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Virtual Compute Environment – VMware, Cisco and EMC Coalition

A couple of days ago there was a formal announcement about the VCE Coalition. VCE stands for Virtual Compute Environment and also, by good grace, includes the letters of each member of the coalition – VMware, Cisco, and EMC.

I want to take some time to share my observations about VCE. 

A couple of days ago there was a formal announcement about the VCE Coalition. VCE stands for Virtual Compute Environment, and also, by good grace, includes the letters of each member of the coalition – VMware, Cisco, EMC. Did you see what they did there? Clever, isn’t it?

It was an interesting use of  the word“coalition”. It made me think of President Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing” which he used to describe the loose association of various countries who signed up for the war on terror! Anyway, despite those negative connotations there I do feel the word “coalition” is an interesting one. VCE is not a new company, but a collection of partners who are entering into an alliance for the greater good… The question you're probably asking is– whose greater good?

Their customers?
Their shareholders?

The announcement has stimulated some debate – some of it negative – and I would like to take this opportunity to advocate in favor of VCE. If you are interested in reading what others have said, there’s Google and RSS Feeds – but for the severely lazy here’s a few links:

Of course, by far the most complete round-up of the announcement comes from Chad Sakac of virtualgeek who is VP for EMC. He has 5 (yes 5!) blog posts – covering each of the major themes from the announcement:

In case all of this VCE stuff has you in a spin – here’s what they are saying in a nutshell (which I am shamelessly dumbing-down from Chad's blog – in fact some of this is straight cut & paste job)

  • Technology Innovations – Vblock Infrastructure Packages.  These are tightly integrated standardized “building blocks”. These are pre-configured racks of UCS blades, Cisco Switches and EMC Storage – together with the VMware Software ready to go. Essentially, the package is another one of these“datacenter in a shipping container” concepts. There are three types (0,1,2) of vBlocks, each progressively allowing for a great density of VMs. The Type0 vBlock is for “small” customers to scale up to 800 VMs.


  • Integrated Pre-Sales, Services and Support – Vblock Unified Customer Engagement. Engage like we’re one company, get services like we’re one company, support that is exactly like we're one company.
  • Solutions Venture and Investment – Acadia. A Cisco-EMC (and Intel) joint venture to build, operate, and transfer Vblock infrastructure to organizations. The alliance insists this isn’t a venture into becoming Cloud provider in the vCloud Express model. VCE appears to be pitched as a private cloud infrastructure. As Manjula Talreja, Cisco vice president of business development said,  Acadia’s mission, instead, is to “accelerate customers’ journey to the private cloud,”. In fact most of VMware’s vCloud Express partners are already VCE customers. It sounds like Acadia might run the vBlocks for customers – but also facilitate their transfer from being a managed service back to the customer – and possibly back to Acadia. Acadia’s remit can be summarized as BUILD; OPERATE; TRANSFER…..

    Acadia is new. They don't have many employees and are looking for someone to head up.

  • Partner Ecosystem Leverage – Vblock Partner Ecosystem. This will allow partners to re-sell vBlock solutions. Acadia won’t compete with partners (allegedly) but instead Acadia will offer services directly as well as through VCE partners. Some people might say, that’s already a conflict of interest – but if Acadia remains tight & small, then it won’t have the capacity to do much delivery on its own, and will have to enroll the capacity offered in the VCE channel…

So that’s VCE in nutshell. Now to where I really want to be – which is discussing the offering and quick assessment of its impact. Other peoples' reactions tend to fall into the mix of the following:

  • This IS a revolution
  • This is NOT a revolution – they have always been closely integrated
  • Integration like this is only news if you are NOT HP or IBM – who already are integrated…
  • Could VMware be damaged by being “too closely” aligned to EMC/Cisco in this way?
  • Is this a way that all three companies can increase prices?
  • It’s okay for Greenfield locations that are new, but not good for existing customers…
  • It will be great if the internal cloud really takes off…
  • It’s back to an IBM view of the world, one organization where you buy everything – like being an HP “House” or an IBM “House” or a VCE “House”
  • It’s all about vendor lock in

My Take on it All

One thing I have noticed is my peers are able to state some of the above even though logically it's mutually exclusive.  You can’t, in one breath, question the negative impact of the announcement, and then next dismiss the announcement as “nothing new”.  Generally, reaction has been largely negative, raising more questions and anxieties than anything else. Of course, nothing sells news like a bit of negativity – and often the glass-half-empty view as regarded as an antidote to the glass-half-full world that vendors and their marketing wonks drown us in on daily basis. Occasionally, I would like to see some sensible non-polemic stuff that’s couched in the real world, rather than ill-thought venting.

So here’s my attempt. Whether you like it or not, we are creeping steadily away from a best-of-breeds approach to building out datacenters. Everyone yaks endlessly about the commoditization of IT – and it’s happening right before our eyes. Each of the major OEMs – HP, IBM, Dell have been for sometime junking their valued partner relationships in effort to seal their customers into a one-stop solution. Of course, IBM is probably the company that’s most famous/notorious for this approach. In recent years, HP have been steadily improving their HP ProCurve stuff to the degree that they no longer feel the need to promote/resell Cisco switching gear. To me, the VCE announcement amounts to 4th OEM provider coming along to this party. So in short, while you will be able to CHOOSE which OEM to shackle yourself too, this choice will be limited to the “Gang of Four”. Of course, if you want to cobble your own solution together you will still be able to buy storage from NetApp, a switch from Cisco and a server from HP. Many people complain about this existing model because of vendor run-around. The whole point of the one-stop-shop approach is getting around this situation.

Whether you like this or not isn’t really important – you don’t have a choice. Our industry exists to make profits for their shareholders, and not as charity dedicated to customer service. So the only real consumer choice is that selecting one of these OEMs does allow you the potential to move your VMs from an external to internal datacenter/cloud – and if you layer on top of this hardware, a virtualization layer like VMware’s – you should be able to move from one “block” provider to another.

It’s for this reason that I don’t really buy the “vendor lock in” argument – there’s always been some kind of lock in. But I see it as a GOOD thing that we have another OEM partnership that together with a virtualization layer – can help mitigate against that lock in worry. What would you prefer? Three “block” providers or four?

Additionally, I also think that together CE (Cisco & EMC) have increasingly seen that the other OEMs are less inclined to deliver their technologies when the other OEMs have an equivalent system they could be touting instead. So if HP sold Catalyst AND ProCure – or if DELL sold both Clariion AND Equallogics – could you depend on HP or Dell to recommend the right solution? Or the one that gets the sales rep the better commission?  I imagine when Cisco and EMC saw this happen, they thought it was now time to have a new coalition or partnership – not with another OEM – but with each other. It seems to me that when companies such as Cisco and EMC enter into coalition with each other, it must be because they see more value in that relationship – than in previous coalition’s that have served their purpose.

There will be some that say that the best-of-breed model hasn’t been buried once and for all. All that’s happened is the best of breeds (Cisco, EMC and VMware) have buddied up together. Recognizing their SUM is greater than their collective parts….

Finally, VMware’s much vaunted independence – is it under threat? I don’t think so. I remember when EMC bought the majority of VMW stock in 2005. Many people said at the time that VMware would become a “creature” of Joe Tucci. There was much sackcloth wearing and ashes… But it didn’t seem to work out that way. For sometime VMware’s relationship with NetApp has been an equally good one, especially in the realm of VDI.

At the end of the day VMware’s job is to sell software licenses – and like good little ISV it will do ANYTHING to sell more licenses. Personally, I think VMware’s job is to be the Justin Timberlake of the IT industry. The new kid on the block (or should that be N’ Sync?) who everyone wants to be seen with in their latest video. So for some years VMware has been building partner relationship with everyone who counts (Intel, AMD, HP, IBM and so on) both on a technology front and channel-partner front. Those partners know how the game works – they want to be equally close to VMware because they know 9/10 times that’s what the customer will be installing to their tin. It’s in their economic interest to show they “integrate” with VMware too!

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