Cisco buys Whiptail for solid-state storage

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Networking giant Cisco Systems has announced its intention to purchase Whiptail, a supplier of solid-state memory systems for an eye-opening cash sum of $415 million.

Executives at the company plan to use Whiptail’s technology to boost its Unified Computing System (UCS) strategy and enhance application performance into the bargain. UCS is Cisco’s offering in the so-called ‘converged infrastructure’ space - stacks of hardware that combine storage, servers and networking in a single, pre-integrated package.

It’s Cisco’s first move into the storage array market and raises questions over the company’s partnership with EMC (in the VCE coalition, along with VMware) and NetApp (with which it partners on the Flexpod reference architecture).

By integrating Whiptail’s solid-state memory into the UCS computing architecture, Cisco believes it can simplify customers’ data centre environments by delivering high performance in a fraction of the floor space, with accompanying savings in terms of power and cooling. These converged infrastructure stacks, according to the vendors that sell them, provide a quicker and easier way for companies to tap into the benefits of private-cloud computing than by ‘stitching’ together disparate servers and storage arrays in their environments.

“We are focused on providing a converged infrastructure including compute, network and high-performance solid state that will help address our customers’ requirements for next-generation computing environments,” said Paul Perez, vice president and general manager of the Cisco computing systems product group.

Whiptail offers Accella and Invicta all-flash arrays for enterprises and the WT-1100 system for small and medium-sized businesses, competing with other all-flash array start-ups such as Violin Memory. This is a great deal for the company, which probably has no more than $30 million in annual revenues.

For Cisco, meanwhile, it’s an important, if expensive, foray into the enterprise storage market. But more than that, it’s a way to boost its stake in potentially lucrative industry developments including ‘Internet of Everything’, big data and high-performance computing.


And that’s down to the kind of storage performance that Flash - and in particular, Whiptail - can offer, as a Cisco company blog by Hilton Romanski, Cisco’s head of business development, makes clear:

“Based in Whippany, New Jersey, Whiptail builds the highest performing and most scalable solid-state memory systems available today,” he writes. “Scalable from one node to up to 30 nodes, WHIPTAIL systems can deliver over four million IOPS and 360 Terabytes of raw capacity – a truly staggering amount of solid-state performance capable of providing the workload optimisation required in the App Economy.”

By bringing solid-state performance into the compute tier, he says, Whiptail “speeds a natural evolution of the fabric computing domain and drastically improves performance for customers’ current business-critical application environments.”

That may be so, but it’s very early to say, judging by customers’ buying patterns so far. Converged infrastructure stacks, at present, are thought to account for no more than 4 percent of data centre investment each year.

What is clear, however, is that this is a move with huge consequences for other players in the enterprise storage space.

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