Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/11/03/emc_cisco_acadia_vblock/

Inside Acadia: the Cisco, EMC, VMware love child explained

A chip of the old vBlocks

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

Posted in Servers, 3rd November 2009 22:15 GMT

As El Reg reported earlier Tuesday, Cisco Systems, EMC and VMware announced a partnership to peddle integrated server, storage, and networking stacks to data centers that want to buy preconfigured and integrated x64 servers running VMware's vSphere 4.0 software.

Cisco and EMC had already let the cat out of the bag before the big chiefs had a chance to talk to the world about a coalition the companies have established and the Acadia joint venture.

So we listened to the companies' head honchos during the official announcement for greater detail and some clarification about what Acadia is - and what it is not. Also, what precisely will be bundled into those Vblock infrastructure bundles.

John Chambers, Cisco's chief executive officer controlled the show as he tends to at these things given Cisco's market capitalization dwarfs that of EMC and VMware. Joe Tucci, EMC's president CEO and chairman, got to say a few words, as did Paul Maritz, president and CEO of EMC subsidiary VMware.

Chambers likes to wax poetic, and he said that he believed that when we all look back five years from now, we would see that the coalition between EMC and Cisco was a pivotal moment for data centers. IT vendors are always saying things like this, of course.

After ribbing Tucci about only giving Cisco a few per cent stake in VMware, Cisco's commander said customers of EMC and Cisco alike had been asking for them to offer a more integrated setup for virtualized server and storage. Customers, in a "not too gentle nudge," Chambers said, have been telling them if they just integrated the components, they would buy more. And hence, with Vblock infrastructure stacks, they are doing just that.

But, Chambers said, he knows the history of the IT market. "Most strategic coalitions have a higher degree of failure than acquisitions," he admitted, and later in the call he said that acquisitions were only successful about 10 per cent of the time.

But this coalition - formally known as the Virtual Computing Environment coalition and that is not the same thing as the Acadia joint venture - different. Why? Because because of the 20-year relationship between Tucci and Chambers, and the partnership between Cisco and EMC - as well as VMware.

And after all the presentations were done, Tucci made the same point about a coalition being inevitable. "You show me the one company that can do this by itself," Tucci said. "So you have to form coalitions."

Cisco, EMC, and VMware know the VUE coalition cannot be the only way to buy the hardware and software that the companies peddle for profit, and they have no intention of only selling their products collectively through a quasi-united sales effort.

Tucci said all three companies would continue to sell their menu of products, but the Vblock offerings were akin to a prix fixe menu without any substitutions. This is the definition of openness that these three companies are using. Openness does not mean running Hyper-V or XenServer hypervisors on Vblocks, it does not mean using NetApp or Hewlett-Packard storage on Vblocks, and so on.

Presumably, it costs more to put a meal together a la carte than to buy off the prix fix menu, but it is more profitable for EMC and Cisco if customers go prix fix.

Time will tell if this pans out, but the idea of integrated systems is certainly one is catching on. Oracle claims to be buying Sun Microsystems for this reason, and IBM and Hewlett Packard have been selling integrated stacks with most of the parts for decades. That said, HP is still missing a database of its own while the time to buy Oracle has long-since passed.

When the rumors were going around that Cisco and EMC were cooking up some kind of partnership relating to data center infrastructure, the word on the street was that a joint venture would be set up with its own chief executive officer. This indeed turns out to be true, but that joint venture, which is called Acadia, is not going to be the "one throat to choke" for the Vblocks, as many of us suspected.

"Acadia is a medium to build, operate, and transfer," explains Cisco vice president of business development Manjula Talreja.

So Acadia can be thought of as a tactical services organization that can be engaged by Vblock buyers to assess how to get the virtual infrastructure up and running and supporting work on private or public clouds, with a company or its service provider taking it from there. "An Acadia engagement will always end in a transfer," says Talreja.

Acadia, which is staffed with 130 people from EMC, Cisco, and VMware and that has money kicked in from those three companies as well as chip maker Intel, is fairly limited in its functions.

It is not for sales and support - those jobs will be done by Cisco and EMC while they are still working out the details of their combined Solution Support Team, or SST. This will consist of hundreds of employees at the three companies, to make the engagement to buy and support Vblocks as seamless as possible for three separate companies. A search is also on for a CEO for the Acadia joint venture, which will be operational in early January 2010.

On the announcement call, Tucci was pretty vague about the pricing for the Vblock infrastructure, saying it will cost anywhere from the low hundreds of thousands to multiple millions of dollars for the configurations.

Todd Pavone, EMC's vice president of global solutions, was able to provide a little more detail about the Vblock configurations, what customers they are aimed at, and more specific prices.

The entry Vblock 0 configuration, which is not shipping until the end of 2009 or early 2010, is intended for small and medium businesses with modest server and storage needs, branch offices of larger businesses, and development and test environments.

This Vblock 0 setup will be based on Cisco's C-Series rack servers and is intended to support from 300 to 800 virtual machines. The exact hardware configuration is yet to be determined, says Pavone.

This Vblock includes the vSphere 4.0 software - with the ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor - from VMware, the Nexus 1000V virtual switch from Cisco that runs inside an ESX Server VM, and EMC's Celerra storage arrays. This configuration is expected to cost in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars for a complete setup.

The midrange Vblock 1 setup is intended to support from 800 to 3,000 virtual machines. It is based on the B-Series blade servers that are part of the California Unified Computing System.

The Vblock 1 configuration can have from two to four UCS chassis and from 16 to 32 blades, plus the requisite fabric extenders and converged switches. EMC is tossing in Clariion CX4-480 disk arrays, with capacities ranging from 45Tb to 90Tb. Pricing will range from $1m to $2.8m.

The high end Vblock 2 configuration basically doubles up the California configuration to between four and eight chassis - that's 32 to 64 blades - and adds in EMC's top-end Symmetrix V-Max arrays in capacities ranging from 300Tb to 400Tb. This setup is intended to support 3,000 to 6,00 virtual machines and will carry a price that starts at around $6m.

EMC and Cisco will take orders for the Vblock 1 and Vblock 2 configurations now. ®