When it introduced its first Unified Computing System data centre servers in 2009, it would be safe to say that Cisco faced a fair bit of doubt, from both competitors and pundits in the market, that it could succeed in the server game.
So you’ll have to forgive the company for crowing a bit about reaching the 10,000-customer mark.
At the same time, Cisco Canada announced it’s reached the 350 mark for UCS customers in this country, with customers including Sheridan College, University of Montreal and retail giant The Brick.
“It’s nice to hit a clip of 350 customers in terms of awareness – it takes the ‘you can’t do it’ factor out of the equation,” said Jason Reil, product sales specialist at Cisco Canada.
Greg Turner, Cisco Canada’s vice president of data centre, added that as a result of its gaining momentum, Cisco and it’s partners are not having to tackle the “are you really in this business?” questions with the same ferocity as before.
“This helps the field out in terms of awareness,” he said.
Granted, the majority of the market for UCS has been in its home turf of the U.S., where Cisco has notched itself market share in the 20s in the data centre. Other markets have been a little bit slower out of the gates. But while Turner declined to discuss comparative data specifics, he said that Canada’s 350 customers “compares favorably” to a lot of other countries – both similar-sized to and larger than Canada.
And it’s worth noting, Cisco says, that as a newcomer to the game, every sale came up against an incumbent vendor in the data centre.
“Every one of those 350 customers was an IBM, HP or Del customer,” Reil said. “There’s a lot of heavy lifting there.”
In the channel, Cisco Canada currently has 18 certified partners for its B-series blade servers, and is on its way to introducing three more, Turner said. Meanwhile, the C-series rackmount servers are available more broadly to the whole of the Cisco partner community. Together, that represents “about 80 per cent” of the partner network Cisco Canada would ultimately like to have in place for UCS, he said.
Turner said partners for UCS run the gamut from traditional Cisco networking partners to other partners who are brand new to Cisco. The company is also “starting to target HP- and IBM-centric partners to give them a second option,” and is picking up new partners through its VBlock and FlexPod partnerships with EMC and NetApp respectively.
Those partners are getting more effective with experience, he added, and are really starting to catch on to the converged infrastructure message that both Cisco and its data centre competitors have been trumpeting over the last year.
“We’re starting to see that our partners get that message, and they’re pitching based on key differentiators, and succeeding with it,” Reil said.
The company notes a strong harbinger for the next 350 (and beyond) UCS deployments: repeat customers.
“Some of our first customers were looking at UCS for VDI or other specific workloads, mostly virtualization-focused ones,” Turner said. “But now we’re seeing second orders come through. We’re in the repeat buy stage. We’re not winning the whole [data centre] floor, but we’re succeeding in the virtualization platform arena.”
The service provider sector has been a stronghold for UCS – with Reil reporting that four major service providers are building off of UCS, and several more in the works.
Meanwhile, the public sector market is starting to open up. The company and its partners have been successful in getting into higher education facilities, as well as some municipal governments and even “some departments in Ottawa.”
“That will be a big growth area for us,” predicted Reil.
The sales motion for UCS is still al longer one – although it still works entirely with and through its channel partners, Cisco has had to be more involved than in most cases, with lots of hands-on proof of concepts required.
“The faster we can get equipment in customers’ hands, the faster we get through our sale cycle,” Turner said.
But with distributors building UCS into their data centre environments or launching UCS-specific demonstration tools, the channel is really starting to gear up to support the growth opportunity around UCS.
“The partner community is getting stronger and stronger, and there’s more excitement about our integrated offerings,” Turner said. “But there’s still a lot of work to do. We have to keep it growing.”