IBM and Cisco Focusing on Converged Tech for MSPs

By Gina Roos
converged technology for MSPs

IBM recently teamed up with Cisco to launch VersaStack, a pre-engineered, tested and supported system that leverages Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) Integrated Infrastructure with IBM's Storwize storage system technology and storage arrays. Designed to operate as a "data center in a box," the technology is being embraced by managed service providers (MSPs), including iVirtualize in North America, DutchCloud in the Netherlands and Global Business Machines in the Middle East.

The biggest benefit for MSPs is the new offering delivers fully tested, validated and integrated systems for faster delivery and implementation. These integrated, or converged systems consist of a full stack of data center technologies—storage, compute, networking and management components—that are combined into a pre-tested and supported system.

The market is expanding: The global integrated infrastructure and platform market reached $9.4 billion in 2014 with 28.9 percent year-over-year growth, according to IDC. In addition, new storage capacity shipments grew to 3.5 exabytes, posting 52.8 percent growth. In the first quarter of 2015, the market increased 8.3 percent to reach $2.1 billion, and generated 945 petabytes of new storage capacity shipments.

"The fact that this much storage was moved as part of integrated infrastructure is a huge opportunity from a partner perspective," said Eric Herzog, vice president of marketing for IBM Storage Systems.

This is an ideal opportunity for MSPs, cloud service providers (CSPs) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, said Herzog. IBM felt it was important to be in this space—offering integrated/converged infrastructure to end users through its channel partners—based on how it's growing as a percentage and as a method of consumption at an end-user level, he added.

In addition, the VersaStack is strictly a channel partner play. The offering is delivered exclusively through the channel, said Herzog. "These are pre-racked and stacked by our channel partners. It's very quick to install, compared to getting the servers, the storage, the networking and the hypervisor and putting it together yourself. By having it done this way, it's much faster and more efficient."

The traditional channel partners are offering services around the VersaStack or are putting practices together to do that, said Herzog. It's a way for channel partners to continue to stay in the server and storage business as end users move to integrated systems, he added.

"From an MSP perspective, it's all about efficiency and swift deployment. You need to add physical infrastructures for expansion of your cloud as an MSP, CSP or SaaS provider. The various things that a MSP or CSP would offer—platform-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, cloud-as-a-service, and as you grow your business you can swiftly and rapidly install physical hardware to support any of your offerings," he continued.

In addition, the IBM Storwize technology delivers several benefits with built-in functions, such as data virtualization, real-time compression and easy tiering, which automatically migrates data between tiers based on real-time use patterns.

"One of the things we do provide uniquely is storage virtualization, which means we can virtualize other people's storage. We support over 350 arrays that are not IBM," said Herzog.

Migration is another big benefit. "Because we virtualize, we can do transparent migration of block data in the background, on the fly, with no downtime," Herzog said.

This makes it very easy for a partner to create a migration service, which has always been a strong revenue base for channel partners, around VersaStack, Herzog said.

With integrated infrastructure "acquisition costs are lower, and installation risks are greatly reduced," said Herzog. Customers have told IBM that VersaStack has reduced downtime, saved money, improved resource utilization and sped up application deployments.

Most of the benefits are attributed to the solution being pre-tested and validated, along with built-in redundancy features and centralized management interfaces.

One of the biggest benefits is the control of compute, storage and network from one pane of glass, said John Buskermolen, co-founder of i-Virtualize, a Toronto-based provider of hosted and on-premises infrastructure services. Deploying VersaStack enabled the company to shrink its infrastructure footprint in its hosting data center by about 48 percent, he said.

"So you can imagine the costs savings from power, cooling and real estate," Buskermolen continued. "When you have a highly secure data center, which we are in, the costs are significant and to be able to reduce those costs helps our bottom line quite a bit."

 "Some of the benefits of the integrated infrastructure are the single point of management, and it allows us to deploy more quickly and respond to our customers more quickly," said Dan Simunic, co-founder, i-Virtualize. "From a data center perspective, it reduces our costs and it allows our people to be more efficient as well."

"One of the greatest selling features for us is the IBM storage component," continued Simunic. "We've been a longtime IBM customer and the [Storwize] V7000 with some of its features like easy tier technology, real-time compression and the ability to scale really works well for us. The performance is an important factor as well when you're dealing with cloud apps."

Training also is a big part of the partnership with both IBM and Cisco, added Buskermolen, along with a high level of tech support from the beginning to the end of a project.

The initial VersaStack solution targets data center and private cloud deployments, as well as big data and analytics for large commercial and enterprise customers. Cisco and IBM expect to introduce additional reference architectures over time. Solution support services are available from Cisco, IBM and channel partners.

Gina Roos, a Channel Insider contributor, focuses on technology and the channel.

This article was originally published on 2015-09-15