As carriers find vendor lock-in as repellent as skunk, vendors are changing their seduction strategy. Vendors are building partnerships to impress carriers with freedom of choice, and win control of the data center.
"Pretty much everybody is building partnerships," says Heavy Reading analyst Roz Roseboro. "They know operators don't want vendor lock-in. They're all trying to build ecosystems."
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) are the most visible alliance-makers lately, with VMware recently announcing a high-profile partnership with high-flying Arista Networks Inc.
Arista and VMware last week announced a strategic relationship to help customers build what the two companies are calling the "software-defined data center," focused on development and joint marketing of Arista and VMware integrated solutions for VMware NSX. The partnership builds on previous work with VMware vSphere, vCLoud Director and VXLAN. The two companies have been partners since 2010, working on cloud and interoperability between physical and virtual networks.
Arista is a good friend for VMware -- or anyone -- to have. In its first-ever report as a public company last week, Arista reported a big 65% year-on-year increase in quarterly growth on revenues of $137.9 million. (See Arista Stock Jumps On Meteoric Growth.)
Other VMware partners for its NSX virtual networking software include a full roster of hardware companies that aren't Cisco: Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL), HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), as well as Linux OS vendor Cumulus Networks.
Colt Technology Services Group Ltd is using Arista hardware and VMWare NSX software to migrate from a Cisco-dominated proprietary network to open, virtual networks. (See Colt Pulls the Trigger on Data Center Virtualization, Arista Stock Jumps On Meteoric Growth.)
Meanwhile, Cisco has been racking up partners for its OpFlex protocol, announced in the spring as a competitor to OpenFlow in early April. Partners include Canonical, Citrix Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CTXS), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), and Red Hat Inc. (NYSE: RHT) And Avi Networks, Citrix, Cisco-backed Embrane Inc., and F5 Networks Inc. will ship an OpFlex agent with their appliances. (See Goin' South: Cisco Offers 'OpFlex' as Alternative to OpenFlow .)
Cisco partner Microsoft is playing both sides of the street, allying with VMWare on the Geneve protocol to bridge VMware's VXLAN (Virtual Extensible LAN) and the Microsoft-backed NVGRE (Network Virtualization using Generic Routing Encapsulation) protocols. (See Microsoft, VMware Team on Virtualization Standard
F5 is also allied with both Cisco and VMware, and plans to announce a broader VMware partnership this month.
Cisco plans its quarterly earnings report Wednesday afternoon. Cisco revenues have been falling for three consecutive quarters; financial analysts predict sales growth will continue to decline, down 2.2% year-over-year, with revenue of $12.14 billion and earnings of 0.53. (see Cisco Earnings Suffer From Carrier Weakness.)
Technology analyst Tom Nolle says the Arista/VMWare alliance could be "one of the pivotal steps in the evolution of networking." It's all part of a big battle by vendors for the data center, real estate which IBM has been losing influence in in recent years due to its early withdrawal from networking, lagging virtualization and cloud strategies, and more recent withdrawal from x86 servers.
"IBM’s loss here put the critical data center space more up-for-grabs than would have been the case normally," says Nolle. "Cisco and VMware have been the two trying hardest to do the grabbing, with HP a close third."
Cisco and VMware are using alliances to strengthen vulnerable flanks. Cisco is vulnerable in that networks are becoming increasingly software-defined, while VMware is vulnerable in that networks still need hardware to actually "move real packets. You have to be able to actually connect stuff using copper and fiber," Nolle says. So Cisco is using alliances to strengthen its software strategy, and VMware is using alliances to bolster its lack of hardware product.
Dell is in the middle of a couple of key partnerships. It partnered with Big Switch Networks in April, plans to announce a partnership with VMware at that company's VMworld customer conference later this month. (See Open Season: Dell Taps Into Big Switch.)
That's a quick rundown of high-profile industry partnerships, very nearly off the top of my head. Am I missing anything important? Let me know.