Cisco Fleshes Out Data Center Vision

Cisco this week added clarity to its Data Center 3.0 vision by enhancing products to participate in the virtualized environment.

The announcements were made at the Cisco Live! customer conference here. Last year at this event, Cisco unveiled Data Center 3.0, a strategy to virtualize data centers for greater operational and energy efficiency by orchestrating application delivery networks, servers, computing and storage.

The products enhancements unveiled at this year's show include:

* Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) software release 4.1, which features virtualized application hosting services, improved application acceleration and video delivery for the branch office.

* Application Control Engine (ACE) software release 3.1 for the ACE 4710 application switch, which offers up to 4Gbps of throughput and up to 2 Gbps of compression capability, and multimedia support (compare application acceleration and WAN optimization products).

* VFrame Data Center software release 1.2, for end-to-end infrastructure provisioning with ACE and VMware ESX.

* Data Center 3.0 professional services to support customers with data center deployments.

WAAS is designed to optimize application availability, performance and security over the wide-area network, while ACE does so within the data center.

WAAS software release 4.1 supports network-embedded virtualization, enabling customers to deploy services such as Microsoft Windows Server 2008 locally at the branch office on a Cisco WAAS appliance, reducing server hardware requirements, Cisco says. In addition, version 4.1 is designed to simplify customer deployments and provide application-specific acceleration features for Microsoft Exchange (MAPI), Web applications (HTTP), live and on-demand video, centralized printing, and Unix/Linux file sharing.

"Anytime you accelerate MAPI and HTTP, that's a great benefit to all of us because you know how important e-mail and the Internet is to all businesses," says Jim Ward, headquartered CIO of Pacer International, a Concord, Calif., freight transportation provider and Cisco customer. "We use those extensively. E-mail takes up a tremendous amount of bandwidth nowadays."

ACE software release 3.1 doubles the device's performance. Cisco says it also enhanced ACE to support virtualized load balancing and security services across unified communications, collaborative technologies, and video applications through improved support for Session Initiation Protocol and Real-Time Streaming Protocol.

The enhanced support for video strikes a chord with Ward, but Cisco's ACE still has a hole.

"I would like for them to do more specific acceleration on specific products, like SAP," the Pacer CIO says. "I'm in the middle of a large SAP implementation. They have a few gaps in that area but I'm sure they'll get to that sooner or later."


VFrame, meanwhile, is a network-driven service orchestration provisioning platform. VFrame 1.2 offers integration with Cisco ACE and VMware ESX, including the ability to virtualize servers to ACE virtual devices, or to select a server out of a utility pool and configure it end-to-end with ESX.

Cisco has a $150 million stake in VMware.

On the professional services front, Cisco unveiled its Data Center Efficiency Assurance Program, extensions to the Data Center Assurance Program (DCAP) 4.0 and DCAP for Applications.

The Efficiency Assurance Program (EAP) is a Web-based tool designed to help customers better analyze data center power use and establish energy benchmarks across facilities and infrastructure. Cisco's Data Center Efficiency Services are intended to help customers apply appropriate power and cooling, and identify steps to make the infrastructure more accessible, efficient and sustainable.

Cisco has updated its Data Center Assurance Program (DCAP) to include large-scale data center validation, design and implementation guides, including an enhanced service provider section containing an updated baseline architecture and new overlays for video streaming and mobility services. DCAP also now supports Cisco ACE and Cisco MDS blade server fabric switches, Oracle 11i E-Business Suite, Microsoft Exchange 2003, Tibco Rendezvous and active-active disaster recovery.

Cisco has also extended its DCAP for Applications program by offering tested and validated implementations for Oracle 12i E-Business Suite and Microsoft Office Communications Server.

The services and product offerings are part of Cisco's strategy to become more of an all-encompassing data center vendor, says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with The Yankee Group.

"They become a much more relevant IT vendor by tackling virtualization," Kerravala says. "It foreshadows a different type of Cisco, a different type of competitor. The network is the only thing that touches everything in the data center. They want to play a bigger role than just providing the plumbing and the pipes."

Cisco WAAS software release 4.1 is scheduled to be available for download in the third quarter. WAAS Live Video Streaming and WAAS Virtualization are separately licensed features with pricing starting at $2,500 per device. The other WAAS 4.1 features included in the WAAS Enterprise License are available at no charge to Cisco WAAS Enterprise License customers with Cisco SmartNet Software and Support with Upgrades Contracts.

Cisco ACE software release 3.1 for the ACE Appliance is also scheduled to be available in the third quarter and is offered at no charge for Cisco SmartNet customers; the additional Cisco ACE Appliance 2Gbps to 4Gbps upgrade throughput license is priced at $15,000. The Cisco ACE Appliance compression license is priced at $20,000 for a 2Gbps compression license, $10,000 for a 500M to 2Gbps compression upgrade license, and $5,000 for a 1G to 2Gbps compression upgrade license.

Cisco VFrame Version 1.2 is scheduled to be available on both primary and secondary appliances with a base starter kit of $59,995 list; VFrame 1.2 will be available in the third quarter.

Cisco EAP, DCAP 4.0 and DCAP for applications are available now.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter