What the Cisco/EMC/VMware Trinity Means For Cloud Computing

serversCisco (s csco), EMC (s emc) and VMware (s vmw), the trifecta of companies putting their own proprietary stamp on cloud computing for the enterprise, today created a partnership to offer equipment called Vblocks and support a new joint venture called Acadia that will help business customers and service providers build out clouds based on the Vblock gear packages. The partnership can be read as an attack on hardware providers building gear for the clouds and a potential threat to cloud providers like Microsoft Azure and Amazon’s cloud services that aren’t building VMware clouds.

Vblocks combine the server, storage and OS together in different pre-configured variations (from 300 to 6,000 virtual machines) so customers can buy them and easily launch their own private clouds. It’s similar to the specialized hardware offered by IBM (s ibm) under its CloudBurst name and gear from HP (s hpq). The CisEMware partnership could sell Vblocks to cloud providers such as Savvis and Terremark which are currently building enterprise clouds based on software and gear from the coalition members. The Acadia joint venture, which is majority owned by Cisco and EMC with smaller contributions from VMware and Intel, will begin life in 2010 with 130 people to help sell and run clouds based on Vblocks. The amount of investment in the venture was not disclosed.

Basically, if you think of the cloud as Legos, Vblocks are those pre-formed boat hulls and castle turrets that make it easier to build stuff without using only the tiny blocks. And that’s going to make this a compelling offering for established enterprise customers who want to create internal clouds to deliver IT as a service. Unsurprisingly, HP, which is heavily vested in the same server+networking vision that Cisco is, also wants to deliver gear so enterprises can deliver IT as a service.

Amazon VPC report
Subscribe to GigaOM Pro for $79, get this report!

This is setting up a dual view of  cloud computing, with some pitching private clouds as an in-house way to deliver computing as a service, and other vendors such as Microsoft or service providers like Savvis and even Amazon pitching true multi-tenant infrastructure and platform as a service offerings that claim to offer private cloud levels of security and reliability on a shared infrastructure. The economics of each will be a key differentiator, with internal private clouds costing more. No one from CisEMware would talk about the pricing for the gear, saying only that the offering reduced operating expenditures by 40 percent for a test customer.

Another big issue here is the openness of the platform. None of these players are known for their embrace of open software, and most are far more famous for squeezing high margins out of proprietary code. IBM and Rackspace have been pushing for some type of open cloud effort, which it defines as being built through a standards group. Vblocks are a refutation of that model, and of the idea that commodity hardware will underlie most clouds.

Today’s announcement divides compute clouds into those built on commodity gear and those that aren’t, as well as showcases the split between how folks plan to deliver private clouds for enterprise customers. The choices made at both the hardware level and when a company is determining how private it wants to be will affect the economics of cloud computing profoundly. It also shows how the once monolithic cloud mania is finally breaking up into real debate about how to deploy compute infrastructure in a manner that is cost effective and flexible. After three years of fluff, there are storms on the horizon.

Related GigaOM Pro content:The Future of the Data Center is Murky,” and “Amazon’s Virtual Private Cloud: What’s New, What’s Next?