Vblocks — here today, where tomorrow?

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Now that VMware has bought Nicira and its software-defined networking expertise, doubts about the future of the VCE Vblock effort have multiplied. VCE is the three-year-old partnership between EMC, Cisco and VMware. The goal was to sell Vblocks — converged bundles of EMC storage, Cisco servers and networking and VMware virtualization. The theory was that companies want pre-integrated data center technology as opposed to piece parts.

There was strife early as could be expected when three tech powerhouses with their own agendas try to make nice. What’s new is that with Nicira in the fold, VMware gets more directly competitive with Cisco, further stressing the partnership. Cisco is attacking software-defined networking with its $100-millionInsieme spin-in.

“I think [the VMware-Nicera deal] is the last nail in VCE’s coffin,” said Vanessa Alvarez, president of Alvarez Consulting.

Even Vblock fans cool to VCE

Even VCE reseller partners once jazzed about selling Vblocks are dropping or reconsidering the product. Their question: Why devote time and resources to something that even the parent companies seem to be forsaking?

“I feel both Cisco and EMC are hedging their bets with their own individual solutions and they will continue to support VCE when the customer truly wants a converged infrastructure solution and they are competing against an IBM, HP or Oracle all in one solution,” said Jack Kaiser, SVP of sales for Focus Technology Solutions, a Seabrook, N.H. tech reseller. Companies like Focus that partner with all three VCE founders, have to figure out what’s best for the customer, he said.

Some see the appointment of EMC’s Pat Gelsinger as CEO of VMware as a move by EMC CEO Joe Tucci to tighten his hold on VMware. (EMC owns an 80 percent stake in the virtualization leader.) It’s clear to them that EMC with VMware and now Nicira is on a collision course with Cisco that leaves VCE and Vblock vulnerable.

“There’s going to be a lot more competition than collaboration going forward,” said Constellation Research CEO Ray Wang.

Others said the demand for high-end converged hardware really isn’t as high as advertised as companies put more of their workloads in the hands of cloud service providers, most of the which run commodity hardware and software.

VCE players say it’s  business as usual

VCE and its parent companies insist nothing’s amiss. On EMC’s second quarter earnings call this week, Tucci said he was happy with VCE traction. “VCE is winning new customers at a strong rate … [and]  remains on track to reach the $1 billion run rate for Vblocks.”

A VCE spokesman said the company, with 1,200 employees, is growing, adding a new facility in Raleigh, N.C. It recently hired Praveen Akkiraju, a Cisco veteran, as CEO. And, demand for converged hardware continues to grow, he said, citing Wikibon numbers, 

Whether that growth proves meets expectations and is enough to sustain multiple converged infrastructure bundles when more work is flowing to webscale data centers running commodity hardware, remains a very big question.

Photo courtesy Flickr user qthr

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