I’ve been looking at Cisco’s public customer stories surrounding their hyperconverged platform wins, and they seem to point to an area where this platform uniquely shines.
The list of vendors that offer hyperconverged solutions is actually pretty short and includes Lenovo, Dell Technologies and HPE, but no longer IBM because IBM spun out networking to Lenovo. Each of these vendors has vastly different levels of expertise. Cisco stands out as the only vendor that, rather than a focus on servers and storage, has its focus on networking.
This suggests that Cisco’s solution should differentiate, but how?
The definition of this hyperconverged systems is a tad fluid, but right now it refers to a combination of servers, networking, storage and related management in a packaged solution that is software-defined and virtualized.
Hyperconverged solutions, as a group, differentiate from competing products by being faster from sale to production, relatively simple to manage and surprisingly flexible. The downside is that these are basically packaged data centers. They are best for new data centers or where you can afford to toss or relocate data center assets in total to bring one of these on board. They aren’t a mix-and-match solution.
The benefits arise from the fact that the components, when done right, are designed to work together, and the system comes together largely as a pre-defined and well-tested unit. But all the components aren’t created equal, and both the capabilities of the selling vendor and the individual advantages of each of the components define the solution.
For Cisco, the stand-out component is the networking. This suggests that the use case where Cisco’s solution should shine is where the networking requirement is unusually high — like with desktop virtualization.
While Cisco’s solution is used for analytics, its most common win by far was for desktop virtualization. Even the case studies, like this one, that weren’t specifically related to desktop virtualization were clearly client-side focused and had desktop virtualization elements. This, I think, is because desktop virtualization is heavy on I/O but not that heavy on compute, which means that it will pound the networking solution hard. Cisco’s networking advantage appears to play to this very well.
What I think is also interesting is that for many desktop virtualization implementations, the processing and graphics load is relatively low. But one of Cisco’s wins was for a trading floor, which is unusual for the company historically. However, analytics and related trading floor apps have been increasingly hosted on dedicated servers and not on the localized work stations or PCs. The end result has been an increased need for higher-speed networks and a reduction in the need for localized performance, which, I’ll bet, is why Cisco’s trading floor win was able to take place. Here too the selection favored networking performance over storage and server performance, driving a Cisco win.
The Networking Advantage
Every vendor in the hyperconverged solutions space is very different. And many have changed a great deal externally and internally since they’ve launched their hyperconverged solutions.
What makes Cisco stand out is their significantly stronger networking focus. This appears to allow them to win far more effectively with desktop virtualization solutions where connectivity is favored over processing power or storage performance. This includes implementations that use hosted apps, which do require higher performance as long as those apps are on traditional dedicated resources.
Often, the key to picking a vendor is knowing where that vendor uniquely shines. With hyperconverged, and this should be no surprise, Cisco shines with networking performance. This is likely why they seem to be favored for desktop virtualization solutions.
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