Cisco Pushing Virtualization, Automation
Cisco last week unveiled its next-generation data center strategy along with a key product to support that vision at its annual Networkers conference.
Called Data Center 3.0, the plan is intended to enable customers to better utilize their data center resources, build less-expensive storage-area networks and enhance data security. Among other features, it involves melding disparate data center networking technologies -- Ethernet, Fibre Channel and Infiniband -- into a single fabric for connecting and virtualization of network elements.
Cisco launched Data Center 3.0 on the heels of HP's US$1.6 billion acquisition of data center automation vendor Opsware. HP says Opsware will allow it to offer its customers a "comprehensive and fully integrated solution for IT automation."
While Cisco's Data Center 1.0 and 2.0 strategies focused on data center consolidation, 3.0 targets virtualization and automation, says Jayshree Ullal, Cisco senior vice president of the Datacenter, Switching and Security Technology Group. With it, Cisco's data center strategy is revealed, she says.
"This is an important day for Cisco," Ullal says of the Data Center 3.0 launch.
The fabric -- embodied in a new appliance called VFrame Data Center -- is intended to provide real-time, dynamic orchestration of infrastructure services from shared pools of virtualized server, storage and network resources, Cisco says.
VFrame Data Center is designed to link compute, networking and storage infrastructures. It includes a policy engine for automating resource changes in response to infrastructure outages and performance changes, which can be controlled by external monitoring systems through an "open" Web services application programming interface, Cisco says.
The Data Center 3.0 strategy is also aimed at optimizing application performance, service levels, efficiency and collaboration.Cisco plans to flesh out its Data Center 3.0 vision over the next two years.
Some users indicate that Cisco's data center vision aligns with their own.
"[Virtualization] is a way [users] get to see information at any point in time," says Evan Jafa, CTO at First America Corp. "We look at everything as a service rather than individual disciplines or technology stacks."
Virtualization end-to-end management and "full visibility" of the virtual environment are "major gaps," Jafa adds. And deciding which internal IT group is going to provision virtual resources can be tricky, he says.
"The storage guys are not going to be happy when they learn the network guys are responsible for provisioning," Jafa says.
"Every new application required a new server and fall-back server," he says. "We saw all of these investment requests and we needed to do something."
Panalpina's problem might require another investment request -- with Cisco, which no doubt would make John Chambers happy. In the meantime, the Cisco CEO sat down with reporters at the conference and attempted to clarify Cisco's software strategy.
Instead of deconstructing its traditional IOS operating software and selling specific features as individual packages, as was understood from last year's Networkers conference roundtable, Chambers said Cisco simply wants to begin to develop software as a business. It has the ingredients with its unified communications, collaboration and Web 2.0 portfolio, bolstered most recently by the $3.2 billion acquisition of conferencing specialist WebEx.
"We have the view that we have to become a software company," Chambers said during a wide-ranging roundtable session with reporters at the Networkers conference here. "But we're not breaking IOS into segments."
Last year, Chambers said the company needs to evolve its software strategy in order to alleviate customer confusion, foster choice, and not have software sales tightly coupled with hardware. This was interpreted as a plan to decouple IOS from hardware and sell it as separate packages.
Chambers last week said that was a misunderstanding. He also said WebEx presents a business model that has the potential to allow Cisco to expand beyond its traditional markets.
"The impact is in expanding into areas we would not have gone into otherwise," Chambers said, without elaborating.
Cisco also has an internal initiative underway to transform its relationship with customers, Chambers said. As an example, he said customers are asking Cisco to expand its consulting and professional services expertise.
"We have an internal code name for it," Chambers said of the "next-generation" customer relationship effort. "We're going to look at changing customer relationships."