How to waste two years and lose $415m: Cisco's now-dead Whiptail deal

A sorry story of whipped tales, angst and attrition

Candelaria calamity and Perez exit

Then Whiptail founder James Candelaria suffered a heart attack in October last year and had to step down. That departure was devastating for the firm, sources told The Register. He was regarded as a visionary and had done lots of research and development work. His loss hit the engineering team hard. They had to cope with an unwillingness by Cisco to add custom modifications to the storage blade hardware. It could have SSDs attached to it at a basic level but nothing beyond that.

Candelaria had tried to get the Cisco management to take a more creative approach in order for the developing product to remain competitive but it was, we're told, an uphill struggle. At least Perez had some technical vision and was committed to Invicta's success, having been instrumental in buying Whiptail, but when he defected to Dell in March this year it turned out to be the killer blow.

The team now had no advocate within Cisco. Its new manager was Satinder Sethi, a veep of product management and solutions, and the team did not get on with him. A source told The Register that they viewed him as their "worst enemy," Sethi having been opposed to the Whiptail acquisition in the first place. They began feeling they were in a bad place with a noose gradually tightening around their necks as:

  • Construction of the new building was put on hold
  • Conditions for meeting the shipping hold on the scaling system were tightened
  • When these conditions were met, the shipping hold was still not lifted
  • The storage blade project, 90 per cent ready, was put on hold because the missing deduplication was now deemed to be crucial

By May, the team felt they were on the way out, that all of Perez's traces in the UCS division were being eradicated by EVP and chief development officer Pankaj Patel, Satinder Sethi, and others. The storage blade had been effectively cancelled for political reasons, with the team arguing that Cisco could have sold truckloads of it even without deduplication. No one wanted to hear this.

The Register has asked Cisco for comment on these specific allegations and will update when we hear back from them.

This month the team were mostly laid off, apart from a 20-man skeleton support remnant at the Whippany office. They felt they had been given whipped tails and the manner of its doing left a sour taste in their mouths.

Lessons to learn? The storage vulture's musings

What can we glean from this sorry tale?

  • Cisco's famed acquisition machine fell apart with Whiptail
  • Cisco's UCS organization wasn't fully committed to the acquisition
  • The Whiptail team wasn't integrated well enough into Cisco
  • Hindsight says Cisco's technology due diligence on Whiptail's tech and its UCS suitability was incomplete
  • Leaving out deduplication originally was a mistake
  • Storage blade development was crippled by the NetApp/Cisco co-developed hardware and its inadequacies, and Cisco's unwillingness to agree on custom HW fixes
  • The departures of Candelaria and Perez left the team without any advocate inside Cisco
  • The Invicta/UCS problems gave ammunition to the anti-Invicta people

It seems to El Reg that Invicta's failure was fundamentally due to failures by Cisco management. These failures have left it without any presence in the flash storage market at a time when server-based hyper-converged systems and server SANs are of growing importance, with networked arrays facing sustained decline over the next five to ten years.

It has a converged system and hyper-converged system market presence through partnerships, but obviously leaves revenue on the table for these partners. It is at their mercy regarding technology developments and unable to have its own unique tech as its partners partner elsewhere.

It's now wasted two years of development time and, we're told, more than $415m on the engineering costs since the acquisition. Its competitors have gained a two year head start, and if Cisco wants to add storage heft to its UCS systems so it can succeed in the converged/hyper-converged systems market, then it has to buy its way in again.

That means the people who have killed Invicta need to see the light and persuade Chuck Robbins and his exec team to spend a billion or more buying Nutanix, Simplivity, Tegile, or some other firm which is in, or headed towards, the hyper-converged market. Pure Storage, anyone?

Alternatively, they could buy a tier-two or -three startup in the space more cheaply, but then they would have a longer development time. Pay top dollar for a top player, guys; you screwed it up before. Don't screw it up again. ®




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