Headed for the Clouds – Cisco, EMC and VMware Launch VCE Coalition

By and large, IT favors grand pronouncements and overheated rhetoric, and the industry abounds with “unprecedented” efforts firmly rooted in precedent and “unique” solutions fashioned from the commonest clay. Is that the case with Cisco, EMC and VMware’s new Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition? Decidedly not, and for a number of reasons.

VCE should help drive sales of the members’ various technologies and make real their vision of private cloud computing, which allows enterprises to seamlessly blend internal IT resources with those from external service providers behind the firewall. However, the most significant part of the announcement is the shape of the coalition itself.

While most IT players love the notion of collaboration, including partnerships based on friendly “co-opetition,” the shape of most collaborative relationships is conventional in the extreme, focusing on simple product interoperability and customer issues.

As a result, they do not threaten the integrated, vertically focused product and service strategies common among traditional end-to-end systems vendors. Such efforts are also central to emerging systems players, such as Oracle via its impending acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

By comparison, the VCE coalition allows Cisco, EMC and VMware to present a single face and common responsibility to clients, while also preserving the partners’ independence. That is, while the three will all contribute significantly to VCE, they will also continue to work closely with their various partners and with clients who prefer other products.

Efficiency, Control and Freedom

So, what could organizations gain from VCE’s vBlock architecture and solutions? In essence, both the common benefits of industry standard, Intel-based computing and the partners’ technology solutions — along with significantly reduced risk and cost, which comes via VCE’s rigorous pre-integration and validation process.

In addition, VCE’s unified sales, service and support strategy is designed to provide clients the same “one throat to choke” benefits they receive from individual vendors. Overall, the coalition’s efforts should help customers realize optimal or increased data center efficiency and control, while also preserving their essential freedom to choose IT products and vendors.

Also intriguing is Cisco and EMC’s Acadia venture, which aims to accelerate cloud computing adoption among large enterprises and service providers (SPs). Not surprisingly, other vendors are also targeting these same deep-pocketed customers, but some of these cloud offerings are hazier than the VCE’s more clearly defined solutions.

Another point in the coalition’s favor is its firm opposition to branching into outsourced services, which remain a sweet spot for many traditional vendors. Instead, the Acadia venture will, by design, build and test ready-to-run vBlock-based infrastructures, and transfer them to clients to put to work immediately.

Feet on the Ground, Eyes Ahead

Is VCE likely to succeed? Probably so, though it will likely encounter vigorous competition from the system vendor establishment and its allies. That was certainly the case when Cisco announced its unified computing system (UCS) earlier this year.

If VCE performs as designed, then Cisco, EMC and VMware all stand to profit, as will Intel — both from the coalition’s leverage of its Xeon server processor technologies and VCE’s singular focus on industry-standard business computing.

At the same time, the coalition’s success is not critical to any of the participants’ long-term strategies. Whether or not enterprises and SPs embrace VCE-enabled private cloud computing, Cisco, EMC and VMware will remain leaders in their respective markets and areas of expertise.

That said, by leveraging their unique talents and technologies along with a common vision of private cloud computing, the Virtual Computing Environment coalition should allow Cisco, EMC and VMware to better explore and enable future enterprise IT, while remaining firmly rooted in the here and now.

That qualifies as a win/win both for VCE’s partners and their cloud-bound enterprise and SP customers.

E-Commerce Times columnist Charles King is principal analyst for Pund-IT, an IT industry consultancy that focuses on how business technology evolution affects vendors, their customers, and the marketplace.

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