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Rushing to catch up with HPE, Cisco gets ahead – of itself


Our old friend and HPE alum, Cisco CTO Zorawar Biri Singh, has been talking up a storm about a new direction for his company, with a strong emphasis on orchestration and analytics (notably in this InfoWorld interview). Nothing wrong, of course, with taking a telescope to 2232.jpgtechnology’s future horizons – HPE has been known to do it now and then (indeed for a really breathtaking view of what’s coming down the line, check out HPE Labs’ vision for a new kind of computer: the Machine). But in Singh’s description of Cisco’s grand visions, references to one key technology – composable infrastructure – are conspicuously absent.

Composable infrastructure will certainly be at the core of the next-generation data center, and Cisco has claimed a stake in that market. It has to. But the company’s composability story is still full of holes, and it’s doubtful that any amount of plugs of the kind Singh describes can fill them.

Orchestration discords

Cisco foresees a data center “infused with containerized microservices and pervasive analytics,” according to the InfoWorld article. InfoWorld editor Eric Knorr comments that “a networking and server giant seems an unlikely company to take up that cause.” Indeed – and especially unlikely is an infrastructure player that lacks significant storage capabilities. Yet, Singh promises a new “core orchestration knitting” consisting of “compute, networking and storage bundled together.” By contrast, within this new class of Composable infrastructure, the HPE Synergy powered by Intel® offering, already encompasses all three of these as fluid pools of resources under the control of software-defined intelligence and a unified API – and it doesn’t just bundle them, it’s all designed from the ground up together so that the infrastructure can be composed automatically to meet the needs of the application that is being provisioned.

Cisco’s UCS servers will be part of their planned Composable offerings. And while the UCS M-series does have some composability attributes, at best it’s a composable server, not a fully composable infrastructure. Here’s why, Cisco’s solution can share only limited local storage resources – four SSDs – across chassis compute nodes. At best, it satisfies only a portion of what industry needs to run the two very different modes of IT, both the traditional and idea economy applications. Read Paul Durzan’s blog A Composable Infrastructure Bill of Rights for a great description of what composability should cover.

What’s more, Cisco UCS Manager does not manage external storage or provision the operating image[i]. In a true composable infrastructure resources are provisioned together with their state (bios settings, firmware, drivers, protocols, etc.) as well as the Operating System image using repeatable templates.  This is exactly what the HPE Synergy Composer and Image Streamer deliver. HPE Image Streamer is a new approach to deployment and updates for composable infrastructure. This product option works with HPE Composer for fast software-defined control over physical compute modules with operating system (OS) provisioning. HPE Image Streamer enables true stateless computing combined with instant-on capability for deployment and updates.

Cisco talks of containerization and Docker, as well as development tools like Chef and Puppet. But HPE already offers Docker Machine Driver for HPE OneView and Chef Provisioning Driver for HPE OneView, an infrastructure-as-code solution that lets you configure a bare-metal private cloud.  Cisco UCS Manager does not yet support DevOps tools like Chef, Puppet, directly through UCS Manager API, requiring an additional tool.[ii]

HPE is leading the industry to enable composable infrastructure. We announced the HPE Composable Infrastructure Partner Ecosystem Program in June 2015.  Broad industry support for HPE’s Composable Infrastructure API gives you the confidence to invest in this architecture.

HPE Synergy supports tools like Ansible, Chef, Puppet and Salt, along with 20 other integration partners. While Cisco will claim a few of the same for UCS Director or ACI, those are separate solutions (see Cisco’s latest composability claim still misses the mark).

A wider context for contextual computing

Cisco plans to invest in machine learning and is looking to hire “a bunch of PhDs” for that purpose. I applaud Cisco’s interest in a very promising avenue for infrastructure development. But it remains to be seen what and whether they can deliver.

The HP alum, Biri Singh, is surely right to argue that context-aware computing will redefine the workplace. Indeed, the ability of infrastructure to automatically collect and analyze data from devices will affect every aspect of our lives. It’s already doing so; and again HPE is at the forefront. At Levi’s Stadium, home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, HPE is helping to create a new kind of wired, customized game experience. Aruba Networks, an HPE company, delivers Wi-Fi to the stadium. Fans can download a location-aware app to their smartphones that offers guided instructions to their seats, as well as food ordering and delivery services. (See the Levi’s Stadium Superbowl stats here.) The app also delivers data to departments like concessions and ticketing that enables them to make real-time decisions, for example around special promotions.

You can learn more about Aruba solutions for large public venues and the digital workplace here. We’ll be delving deeper into HPE’s vision for contextual computing and analytics in the data center in an upcoming blog.

It’s great to see that Cisco is investigating some of the most promising technologies for the future of the data center. But for many HPE customers, it’s a future that’s already here.


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[i], Section “Tasks You Cannot Perform in Cisco UCS Manager

[ii] Source: Moor Insights & Strategy paper:  The Journey to a Composable Infrastructure.  Nov 23, 2015, page 9


Paul Miller
VP of Marketing, HPE

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Paul Miller is VP of Marketing for the HPE Software-Defined and Cloud Group business unit. The SDCG organization is responsible for marketing for HPE Synergy, HPE OneView, and Hyper Converged Solutions portfolio.