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Oracle Acquires Xsigo, Fills Networking Technology Hole

Oracle said today that it would buy network virtualization vendor Xsigo Systems. Xsigo is privately held, and Oracle did not specify the terms of the deal. Coming quickly on the heels of VMware's purchase of Nicira, the details of software-defined data center networks are falling into place. Oracle was the last large provider of data center gear without its own networking technology. Now, all of the major players in the data center own their own switching products, their own network virtualization technology, or both.

To quickly recap the major data center players, HP has long had its own line of ProCurve networking products. The line was largely intended for campus rather than data center working until the company acquired 3Com in late 2009. 3Com owned Chinese networking maker H3C, which made a high-performance line of data center switches as well as other products. Those systems now make up HP's A-series product line and represent a credible offering in the data center. In June 2011, Dell purchased data center networking specialist Force10, giving it a foothold in data center networking. In September 2010, IBM purchased Blade Network Technologies--another data center specialist. It also retains a close relationship with Juniper.

Networking Technology Makes Xsigo a Natural Fit for Oracle

Prior to today's purchase, networking was the one major hole in the Oracle/Sun lineup of data center products. In buying Xsigo, Oracle passed over other pure-play networking companies such as Juniper, Brocade and Extreme Networks. With the possible exception of Extreme, which has a current market cap of $330 million, Xsigo represents a smaller cash layout--it's also a good match for Oracle because of the technology in use.

Xsigo's switches connect to each other and to servers through InfiniBand. Servers can also connect via 10-Gbit Ethernet--often taking advantage of on-motherboard networking, but Xsigo says in its literature that best performance comes with InfiniBand as the transport. Outside of the high-performance computing community, Oracle is the largest proponent of InfiniBand, using it in its "engineered" systems such as Exadata and Exalogic. That, along with Xsigo's expertise in software-defined networking (SDN) gives Oracle an advanced approach in data center fabrics, and gives Xsigo the credibility it needed to be considered a serious contender in that environment. Larry Ellison himself loves to wax eloquent about the virtues of InfiniBand (let that be a warning to anyone who might find himself at a cocktail party with the database kingpin), and that fascination probably didn't hurt the prospects for this acquisition one bit.

Cisco's Empty Dance Card

As data center system vendors pair off with networking technology vendors, the last one without a dance partner is Cisco. While somewhat late to the SDN market, Cisco made a splash at its user conference this year with the announcement of its Open Network Environment (ONE). ONE seeks to be a one-stop proprietary answer to SDN, and as such is intended by Cisco to be the center of data and storage networking definitions with the Cisco Nexus, Catalyst 6500 and MDS products providing the muscle behind environments defined through ONE. In that sense, the goals of ONE dwarf initiatives like OpenFlow that simply seek to get routing tables, opening them to software definition. If one were to think in planetary terms, OpenFlow is the size of Mercury, typical networking fabric overlays are the size of the Earth, and ONE is more like Saturn.

Who's the Center of Your Private Cloud?

While there's no doubt that Cisco's vision has a lot to it, it's also not fully baked yet. It requires that a company's data center architects and engineers be the integrators of storage, networking and server technology, whereas one assumes systems from VMware/EMC, HP, IBM, Dell and now Oracle will be more turnkey in nature. They'll also represent major commitments to one vendor's vision, much as those companies were forced to make in the days when mainframes roamed the data center landscape.

With Xsigo, Oracle can offer an elegant step for RAC customers between rolling their own systems with an amalgam of gear and jumping into Oracle's engineered systems, which are substantially more expensive. Those wary of Oracle's staying power in the data center should take this a sign--Oracle remains engaged, albeit in a vision that's increasingly unique to itself.