Valovic on Virtualization

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Cisco’s Approach to Virtualization

No doubt about it. Cisco is a well run company. Right down to the handshake. I remember going to an analyst event at Cisco East in Boxborough, MA a few years ago. After parking our cars in the visitor’s lot, we were very pleasantly assailed by “greeters” -- Cisco employees who were specifically tasked with glad-handing and welcoming us as we walked in the door. After the event, we filled out evaluation forms on the various speakers but the form also asked us to evaluate each greeter as well. (Do you take off points for the proverbial fishy handshake?)

Because Cisco is a well run company, when they start talking about virtualization (as they have been for a while now) it’s worth paying attention. And it’s also worth noting that the company is a minority investor in VMware along with Intel.

So what is Cisco’s play in virtualization? I’ll offer my own admittedly imperfect 50,000 foot view here and we’ll, of course, be doing some deep dives going forward in both the print publication and here in blogland. (Virtualization Review will be covering all major aspects of the virtualization market in due course. )

About a year ago the company announced an initiative called Data Center 3.0. This is all about the next-generation data center or whatever terminology you care to use. It’s where every single virtualization supplier on the planet is headed. (Microsoft, for example, calls it “Dynamic IT”.) Cisco’s play in all of this is of course network virtualization

As discussed in my last Cisco blog, there’s really a bright dividing line between doing network virtualization (NV) 1.0 via VLANs, VSANs, and other products, many associated with the Catalyst line of network switches and what I’ve somewhat unimaginatively called NV 2.0.

NV 2.0 (my construction) appears currently to consist of a ragbag of disparate elements. There’s I/O virtualization along the lines of what Neterion, 3Leaf, and Xsigo are doing -- basically products designed to virtualize NICs or HBAs and offering what is essentially dynamic provisioning of I/O capacity. Cisco does not currently have an offering in this market.

Other NV 2.0 products appear to be being developed specifically to support other types of virtualization such as server virtualization by basically making the supporting network more flexible. When we look at all of the resources in a data center being virtualized (i.e. servers, storage, networks, and applications) then it’s easy to see how the NGDC is going to need flexibility at all these levels. Cisco’s VFrame product has an important role here.

In other words, the dynamic data center is going to need to have all of these “resource pools” work interactively and flexibly as system requirements change on a daily or even hourly basis. The network, obviously, is an important but often underestimated link in this holistic value chain.  

Bottom line: I’d like to see network virtualization mainly discussed in this context. In other words, as either a) existing or future products supporting other types of virtualization or b) existing or future products supporting the next generation data center or NGDC. Put another way, I’d like to see the water not get muddied by Cisco and other vendors claiming in effect: “we’ve been doing virtualization for years, what’s the big deal?”

In any event, my grousing aside, I would expect to see some interesting announcements on all this from Cisco next week at VMworld.

Posted by Tom Valovic on 09/12/2008 at 12:49 PM


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