Chuck Hollis has a way of taking a good story and putting an interesting perspective, on it, and his latest post, a look into the long and fruitful partnership between EMC and Cisco is no different. When put into context and on a timeline, it’s informative to see how the companies have partnered for the betterment of their shared customers.
For me, it made me think about how Cisco has colored and driven the success we’ve had at VCE. Make no mistake, there is was very deliberate process of DNA infusion from all of the investor companies, one that continues to this day. If you think the selection of VCE executives and decision-makers isn’t done with a plan, you aren’t paying attention.
So, in the spirit of Chuck’s premise, let’s look at the things that Cisco brings to the table that drives the personality, behavior and success of VCE. What DNA did we inherit? How is it different than what EMC brings to the table? How is it unique to the organism that is VCE?
To start at the beginning, I think it’s important to remember how audacious the concept of VCE (Acadia) was in it’s inception. Has there ever been a company quite like it, formed by technology giants, as equals, spanning wildly divergent technology stacks in such a fundamental way? I can’t think of one, but some of you who have been around longer than I may want to weight in below in the comments. I know it hasn’t happened in my professional lifetime, and that along makes it worth examining. I bet, in 10 years, there will be a whole raft of MBA classes examining how it was conceived, and the market forces that drove both the forming, the pivot (Acadia –> VCE) and the success of the company.
Part of the reason the idea was so unlikely, is because Cisco and EMC are very different companies, in many fundamental ways. Besides just the East Coast/West Coast divide, there were fundamental differences that needed to be addressed. The previous partnerships that Chuck referred to certainly paved the road, but it’s far to say that there was a significant amount of adjustment necessary in the early days of Acadia. In addition to using a very new product in the UCS server line, two very different cultures were sitting at the same table for the first time in any real tactical sense. Not everyone was able to make the transition that was necessary; not everyone has to this day. But I think it’s fair to say that both companies brought a lot to share with each other. It was also a very real risk for both companies, because failure wasn’t going to go unnoticed.
The first thing that I think Cisco gave to VCE was a respect for a disciplined product development process. The flow by which new product ideas are funneled into the company and are vetted, tested and implemented is very much a Cisco thing. How we do parent company roadmap roll-ups and then turn that into the Vblock Interoperability Matrix is very much a Cisco personality-driven process, and it’s become one of the core, fundamental differentiators that VCE maintains in the market to this day.
Secondly, I think the sales process that VCE uses itself, particularly the role of the vArchitect, is heavily influenced by Cisco. It’s fair to say that we have a very, very engineer driven sales engagement process, which is very different from the EMC way of things. Cisco showed us how you can win the technology battle at the tactical level with great engineers, and then use a high-quality sales team to handle the upstream positioning. The vArchitects at VCE are a unique group across the board, and the amount of technical knowledge they need to have across all three technology stacks is definitely in the Cisco tradition. In fact, a number of the new Cisco data center engineers I’ve met on the pre-sales side look to be cut from the same cloth. Having those kind of people in front of customers is a huge benefit to all involved.
Next, I think we have inherited much of the strategic ethos of Cisco, especially at the executive level, a process that continues up through the recent naming of long-time Cisco executive Praveen Akkiraju as our CEO. Especially in the enterprise and large service provider spaces, there are few companies that have done as well for as long as Cisco, and Praveen brings that mindset to his new job in spades. He has very, very quickly put his stamp on parts of the company, and I’m excited to see some of the changes in philosophy that he has championed come to fruition.
Finally, and this is more of a personal observation based on my involvement, but VCE has learned a ton from the Cisco event marketing team. Having been part of most of the events that we did over the last two years, I always admired the scope of activities that Cisco brought to their events, whether it was Cisco Live or events run by their partners like EMC World and VMworld. There are things, like the layout of the booth and the demo/theater setup that were originally modeled very much after EMC, and even those have drifted towards Cisco. In the future, I bet you’ll see more and more joint marketing work done at these kinds of events. In particular, Cisco has been spectacular at the community side of their events. Whether it’s video updates, roving reporters, “Engineers Unplugged” whiteboard sessions or use of social media, Cisco is a standard that VCE will continue to work towards.
Of course, all of this is on the “soft” side of the house. On the hardware side, things have worked out as well as could have been hoped. There’s a rumor that EMC attempted to kick-start a Vblock-like product prior to the introduction of the UCS platform, and wow did they dodge a bullet there. The programmability and stateless nature of the entire platform has become such a core part of what the Vblock is that I can’t imagine having another server technology in there. The MDS switches, the migration of fabric services into the Nexus 5000-series switches, the simplicity and power of the Fabric Interconnect concept; these are all things that have become industry high-watermarks and have been the bedrock of our success. Remember, the UCS was the “questionable” part of the Vblock when it was released. We fought arm in arm with our Cisco brothers and sisters to show the traditional Dell/HP/IBM server huggers that there was a better way of doing things, and slowly but surely we’ve turned the discussion around. How many features in the Gen8 ProLiant servers are direct results of the new world-view that Cisco brought to the space?
In my opinion, VCE is lightning in a bottle; there will never be another company like this. The executives from all of the investor companies that were involved in its creation deserve a lot of credit, both for their achievement, but also for the sheer testicular fortitude that was involved in making the decision to bring it to life. We got many things from the parent companies, not all of them welcome, but all of them necessary. Out of this petri dish has come a list of things that have made both companies better. A product that customers respond to at a very fundamental level, sure, but more than that we see that the DNA from the parent companies can be very complimentary to one another. Despite initial concerns about their differences, it’s the combination of their individual DNA that has made VCE the success that it is today.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.