Both Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) and Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ) insist their integration partnership will continue, but the two companies will also be competing more fiercely than ever as they stake out competing visions for the future of the enterprise data centre.
Earlier this week Cisco launched Unified Computing System (UCS), a platform that unites computing, networking and storage access along with virtualization resources into one system for the data centre. It will be going-up against HP’s Adaptive Infrastructure portfolio, setting-up the past and future integration partners for a battle for data centre supremacy.
Following the Cisco launch, HP sent a strongly-worded response to the media raising a number of criticisms of Cisco’s approach with UCS. The release said it was “appropriate that Cisco launch(ed) their server in a museum” as the notion of unified compute, network and storage as a system was debuted with the first blades five years ago. It also questioned if you would “let a plumber build your house,” claiming Cisco’s “network-centric” view of the data centre is incomplete, and dubbed UCS as “Cisco’s Hotel California” claiming a lack of standards compatibility.
It was a feisty broadside from HP but Chris Christianopoulos, x86 server business development manager for HP Canada, said the two companies will still remain partners, where customers want to leverage Cisco networking infrastructure within their HP environments. But as Cisco moves deeper into the data centre, they’ll also be competing as well.
“Cisco is providing a vision with their UCS approach they’ve pre-announced, but to us that’s a vision HP is delivering on today,” said Christianopoulos. “It’s a vision for them, but for us it’s a reality today with Adaptive Infrastructure from HP.”
The two companies are really taking philosophically different approaches, added Christianopoulos. Cisco has chosen to align itself with specific vendors, creating a very narrow offering targeting the virtual world within the data centre. HP views the data centre as more of a heterogeneous world, said Christianopoulos.
“We believe it’s about giving customers open standards and the ability to select the right approach for their data centre. Cisco is quite different,” said Christianopoulos. “The data centre today is a physical world and a virtual world, and (you need to) be able to manage both. Cisco is very focused on the virtual aspect.”
At the end of the day, while competitors come and go, Christianopoulos said HP has been a leader in the server segment for 20 years and remains focused on reducing cost and complexity in the data centre, regardless of competition from Cisco or others.
“We’re not new to the data centre game. You can look at the network, but the data centre is about a lot more than the network,” said Christianopoulos. “It’s about applications, it’s about running customer business, and it’s about saving costs. We believe we have the best answer.”
Cisco is taking HP’s strong response as a sign it must be on the right track.
“They’re responding because they realize we have something,” said David Lawler, Cisco’s vice-president of platform product marketing. “We have something that is absolutely going to deliver real value for customers.”
While Cisco also agrees its integration partnership with HP will continue, their businesses are definitely beginning to overlap more as HP moves into the low end of the data centre with its ProCurve line and Cisco moves into the compute space with UCS.
Jackie Ross, vice-president, product marketing in Cisco’s server access virtualization business unit, said Cisco developed UCS because customers told the vendor a clean slate approach was required to bridge the silos of compute, networking, storage and virtualization within the data centre.
“We needed to look at this problem in a different way and that really precluded us from using existing hardware,” said Ross, which also ruled-out using HP blades within UCS.
Ross added HP’s comments about plumbing are off base, insisting Cisco’s is looking beyond the network to focus on unified computing, and beyond virtual workloads to the issues facing data intensive processing applications, which were increasingly memory bound with previous technologies.
She also rejected HP’s claims around a lack of standards compatibility for UCS, saying everything within UCS has been built on industry standards, from x86-based processors to Fibre Channel over Ethernet networking to a virtualization standard Cisco has developed with VMware and submitted to IEEE for certification that they think will become the VLAN or VSAN of virtualization.
Lawler added all the technologies within UCS have already been introduced to the market, and the standards were also included in Cisco’s Nexus switching platform.
“UCS is designed to co-exist with everything else in the data centre today, and integrate into the existing management tools,” said Lawler.