetApp. And, of course, it has a partnership with EMC in VCE.

Cisco and EMC still need to play nice together, so the Whiptail acquisition makes strategic sense. With an all-solid-state portfolio, Cisco can run the "Tomorrow's technology today" game plan that was so successful with UCS, and enter the storage market at the leading edge without attacking its storage partners head-on. The move doesn't represent a full-scale incursion into the heart of storage territory the way an acquisition of NetApp would.

[Cisco isn't the only one buying solid-state storage companies. Find out more in "Western Digital Buys Virident To Battle Flash Giants."]

Of course, if Cisco's long-term goal is to become like Thomas Watson's IBM--the soup-to-nuts IT provider to the enterprise--then the Whiptail acquisition is only the first wave.

Whiptail's product line uses a modular scale-out architecture based on the Accela building block and Invicta storage router. Accela is a 2u, single controller, all-solid-state array with 24 2.5" SSDs. One Accela holds 3 to 12 Tbytes of data and delivers over 200,000 IOPS.

For those applications that require more capacity or high availability, Whiptail puts a set of Accelas behind two to six Invicta storage routers. A single Invicta Infinity cluster can grow to 360 Tbytes of capacity and 4 million IOPS.

On the financial front, $415 million isn't a lot compared to the billion dollar valuations that Violin and Pure Storage have recently announced, but it's a respectable exit for a company that had a $31 million C round in December.

Despite being one of the first players in the all-solid-state market, and delivering what is by all accounts a top-end storage system, Whiptail never got the mindshare of a vendor like Pure Storage or Solidfire. Now that it belongs under the Cisco umbrella, mindshare may be less of a problem.

[Catch Howard Marks' must-see session "SSDs In the Data Center" at Interop New York, from September 30th to October 4th. Register today!]