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VMware-Cisco-Netapp: A Meaningless Relationship?

While the industry responded positively over the new relationship between VMware, Cisco and NetApp, bringing multi-tenancy to cloud design, Network Computing took a decidedly different tone. In a conversation conducted with our analysts, whose collective experience tops a century of IT experience and whose day jobs span the analyst and enterprise community, nearly all thought there was more hype than substance behind the new relationship.

"Who's it going to be next?" said Jonathan Feldman, an InformationWeek Analyst covering general IT, policy and procedures. "I am very dubious about how many initiatives and partnerships Cisco can keep its eye on simultaneously. Most organizations can't keep focus, in a given quarter, on more than five."

Cisco, though, has its fingers in at least seven such partnerships in the past year alone:

  • February 2009: Cisco and Accenture expand their unified communications partnership.
  • March 2009:  Cisco and NASA partner to develop an online collaborative global monitoring platform.
  • May 2009: Cisco and Clearwire announce a WiMax Partnership
  • June 2009: Cisco and RSA Extend their DLP Partnership
  • August 2009: Cisco and Warner Music extend their Web partnership
  • October 2009: Cisco and  partner to develop a contact center in the cloud
  • November 2009: Cisco, EMC and VMware partner on the Virtual Computing Environment.

Part of the complaint is that these relationships often publicize something that  IT vendors ought to be doing today anyway. In a heterogeneous computing environment, no IT vendor, not even Cisco, can go it entirely alone. As such, partnering is the bread and butter of today's IT marketplace. "I am dubious when vendors make a big deal announcing something that they should have been doing from day one. Kind of like the government saying they are going to be more responsible with spending," says George Crump, principal at Storage Switzerland, LLC and a Network Computing contributor.

But even on a strategic level, announcements like these often have a flash-in-the-pan effect. Yesterday, Cisco partnered with EMC, today it partners with NetApp, and tomorrow will any of them still be partnering with each other? "Unless sales calls are joint where all three companies participate simultaneously, how loyal are the partners going to be if a customer has questions and wants to know alternatives? " says David Hill, principal at Mesabi Group, LLC and a Network Computing contributor. "NetApp is the most likely to stay on course as they may not have any other options. However, both VMware and Cisco could bring up VCE. Making a success of this joint venture is possible, but is more likely to be very challenging."

In the end, partnerships are about substance. When HP and Microsoft announced their partnership, forthcoming concrete developments were discussed so we understood the implications and benefits of the partnership. In the Cisco-NetApp-VMware relationship,  substance or the lack thereof, predominated. "So before this partnership, when a customer called in you would just hang up on people?" says Crump. "The answer was, of course, 'No,  but now we know each others numbers.' Well, I could have given them each other's numbers and saved them a lot of time." Additionally, the best-practices guide between the vendors didn't quite impress. "It is 100 pages long! Are you kidding me?" says Crump.  In the final analysis, Crump and the rest of the gang at Network Computing would only be impressed by demonstrable improvements in support, new products, or other concrete developments -- and so should you.