Cisco Fumbles the Ball with Invicta

By on 07/28/2015.

With the recent end-of-life announcement for Cisco Invicta flooding the twitterverse late last week, I began to reflect on my experience with the product and quickly remembered how painful it was to deal with the platform from the very beginning. Most of the issues I encountered can be directly traced to how quickly Whiptail was integrated into the Cisco family. Specifically, the training, support, and most importantly the actual product execution were not on par with the typical Cisco standards that I have come to expect.

Training

My first hands on with Invicta was when I had the opportunity to attend the beta training course for the storage solution shortly after Cisco initially acquired Whiptail. Now with any beta course you expect challenges but it quickly became apparent that my trip across the country for the course was not going to be as worthwhile as I hoped.

It turned out that the course material was prepared by a third-party organization who had very little first-hand knowledge of the product which quickly began to show. Luckily we had a few employees, who were with the original Whiptail team, sit in on the class and without their presence the majority of our technical questions would have went unanswered. Another surprise was how much of the course was centered around UCS Director. I understood the points the training team was trying to convey in regards to the integration of Invicta into the existing Cisco product line but dedicating what seemed like half of the course to UCS Director left me scratching my head in wonder. Overall, the training was substandard and provided very little useful information.

Support

With the beta course under my belt I was now the company ‘expert’ on the product line (aka “I was the only individual with any experience on it at all”) which resulted in a few different installation opportunities. The first of these installs was in a lab environment in which I was pleasently surprised at how easy the initial installation was. One of the items that Cisco (read Whiptail) got right was shipping the Invicta with pre-labeled cables that were also the correct length which made the rack and stack process a breeze. I can’t under-stress how amazing this was. If every product was set up a similar fashion all of our lives would be a lot easier.

After wrapping up the basic lab installation, I had my first opportunity to participate in a production installation of Invicta. To say this went wrong would be an understatement. After everything was said and done, the Invicta was eventually replaced after a few short months by a product line from one of the major storage OEMs. By far the biggest challenge on the installation was on the support side of the house.

I was ‘fortunate’ enough to have a dedicated Cisco Sales Engineer, who was originally with Whiptail, take the lead on the planning, installation, and configuration of the Invicta implementation. Now you may be asking why I have ‘fortunate’ in quotes. Well, it turns out that this particular SE would end up being one of the least technical and most unprofessional engineers I have worked with in my career. I could probably write an entire article around his missteps and failures, but the fact that the SE did not know which port was dedicated to management and did not think zoning was an important part of the configuration should tell you everything you need to know. Getting support from Cisco TAC also proved to be troublesome. It’s never a good sign when the team you call for support has no idea what the product even is. I wish I was kidding. On my first call into the support line I was flat out asked ‘What’s Cisco Invicta?’. While these two arguably isolated instances should not be used to judge the entire Cisco (Whiptail) support structure it does show a lack of proper training and vetting on the end of Cisco which reflected poorly during the installation process.

Product Execution

Even with these support issues, the installation could still have been successful if we also did not run into technical problems on the Invicta side. On multiple occasions we had to start remote sessions with a member of the Whiptail development team so they could dive into the source code to correct issues. That is certainly something you do not see on a regular basis. When bugs could not be fixed on the fly, we had to wait for bug releases to be provided by Cisco. Not surprisingly, those bug releases were consistently delayed time and time again which is when the customer finally gave up and switched to an established OEM product.

What was billed as the fastest acquisition integration into Cisco, hit the ground running with multiple missteps. The feeling of everything having been rushed with the entire Invicta ecosystem was almost always prevalent. What could have been a strong value add to the Cisco product line (Invicta integrated into UCS Manager anyone!?) was doomed to fail from the very beginning. Even after this $415+ million failure, the rumor mill will continue to swirl with talk of Cisco buying another storage company. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future with Cisco and their presence in the storage field.

Drew Russell
As a member of the World Wide Technology (WWT) Professional Services Data Center team, Drew Russell has the opportunity to see first hand what is currently being discussed and deployed in the environments of some of the largest organizations in the country. When not traveling, you can often find Drew in WWTs Advanced Technology Center (ATC) vetting the latest product offerings from the OEMs.

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