The Ramifications of Cisco’s Acquisition of WHIPTAIL Technologies

Earlier this week Cisco officially became a storage provider when it announced its intention to acquire privately held WHIPTAIL Technologies. While this may have come as a surprise to some, rumors that Cisco was looking to acquire a storage company were already circulating in 2012 at Storage Networking World (SNW) as I discussed in a blog entry last year. So now that Cisco is in the process of becoming a storage company, what are the ramifications of this change in its product offerings?

The statements in Cisco’s press release are as good a place as any to start in trying to understand what Cisco’s near term plans are for storage in general and particular. According to its press release:

WHIPTAIL will strengthen Cisco’s Unified Computing System™ (UCS) strategy and enhance application performance by integrating scalable solid state memory into the UCS’s fabric computing architecture.

New breeds of applications such as virtual desktops and data analytics are imposing increased performance demands on traditional storage array systems. Bridging the gap between increased application performance demand from servers and what traditional storage systems can deliver, requires that solid state memory systems be brought closer to the application. With the acquisition of WHIPTAIL Cisco is evolving the UCS architecture by integrating data acceleration capability into the compute layer. Integrating WHIPTAIL’s memory systems with UCS at a hardware and manageability level will simplify customers’ data center environments by delivering the required performance in a fraction of the data center floor space with unified management for provisioning and administration.

“We are focused on providing a converged infrastructure including compute, network and high performance solid state that will help address our customers’ requirements for next-generation computing environments,” said Paul Perez, vice president and general manager, Cisco Computing Systems Product Group.  “As we continue to innovate our unified platform, WHIPTAIL will help realize our vision of scalable persistent memory which is integrated into the server, available as a fabric resource and managed as a globally shared pool.”

Those statements from Cisco are consistent with what DCIG is also hearing from end-users out in the field in regards to converged infrastructures. More are looking to obtain and deploy converged infrastructures that bundle servers, networking and storage as a single SKU and Cisco was certainly missing the storage component of that stack. While Cisco certainly has relationships with many, many storage vendors, to deliver on this emerging user requirement Cisco needed its own storage offering that it could then tightly integrate into its emerging converged infrastructure stack. WHIPTAIL fits the bill.

That’s the first and most obvious implication of Cisco acquiring WHIPTAIL. However that is probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what else Cisco may have in mind longer term.

In the near-term it is unlikely Cisco has any intentions to alienate its existing enterprise storage partners. Its acquisition of WHIPTAIL certainly gives Cisco the storage solution it needs to deliver the capacity, performance, reliability and stability that most entry-level and many mid-size organizations need in a converged infrastructure stack.

However to conclude at this point that Cisco will displace EMC and NetApp in enterprise deals is premature at best and may never happen. These size organizations buy EMC and NetApp storage solutions in part because they deliver capacity and performance but also because they deliver levels of management and service that Cisco is likely not be prepared to offer for some time.

Another interesting ramification of Cisco’s acquisition of WHIPTAIL that another analyst at DCIG internally mentioned to me was how it could positively impact Cisco’s cloud initiatives. As more organizations store data in public clouds or implement hybrid clouds, the need for faster performance over the WAN by caching data in the network becomes more important. By potentially using WHIPTAIL as a caching engine behind Cisco switches with large network providers, this could improve WAN performance at a lower cost than using technologies such as DRAM.

A third and final ramification of Cisco’s acquisition of WHIPTAIL goes back to a point a made in a blog entry I wrote a couple of weeks ago and then hit on again earlier this week in another blog entry: the rise of application-storage convergence. In looking at the bottom of the front page of WHIPTAIL’s website, the first sentence of the first paragraph it says, “WHIPTAIL has been accelerating application performance while lowering cost for enterprise around the globe since 2009.

While any flash-based storage array will accelerate application performance, WHIPTAIL also mentions later on in that same paragraph about adding a layer of intelligence to its flash-based arrays that further accelerates performance.

As to what integration, if any, that the WHIPTAIL OS currently offers with any application is unclear. However by WHIPTAIL now being a part of Cisco certainly opens the door for Cisco to approach operating system providers (Citrix, Microsoft, Linux) to deliver advanced levels of integration between the OS and underlying storage system that could accelerate performance even further beyond what flash memory/SSD natively provides.

We saw Oracle announce such application-storage integration between Oracle Database 12c and its ZF3 storage systems. As such, there is every reason to believe Cisco might do the same thing, especially in light of its increasingly public spat with EMC and VMware as a means to gain a competitive edge in the converged infrastructure storage space.

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