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VersaStack, FlashStack are more reasons why Cisco won't buy EMC

Keep Cisco off the list of possible EMC suitors -- Cisco is too promiscuous a storage player to tie itself exclusively to one partner.

When rumors swirled that EMC would sell itself off last September, Cisco frequently came up as a candidate to buy it. Cisco CEO John Chambers quickly denied the rumor, keeping Cisco's storage neutrality intact. We have since seen plenty that would suggest Cisco would rather partner with many storage vendors than become one.

The latest planks in Cisco's storage strategy are partnerships launched by IBM last week and Pure Storage this week. IBM had a rocky relationship with Cisco a few years back when Cisco entered the server business with its UCS platform. Now IBM and Cisco have combined on VersaStack, a reference architecture that recommends combinations of UCS, Cisco Fibre Channel (FC) switching and IBM Storwize 7000 storage arrays.

Pure Storage this week disclosed its FlashStack reference architectures, consisting of Pure Storage all-flash arrays, Cisco UCS and switching, and VMware vSphere and Horizon virtual desktop software.

These reference architectures are part of a pattern with Cisco and storage vendors, going back to when the networking giant first got into storage by selling FC switches in 2002.

It first partnered with large FC array vendors such as EMC, IBM and Hitachi Data Systems. The storage vendors would usually sell the switches under their brand. As other vendors began selling FC storage, Cisco added them to its partner list. It has continued the partnership approach with UCS without rebranding the servers.

The IBM VersaStack and Pure Storage FlashStack reference architectures come on the heels of Cisco pulling back on its VCE joint venture with EMC and EMC-owned VMware. EMC bought out most of Cisco's original 35% stake in VCE in October and now runs VCE internally, but UCS and Cisco switches remain part of the VCE Vblock bundles. Cisco is also a partner in EMC's Vspex reference architecture program.

Cisco covers as many storage bases as possible, and works with EMC competitors. Cisco is a key partner in NetApp's FlexPod reference architecture program that combines Cisco servers and switches with NetApp FAS storage arrays. Cisco and Nimble Storage also got together on a SmartStack reference architecture in 2012, and have since expanded that.

Cisco moved into hyper-convergence this year by striking up partnerships with SimpliVity and Maxta Software to sell those startups' software on UCS. It pushed deeper into the hot all-flash market with Pure, despite acquiring Whiptail's all-flash platform in 2013 and partnering on all-flash Vblocks with EMC and FlexPods with NetApp.

Cisco has yet to become a VMware EVO: RAIL partner -- which would involve selling the virtualization vendor's Virtual SAN software on UCS -- but you can expect more storage partnerships to follow. Other notable exceptions are Dell and HP, which sell servers that compete with UCS.

You can also be sure to ignore any more rumors about Cisco buying EMC. Like Chambers said, that would have happened by now if it were in Cisco's plans. And Cisco has too many other storage options to pick from to spend billions of dollars on one of its own.

Next Steps

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This was last published in December 2014

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Would it be a smart move for Cisco to acquire a storage company?
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Cisco did acquire Whiptail (now UCS Invicta)
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While it always makes for interesting media and pundit fodder, Cisco has NEVER acquired a large company based on the East Coast. It's not in their M&A model, and it doesn't really align to their typical M&A culture of smaller, west-coast based companies that are trying to help them get into new or adjacent markets. 
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