Tech titans unite for private cloud push

Cisco Systems Inc., EMC Corp. and VMware Inc. have formed a coalition to accelerate data centre virtualization and the transition to private clouds. The CEOs of the three companies announced the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition in a Webcast on Tuesday. 
“I think you’ll look back five years from now and say this was the most major change in terms of the future of data centres, private clouds, pervasive virtualization that was made during a decade,” said John Chambers, CEO of Cisco. 
The companies involved have “worked closely over the past year on a shared vision for the future of enterprise IT infrastructure – private cloud computing,” states a Cisco press release. 
Cisco defines a private cloud as “a virtual IT infrastructure that is securely controlled and operated solely for one organization. It can be managed either by that organization or a third party, and it can exist on or off premises or in combination.” 
The coalition introduced its basic infrastructure technology, called a Vblock, which consists of networking and computing from Cisco, storage, security and management from EMC, and virtualization from VMware using the data centre operating system vSphere. 
Vblock architecture relies heavily on Intel Xeon processors and data centre technology, states Cisco. 
Three Vblock Infrastructure Packages were announced, with Vblock 1 and 2 available immediately and Vblock 0 coming in 2010.
• Vblock 0: an entry-level configuration that supports 300 to 800 virtual machines, designed for testing, development, small data centres and medium-sized businesses
• Vblock 1: a mid-sized configuration that supports 800 to 3,000 virtual machines, designed for consolidation and optimization initiatives 
• Vblock 2: a high-end configuration that supports 3,000 to 6,000 virtual machines, designed for large-scale and “green field” virtualization   
But Vblocks are just the beginning for VCE. “This is a phase one in terms of what the coalition can do. It will be a multi-phase, multi-year approach,” said Chambers.
The announcement also introduced a joint venture called Acadia. The lead investors are Cisco and EMC, followed by VMware, with Intel Corp. listed as a minority investor. 
Acadia will “build, operate and transfer Vblock infrastructure to organizations.” Operations are scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2010, with roughly 130 employees. 
The joint venture will have its own CEO, which we are recruiting as we speak, said Joe Tucci, CEO of EMC.
The CEOs also discussed plans to leverage their partner ecosystems and provide unified sales, service and support. 
“It is really the industry’s first time at a complete end-to-end vendor-owned solution, the ability to look a customer in the eye and say we will have one group supporting you,” said Chambers. 
The coalition’s mantra is “efficiency, control and choice,” said Tucci. The best thing you are going to get is lower total cost of ownership, it will be simpler to manage and more flexible and we are committed to openness, he said. 
Partnering is more difficult than acquisitions, according to Chambers. “If 90 per cent of acquisitions fail, it gives you my view. Most strategic coalitions have a very high failure rate, worse than acquiring, and yet as a company, we’ve all three been able to do this,” he said. 
”The private cloud is not just about compute, not just about storage, not just about networking,” said Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware. “It’s about how all of those ingredients come together to provide a common substrate that allows applications to be run … more efficiently and more flexibly going forward.”
The announcement “is very much in line with the trend we are seeing right now,” said John Sloan, senior analyst at London, ON-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd. “There has been a lot of consolidation in terms of building out what you need to have a virtual infrastructure.” 
While “there is nothing new from the technology point of view,” according to Sloan, the coalition is “taking it to a new level” in terms of how the technology is going to be sold. 
Sloan likened the building of a utility infrastructure within the enterprise to a three-layer cake. “Those three layers are storage, networking and servers and then the icing on the cake (and the icing holds everything together), is virtualization software,” he said. 
“Instead of selling the various components and architectures, they are creating a joint venture entity that will sell the whole thing, the whole layer cake, as a product. It’s almost like re-inventing the mainframe,” he said. 
Sloan doesn’t expect the announcement to change the market as much as it will “kick up the competition even more.” Companies like Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. are “doing much of the same thing,” Oracle Sun is a potential player and even Dell is moving into this area, he said. 
HP has a blade matrix that includes ProCurve networking, HP storage and VMware to tie it all together, Sloan pointed out. “It’s all variations on that same layer cake,” he said. 
The announcement also settles prior speculation on whether Cisco would buy EMC to own the storage component, noted Sloan. “Apparently, what they’ve done instead is said, ‘Well, let’s be partners,’” he said. 
Ronald Gruia, principal analyst and program leader of Emerging Telecoms at Frost & Sullivan in Toronto, sees the announcement as “yet another step in that bold entry by Cisco in the data centre market.”
“With the new Vblock offering, that is going to basically allow [Cisco] to have pretty good solutions that do eliminate the need for customers to have to get separate components, and obviously, it is yet another step in that direction of going into the data centre,” he said. 
Gruia finds the coalition taking “a more targeted approach to enable enterprises to have closer relationships with independent consultant companies.” 
Cisco and EMC are taking a slightly different approach with Acadia, noted Gruia. 
“They really want to start installing systems and then hand over the control of the customer to an established service provider … so it’s a little bit of a different model. It will be interesting to see if that model works,” he said. 

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