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HP vs. Cisco data center hardware battle heats up

Barb Darrow
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Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard ramped up their data center hardware battle this week, each announcing big initiatives around converged hardware. But VARs aren't mere onlookers in the HP vs. Cisco war. They're front and center in this fight, as the two camps are recruiting channel players within their rival's ranks.

Tuesday, Cisco launched the Virtual Computing Environment coalition with longtime collaborator EMC and its VMware subsidiary. The companies said the Virtual Computing Environment will ease sales of pre-configured and pre-tested hardware, storage and virtualization bundles.

Within hours, HP then redubbed its venerable Adaptive Infrastructure strategy as its Converged Infrastructure and unveiled enhancements to its hardware and software aimed at making converged data center servers, storage and networking hardware more attractive.

HP vs. Cisco becomes turf war

Both moves are seen as aggressive ploys to reach beyond each company's respective user base and compete on the competition's home turf.

Both Cisco and HP have their strong points, and they're both pushing into relatively new areas, said Mark Melvin, chief technology officer of ePlus Inc., a Herndon, Va.-based integrator that works with both vendors.

One of the issues VARs foresee is that Cisco, with its strength in routing and switching, typically sells to one IT constituency, and HP servers usually flow to another part of the shop. Now that Cisco is pushing servers, and HP has taken great pains to bolster its ProCurve networking hardware line, they will sell against each other considerably more.

Cisco, EMC, VMware offer data center hardware bundles

Cisco, EMC and VMware insisted that the sale of the products themselves will go through partners.
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Cisco, EMC and VMware are cross-training their own support staffs on each other's products and publishing VBlock reference architectures to make it easier to configure these products. Company executives also insisted that the sale of the actual products themselves will go through partners.

"Having our direct sales team help drive demand is part of our model, but this is a partner-led effort," said Edison Peres, Cisco's senior vice president of worldwide channels. "Delivery will be done through partners. VBlocks are not SKUs. They are reference architectures that bring together products from the three companies.

"To make the architectures work, we bring together products from the three manufacturers, but each of us will not sell each other's products," Peres continued. "You … can't go to Cisco and buy what you need out of our portfolio. You need a partner to pull all that together."

Some VARs might take that claim with a grain of salt, especially given EMC's traditionally aggressive direct sales force.

HP pushes converged data center hardware

HP fields not only servers and management software, but also storage and networking gear. The company is pushing its vision as a true one-stop shop for converged data center hardware, arguing that Cisco is merely cobbling together parts from other companies.

HP and Cisco famously worked together in data centers for a long time. Cisco didn't offer servers, and HP ProCurve was seen more as a wiring closet than a data center networking hardware line.

That dynamic changed drastically last spring when Cisco announced its own Unified Computing System servers. From that point on, it was war.

HP's vertically integrated approach raises the issue of vendor lock-in. Doug Oathout, vice president of HP enterprise servers and networking, discounted those fears.

"Our stuff is integrated to work well together, but if you want someone else's storage, go ahead," he said. "Sure, we'd like it to be all us, but open interfaces allow freedom, and you will still get to use the tools and Flex Fabric."
Among the new HP products is a StorageWorks 9000 cloud storage offering that can support one domain name for up to 16 petabytes of storage. Oathout also stressed HP's Flex Fabric 2, which lets users connect HP blades to 10-gigabit connections and manage them dynamically. HP's RISC-based Integrity systems now support that capability.

Much of this announcement involves taking pieces of existing HP technology, enhancing them and knitting them together in a coherent way, Melvin said.

"This is something we've encouraged, because HP had a lot of components, many of which they were not pushing," he said. ""This game plan brings more power management capabilities and the ability to look across your load and pool resources dynamically, not just within a single blade, but also across a blade chassis. That's a big deal for taking things forward and providing a dynamic environment to move things into and out of the cloud," Melvin added.

The combination of Insight Manager and pieces of OpenView will also make it simpler to manage an entire environment, Melvin added.


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