Cisco, storage and cognitive dissonance

Cisco, storage and cognitive dissonance

Summary: Cisco encourages companies to build their public, private and hybrid clouds on its routers, switches and servers, but doesn't have any storage technology itself, which could be a mistake.Almost three years ago the networking company started selling servers under the Unified Computing System (UCS) moniker.

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TOPICS: Storage
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Cisco encourages companies to build their public, private and hybrid clouds on its routers, switches and servers, but doesn't have any storage technology itself, which could be a mistake.

Almost three years ago the networking company started selling servers under the Unified Computing System (UCS) moniker. This was a major departure for an organisation chiefly known for its expertise in moving packets around.

Today, UCS has, by IDC's account, around 7 percent of the blade server market and has contributed almost $1bn (£630m) in revenue to Cisco's 2011 earnings.

Cisco believes in UCS because "from a technology perspective the real [UCS] differentiation is compute, network and virtualisation, all built together from the ground up," Padmasree Warrior, Cisco's chief technology officer, said on Tuesday. "You can deliver things like load balancing and security much more efficiently."

What I'm curious about is whether the company could go further and invest in a storage outfit, as HP did with 3Par, Oracle did with Sun or Dell did with Compellent, to give itself a whole stack.

After all, Cisco's argument for the benefits of developing servers and networking together is exactly the same one made by these companies. Also, if it owned storage it wouldn't have to worry about its relationships with EMC and NetApp going rotten, as happens regularly in this Machiavellian industry — see HP versus Oracle over Itanium.

The path Cisco is on with UCS points to storage as the next area it will want to control, and for good reason: it would be able make more money off every appliance it sold, could block another part of the stack from competitors and, when it was deciding on where to throw its R&D money, wouldn't have to second guess its storage technology partners.

But when I asked Warrior whether the company was thinking about developing storage technologies, she said "there is a danger in trying to do everything." I said UCS seemed like trying to do everything and she responded that Cisco didn't think storage, networking and virtualisation were that different.

She explained that Cisco partners with storage companies because "customers always want to have investment protection, they've also invested in existing infrastructure... no one's really willing to give up that investment and switch to something revolutionary."

Could 'something revolutionary' have been a slip of the tongue? I'm not sure, but it seems Cisco has the ambition and technology in place to make a go at taking on storage. Also, with EMC increasingly eyeing up servers and converged appliances via its Greenplum analytics division, that partnership could become a little uncomfortable.

What the company could lack is the will to do something so bold: its chief executive, John Chambers, has been on a campaign to focus the company around its core areas and to stay away from new markets.

Topic: Storage

Jack Clark

About Jack Clark

Currently a reporter for ZDNet UK, I previously worked as a technology researcher and reporter for a London-based news agency.

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